"You're never really ready for death and you're never really ready to fly," Ashley Williams says.
While lying parallel to the earth 100 metres up, the 30-year-old found parallels to the life of the uncle who inspired her to learn to paraglide this May.
Alone up there, Ashley's fortunes were totally in her own hands. Her autonomy guided each swerve riding the ocean wind off the Port Hills Canterbury coast.
Uncle Clive, it was. Ten years ago this November he took his own life while in the final stages of terminal pancreatic cancer.
A hang glider was his "first toy" on which he spent his entire first semester's living expenses from his mother as he began study at the University of Cape Town in 1980.
"So he had no money to buy food. This is the kind of guy he was," Ashley laughs.
"He probably has to live off the bones of his arse so that he can fly. I know that he loved the sky."
Such passionate impulsiveness encapsulated the man, Ashley says. He was a climate scientist by day, yoga teacher by night, and hang glider whenever he had time.
Wind and movement tied them all together.
With a grant of $7000 from NZ On Air, obtained by production facilitator Loading Docs, Ashley has created a short documentary about learning to paraglide in memory of Clive Heydenrych, who died in 2010 at the age of 50.
"To kind of get through his death and how I grieved was making films about him. So this is 10 years on, re-approaching the subject," the Wellington-based filmmaker and teacher says.
"I thought: what could I do? Then when I saw the paragliding place was literally where he lived [Cloudbase paragliding in Christchurch]. I thought 'Oh my God'. It's that coincidence thing. If you're making a film you look for connections."
"Clive would just laugh so hard, I'm sure he is, knowing that I got funded and I used the money to my benefit to go and do something a bit wild. He would just love that.
"I get to do something in honour of this crazy, adventurous, wild, intelligent, respectful guy."
The eight-minute film entitled Going Home has launched today at nzherald.co.nz and at loadingdocs.net, a New Zealand based initiative that produces short documentaries to promote local filmmakers.
The film comes 56 days before the delayed general election on October 17 and the end of life choice referendum, which gives people with a terminal illness the option of requesting assisted dying.
The Assisted Dying Bill has already been passed by Parliament but will only come into force if 50 per cent of voters in the referendum vote "yes".
While Ashley is adamant Going Home is no political statement in support of the bill, she can't deny her own still-vivid memory of her uncle Clive's last 11 months after he was diagnosed.
She remembers Clive being unable to speak in hospital "like a skeleton in the corner of the room" and "grieving his own body".
"To answer the question would [legal euthanasia] change what he did, I honestly can't answer that because I'm not him," she says.
"But I think ... the fact that wasn't a choice for us, his family, and he had to go through that on his own. It's something to think about."
"I think Clive would have done what Clive does. I don't think he would have chosen one way or the other. Because I think this vote is really very much about the individual - to have that choice."
Ashley has no doubt the bill will make things safer for all involved.
"It's unsafe because they're having to do it by themselves, and it's unsafe because it could implement the wider community. It's unsafe for the people who find them."
To be eligible for assisted dying under the proposed law, people must be over 18, suffer from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months, experience unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and be able to make an informed decision.
"I'm really not trying to convince people. I can really only talk about it from someone who has seen someone go through this. It's a personal angle," Ashley said.
But to get closer to Clive and learn to paraglide, Ashley also had to make a choice that contained risk.
It perhaps made his final choice clearer to her.
"In a way it's aligned. There's a point where you've got to trust the decision you're making to fly. I had to really listen to my body, what the wind was doing," Ashley said.
"There's also an element of no control. You can't control what the wind is going to do. You just have to listen and be very present. It's like meditation.
"And I think when you're dying, or at least the experience of seeing someone close to me die, was that he became more and more present and acutely aware of what was going on with his body. So he was very much of sane mind.
"He lived how he died. They go hand in hand. I know my uncle and I know why he made his choice."
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• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
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