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Dying with Assistance, Part 2

JanieBrownby Janie Brown, RN, MSN, MA (Psych.) Executive Director Callanish Society, Clinical Nurse Specialist: Oncology

As a child, I could always tell which adults genuinely liked children, and which ones just put up with us. I knew by the tone of their voices and how long they waited for my reply to their questions. Sometimes they rushed in and answered the question themselves.

Grandpa George liked us four grandkids. He read us Russian fairytales about the mean old Tsars in their golden palaces, conquering faraway lands and marrying beautiful princesses. He strictly rationed his Callard and Bowser toffees to one a day, and never forgot. We needed a lot of courage to creep into the living room early in the morning, and stand on tiptoes to open the faded Quality Street tin high on the mantelpiece, to steal one more. I was terrified he would find out and give us a prickly tickle with his bushy white beard. At breakfast, he would open the glass patio door and let the robins hop around and eat crumbs off the carpet. He was soft and scary all at the same time.

My grandfather, George Hunter, was a biochemistry professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and Mary Wylie, my grandmother, was one of the first female physicians to graduate from Glasgow University at the end of the First World War. They were Fabians, armchair socialists, when they lived in Scotland before emigrating to Canada. In Edmonton, George became an active member of the Communist Party of Canada and in 1949, during McCarthyism, he was fired from the university for using his professorial role as a platform for political rhetoric. He has been cited in several books on communism in Canada as a victim ofacademic mobbing. In many universities during the late forties and early fifties professors were forced out of tenured jobs for their political leanings. The family moved back to the UK under a blanket of shame, relying on George’s strength of character to find its dignity again.

I learned the full story of my grandfather’s death in my twenties when I asked my mother how he had died…… Read More



Janie Brown is the Executive Director of the Callanish Society, a nonprofit organization she co-founded in 1995 for people who are irrevocably changed by cancer, and who want to heal, whether it be into life, or death. She is currently working on her first book.




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