Today, the world is mourning the loss of a woman who only recently entered into the media spotlight, and yet left a permanent impact on the lives of all who witnessed her story. Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old advocate for the Death With Dignity Act, ended her life on Nov. 1, surrounded by friends and family in her Oregon home. While her death was accompanied by controversy, Maynard spoke firmly about her "right to die" throughout her struggle with terminal brain cancer. In the wake of her death, many have deemed her decision to be a revolutionary one, with the power to forever change the way we approach the Death With Dignity movement. As of now, only three states legally allow physician-assisted suicide, but perhaps Maynard's passing will cause other states to reconsider their laws against the practice, or at the very least create a shift in discourse.
Regardless of the legal future of the Death With Dignity Act, Maynard's death is certainly impactful in other ways. Throughout her last days on earth, she took it upon herself to inspire others and live her life in the fullest and most rewarding ways possible. Whether or not you're an advocate for the "right to die", one cannot help but glean inspiring messages of love, hope, and courage from Maynard's story. Here are nine salient lessons learned from her life, and her death:
1. Your Life, Your Choices
It takes an inordinate amount of courage to make the decision to die with dignity, especially when your story has been made the subject of such public scrutiny. Maynard's obituary, however, quotes her as saying, "The freedom is in the choice. If the option of DWD is unappealing to anyone for any reason, they can simply choose not to avail themselves of it."
2. Accept The Things You Cannot Change
In her final video for Compassion Choices, Maynard told her viewers, "If all my dreams came true, I would somehow survive this. But most likely, I won't." Throughout her battle with brain cancer, she remained at peace with the inevitable, and took it upon herself to seize all those other life experiences that were still hers for the taking.
3. See The World
In her final days, Maynard visited the Grand Canyon with her family. An avid traveler for most of her life, Maynard lived alone in Nepal for many months, teaching children in orphanages. She also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and took ice climbing courses in Ecuador, among many other global excursions. Maynard's zest for life, and exploring all it has to offer, is forever an inspiration for others to see and appreciate the world.
4. Be An Advocate For Others
Although Maynard was not the typical candidate for the Death With Dignity Act, she willingly sacrificed her privacy to serve as a face for the movement. Her actions have the potential to remove the stigma associated with assisted suicide, and to make it possible for others to have the same rights that she was granted in the state of Oregon.
5. Know that The Only Opinion That Matters Is Your Own
Maynard remained clear throughout her entire presence in the media that her decision was not the result of coercion or exploitation. In the first video for Compassion Choices, Brittany's mother describes her daughter as an autonomous woman, and she remained so throughout her battle with cancer.
6. Love Is Selfless
In her final video for Compassion Choices, Maynard also expressed a desire that her mother would be able to move on after her passing, and that her husband would go on to get married and have a family. At just 29, she knew what most of us take a lifetime to figure out — that true love is selfless.
7. There's Nothing More Important Than Friends and Family
Maynard acknowledged that she would have very few people surrounding her upon her passing (and she was true to her word). While she was alive, Maynard recognized that it's not the number of relationships you have in your life, but the quality of those relationships that counts.
8. You Have The Right To Change Your Mind
Right before her passing, Maynard asserted her right to continue living as long as she felt well enough to do so. "I still feel good enough and I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn't seem like the right time right now," she said a few days back. In the end, however, she made the decision to die without succumbing to external pressure — the choice was all her own.
9. "Pay It Forward"
In her final message to her loved ones on Facebook, Maynard writes, "The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type ... Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!" Those who have been touched by her word and her life intend to do just that.