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February 2021, Switzerland

“Natalie, why did you move to Ireland after your husband’s assisted suicide?”

Normally, I can emotionally detach myself, but that night I lay awake for a long time.

»In everyday life, I don’t like to talk about it that much«, Natalie says toward the end of our phone conversation. »People are often shocked. Then I must apologize and stress that it happened a long time ago. I don’t want pity.«
The 53-year-old comes across as reflective and full of life, and if you met her on the street … you wouldn’t be able to guess her past.

»Ireland in 2010. Left-hand traffic was still unfamiliar to me, moreover my car was designed for right-hand traffic. From a roundabout I turned into the road in the direction of the village. Then I realized with concern: One-way street. Cars were driving towards me and to drive back into the roundabout wasn’t possible due to heavy traffic.
At the pub nearby I saw two men who immediately grasped my situation. They rushed up the road, gave hand signals and stopped the traffic so I could drive back into the roundabout. As trivial as it sounds, it showed me how great people can be. Towards the end of my 10 months in Ireland, some people asked me if I really wanted to go back to Switzerland.

My son was 9 years old at the time. He cried twice. The first time when we left Switzerland with the car packed full and the second time when we left Ireland again. My 11-year-old daughter had mixed feelings. To have two children spend a school year abroad … this idea wasn’t met with understanding everywhere of course. We all had little knowledge of the language. But it had been important for us. I had to get away, I had distance myself.

6 years earlier, in 2004, I had lost my husband. He collapsed due to a hemorrhage in the brain stem, had to get surgery, was in a coma for several weeks. Locked-in syndrome was suspected, the meaning of this was initially unknown to me.
›You don’t want to know what this means‹, my sister said that day when she looked it up on the internet.

After a couple of weeks, my husband and I were finally able to communicate with each other. You must imagine, this locked-in syndrome was a condition where he was fully conscious but almost completely paralyzed. There was no hope of recovery. He could only raise and lower his right arm and blink his eyes. That was all. So I enumerated the alphabet, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and when he blinked, it meant he was selecting the letter I had just pronounced. Letters became words, and words became whole sentences. Over time, we progressed relatively quickly with this method.

He soon made it clear to me that he no longer wanted to live like this. At the age of 39. For my selfishness it would have been better if my husband had gone to a nursing home. But I accepted his decision and contacted the assisted suicide organization. The preliminary clarifications and conversations … it had been a long process.

I wanted him to die with dignity. In his own four walls. My mother and her life partner were present as witnesses, and when the suicide assistant brought out the large vial of drug, my husband communicated to me, blinking: ›You could even kill an elephant with that.‹
That’s how he was, always up for a joke, even in this situation. I was glad that we had still spent as much time together as possible. That we had at least been able to clarify trivial matters. Among other things, we had discussed where he wanted to be buried.
But now I had to be brave. I looked at him and it was – for a few seconds – as if I saw fear in his eyes. Then it became very quiet.
After 3 minutes, the assistant said: ›Now he has gone.‹
›Already?‹, I asked surprised.
›Yes, he was really ready to go.‹

Afterwards, the police came, my mother talked with them in the kitchen while I went upstairs to my two children. Everything felt so surreal.

I explained it to my son, 3 years old at the time, only many years later. My 5-year-old daughter had already suspected from the beginning what had been going on. Today they are adults and understand their father’s decision. On March 12, 17 years will have passed. On the day of his death and on his birthday I particularly remember him, I always calculate how old he would be then.

You know, of course it was a relief for me in a way when he was able to leave. But it was more of a relief from a work point of view. The emptiness that remained … no one could have prepared me for that. Since that day I’ve stayed single, except for a short time, even though 2 or 3 years after his death I would have actually been ready again. If I were in a relationship today, I would probably not think that much of him. But this way I still think of him on quite a few occasions. My son has similar character traits, some of his statements make me smile and I would say to him: ›Dad made a similar comment back in the days too.‹

The time in Ireland showed me that I can survive anything. Because it hadn’t been the only stroke of fate during that time. After the fourth event, my daughter asked me why it always had to hit our family.
So I was looking for suitable places abroad where we could spend our year. I had several options, but suddenly it was clear to me: My husband had really wanted to travel to Ireland, he wanted to go fishing, while I would explore the area by bike. Now things have turned out differently, that’s how it is in life. I’m especially sorry for him, he still had so many plans. At least I was able to take him with me to Ireland in my thoughts.«

Today, Natalie works as a sacristan. Years ago, she was looking for a new job, opened the newspaper and let herself be surprised. She enjoys creative freedom. She’s fine, but actually, just a little lonely, she tells me.