David Bowie played as Jacqui’s mum died – and it couldn’t have been more perfect

And so it was that on July 15 last year in her room at a nursing home in Bendigo, the 61-year-old made history by dying peacefully – and by choice.

Ms Robertson, surrounded by her loved ones and in a manner of her choosing, became Victoria’s first person to die under the voluntary assisted dying (VAD) law.

Her favourite song, Sorrow by David Bowie, started to play gently at the very moment she took her last breath.

It was as if by chance – much like the opportunity to go out on her own terms after so much pain and so much suffering.

“We’d had a few initial discussions when the legislation was being debated in parliament,” her daughter Jacqui Hicks told news.com.au about the VAD option.

While it was on her radar, Ms Robertson’s condition had deteriorated so rapidly and significantly that she didn’t expect to be around to take it up.

“There was a 12-month implementation process attached to it after it passed parliament,” Ms Hicks said.

“She just so happened to already have an appointment booked with a specialist that coincided with the very first date of it being available. She told us she wanted to pursue it. We supported her in that. And that was it.”

Last year, Kerry Robertson became the first Victorian to die under the state’s new voluntary assisted dying law.Source:Supplied

Ms Hicks and her sister Nicole Robertson are two of a number of people who will share their stories about voluntary assisted dying on SBS program Insight tonight.

Revisiting Ms Robertson’s long illness and putting on full display the family’s grief isn’t something that comes easily, Ms Hicks said.

“But I’ve heard lots of stories from families who’ve missed out on saying goodbye and had to watch loved ones suffer to such a degree that it sits with them for the rest of their lives,” she said.

“And their loved ones have expressed that it’s not what they wanted, but there were no other options. “That’s why we’re trying to put a human face and experience to what’s happening.”

What’s happening is that Victoria is the only state currently where VAD is legal, while Western Australia recently passed a bill of its own, which will come into effect mid-2021.

Ms Robertson was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2010 and underwent a lumpectomy, the removal of some lymph nodes, radiation and chemotherapy.

She went into remission but four years later, doctors discovered that the cancer had returned and metastasised in her bones.

“Then it spread to her lungs, brain and liver,” Ms Hicks said.

“She fought for a good four years and lived as well as she could for as long as she could.

“It’s not as though she wanted to die but that’s just how things progressed. In the end, there wasn’t anything left. She ran out of options.

“It was such a personal choice and it is for anyone in that position. I’m not sure any of us can understand it or say what we’d do unless we’re faced with it.”

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Jacqui and Nicole with their mum Kerry.

Jacqui and Nicole with their mum Kerry.Source:Supplied

Ms Robertson had always been fiercely independent. Her daughters found themselves in awe of her strength and stoic nature.

“She was in a substantial amount of pain and by that time her mobility was very limited as well,” Ms Hicks said.

“Her level of required care meant we had to transition her into a nursing home that provided palliative care services.

“To get to the point where she needed someone to fully care for her would’ve been so hard. I can’t imagine. And at 61, which isn’t old at all.”

Her mum had a terrible fear of dying alone – in the night when her family wasn’t there, in a nursing home she didn’t want to be in.

“To take back a bit of control of what was happening was so important.”

On the morning of July 15, 2019, a team from the State Pharmacy arrived in Bendigo to prescribe and administer the required medication.

After a few hours of assessment and instruction, Ms Robertson having to hear all of her options and repeat her wishes, the family was left on their own.

Kerry Robertson was in remission for breast cancer but it returned.

Kerry Robertson was in remission for breast cancer but it returned.Source:Supplied

Kerry Robertson became the first person to die under the voluntary assisted dying law in Victoria.

Kerry Robertson became the first person to die under the voluntary assisted dying law in Victoria.Source:AFP

In a dimly lit room, her salt lamp and crystals by the bed, she asked to see everyone individually for a private chat and a quiet goodbye.

“Once she did that, she said ‘I’m ready’,” Ms Hicks said. “Then she just slowly went to sleep, surrounded by love. It was really peaceful.”

In the days prior, one of Ms Robertson’s final acts was to sit down to make a playlist for the day filled with her favourite songs.

Her favourite by far was that 1973 Bowie classic, was the last she heard.

“It just happened to come on at the time. It wasn’t planned which songs would play when, but David Bowie’s Sorrow came on as she passed away. It was pretty amazing timing.”

Ms Hicks still grieves, of course. She lost her mum, after all.

But the way it happened and knowing that it was Ms Robertson’s final wish has left her feeling “quite settled”, she said.

“There’s no feeling of anything being left unsaid.”

Her mum’s experience is one she hopes drives change, Ms Hicks said, and inspires political will on what remains a controversial and contentious policy.

“It’s been up to the public to push for this, to tell parliaments and politicians why this is so important. The only way we’ll see further change is through people using their voices, however they can.”

Insight airs tonight at 8.30pm on SBS and will be available after that on SBS On Demand


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