I’m going to try my absolute hardest to keep this post free of spoilers. To be honest, I haven’t even entirely finished the novel I’m writing about, so this task should be easy in theory. Unfortunately, for some reason or another that neither of us can remember, my mother (who cried just as much reading this book as she did when she first discovered Still Alice) told me the ending, the so crucial conclusion of this particular edge-of-your-seat type story. I already know what is going to happen in about 40 pages then, and I really really wish I didn’t. I won’t say too much more because I am certain I will give important things away, but I am positive my reading experience would’ve been much more authentic and gripping if I did not know where the characters I’ve become so close to will end up. So, thanks a lot Mom! (Ugh!)
Anyway, the novel I’m talking about is Jojo Moyes’ bestseller Me Before You. Some of you have probably heard of it (I know I had before picking it up), and it is exactly what people say it is in reviews online: a tearjerker, an emotional rollercoaster, a literary punch in the stomach. It’s a novel that deals with some serious ethical issues, which is why I was most intrigued and anxious to read it. To offer a bit of context, the story is about a former successful businessman, Will Traynor, who suffers a terrible accident and is confined to a wheelchair. He becomes a quadriplegic, so his quality of life is vastly changed and his outlook on life is pretty dismal until a young woman, Louisa Clark, comes to act as his caregiver. The novel is about their journey together, but mostly about Lou’s discovery that Will intends to travel to Switzerland to benefit from their laws allowing assisted suicide. Will wishes to die on his own terms, and on his own timeline, and the story articulates Lou’s feelings about his decision and her attempts to persuade him to continue living.
Now, I need to be open about my opinions on this touchy subject. I have always been strongly, passionately and loudly in support of assisted suicide…and I will continue to be. My interest in the subject emerged in my final year of high school when I completed two research projects on the topic of euthanasia and assisted suicide. At the time, my great aunt was also suffering from ALS, and so I was able to develop a better understanding of what exactly it means to live with a degenerative disease. I continue to believe that every human being has the right to die with dignity. And I would never ever feel comfortable deciding how much or in what way another human being should suffer – just as I would never want that decision to be made for me. So, I was compelled to read Me Before You because I felt that I could strongly identify with Will’s perspective and with his brave choice.
The trouble is, I didn’t realize just how much I would fall in love with his character…and just how difficult that would make it to come to terms with his decision. It’s one thing to be adamantly for assisted suicide; it’s another thing entirely to have to watch (and perhaps aid) a person you truly care for die. At this point in the novel, when I am so close to the end and Will’s appointment in Switzerland looms, I’m beginning to comprehend the grief and distress associated with allowing and helping someone to end their life in this way. Don’t misunderstand, I am still absolutely in favour of afflicted individuals being able to make the decision to die for themselves – but I do now see the emotional shockwaves that will inevitably continue to reverberate after their absence.
The truth is that I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately, for a variety of reasons…and as I encounter it more and more, it becomes less and less fathomable to me. I have no idea how people deal with or overcome loss in their lives; I have no idea how people are strong enough to face every day knowing that they will never see that one person that they love more than life itself again. And this is exactly what I see Lou and Will’s friends and family facing. I want him to be free of suffering like the rest of them, but I see that he will be creating suffering and leaving it behind him.
I’ve always felt that the point of literature is to make people think, to encourage people to move outside their comfort zones and interrogate themselves fiercely. Me Before You has definitely made me do that. Not everything in life is black and white, I’m learning, and it’s easy to pronounce opinions from a mountain top somewhere, far removed and personally unaffected. It’s another thing entirely to live through loss yourself, and while my position on assisted suicide hasn’t changed at all, my understanding of the complexities and difficulties surrounding it certainly has. And for that, I must thank Moyes!
I encourage anyone who wants to know more about assisted suicide to read this novel, if only to gain a fictitious insight into a tricky and much-debated topic. And, I also encourage anyone who feels strongly about this subject already to continue to do research (as I am committed to doing) and to try their hardest to make every assessment of the actions of a fellow human being from a place of love and compassion. Those are the only emotions I want my own opinions to be based on.
Girl with a Green (and Compassionate) Heart