Even as a child, Brittany Maynard showed how determined she could be.
“Everything she tried I would say, ‘I wouldn t do well with this,’ but that didn’t stop her,” her mother, Debbie Ziegler, told PEOPLE last month.
“I can remember her doing cartwheels and my telling her, ‘I could never do cartwheels,’ but she just worked and worked and worked until she perfected it,” she said.
“If she took ice skating, she’d excel at ice skating,” she said.
Maynard, 29, who had terminal brain cancer, ended her own life Saturday with medication prescribed to her by a doctor, which is legal for certain terminally ill patients in Oregon, where she lived.
“She was a smart, pretty and charismatic little girl, so she asked to do a lot of things and she generally excelled at all of them,” said Ziegler, 56, a former eighth grade science teacher who raised Maynard on her own in affluent Orange County, California.
Maynard showed that same dedication to her studies. She was a straight “A” student throughout high school and was so upset when she got her first “B” at the University of California, Berkeley, that she called her mother.
“I said, ‘I am sending you money,’ ” says Ziegler. “And she s like, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘I want you to take your girlfriend out to dinner and toast imperfection’ I almost wanted to give her accolades to know that we are all imperfect, and that’s okay.”
An Idyllic Childhood
While Maynard eventually grew to love the outdoors, that wasn’t the case when she was little, Ziegler said.
“That’s definitely from me,” Ziegler said with a laugh. “In the beginning, it wasn’t her thing. When she was little, as a single mom I had a single mom friend, and we’d take them camping.
“We’re trying to be super moms, so we’d get her and her friend, load up our van and take them rowing and fishing and rock climbing and all that stuff, because we had decided we didn’t need men in our lives – we could do it all,” Ziegler said. “At that time I think Brittany was like, ‘Ew. Bugs.’
“We used a tent, but you could also sleep in the van,” she said. “In the beginning, Brittany slept there. My girlfriend was from Oregon, so we would always drive to Oregon, and here we are in Oregon again come full circle. We’ve been to all parts of Oregon – to the coastline, the gorge, the volcanoes. I know we came here at least three times in that van with those kids for 10 days each.”
She also “encouraged her to play outside a lot,” Ziegler said.
“She had a girlfriend, and she’d make clubhouses in these shrubs – dig under the shrubs and make little chairs and take out my silver-plated wedding gifts and bury them in the dirt,” Ziegler said, laughing.
As Maynard grew older, so did her wanderlust – and her desire to help others.
“In high school and college, she became very interested in travel,” Ziegler said. “As her mother it was a little alarming. People in my generation who weren’t too poor would go to Europe.
“Brittany wanted to go to places like Vietnam and Nepal and Africa,” she said. “These are destinations that, as a mother, are very frightening. And she traveled to many of those places alone.”
In high school, she kept her volunteering local.
“She volunteered at a food thing where they deliver meals on wheels,” her mother said, “and at a place where homeless people came in and could use this area to sleep.
“I could remember her coming home and telling me she would empty out jars of urine that were on the back porch,” she said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, Brittany, did other students do it?’ She said, ‘They were like, “No way.’ She’s just that way. Matter of fact.”
The Adventures Begin
As she grew older, Maynard traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Thailand, according to an obituary posted by her family on her website.
She taught in orphanages in Kathmandua, the obituary said.
“She was always very driven to give back to the world,” Ziegler said, which is how Maynard ended up teaching in orphanages in Kathmandu, Nepal.
“She’d call me and say, ‘Oh mom, it’s awful,’ ” said Ziegler. “She’d try to get supplies and she’d take them to the orphanage, but the supplies never got distributed, so my daughter went in there and demanded to see where her supplies were.
“She said, ‘I want you to show me where you put the supplies I gave you yesterday. They are for the children,’ ” Ziegler said. “She made them give them all back to her, and she took them into the room and gave them to the kids.”
By that point – about five years ago – Maynard had begun dating Dan Diaz, whom she’d met in San Francisco.
He watched her beagle, Bella, for her while she was gone, Ziegler said.
“I saw him drive away with the beagle in the car, her head sticking out next to Dan,” Ziegler said. “I just knew, ‘This one is going to hang around. This one’s taking the dog, for God’s sake.’ ”
Maynard’s travels took her to some of the poorest parts of the world, which helped her handle her illness, Ziegler said.
“She has said before that this illness would have been a lot harder had she not seen the things she saw because she would have felt very, very sorry for herself,” Ziegler said. “She’s seen so many horrible things with small children getting less.
“She knows that even with her brain tumor, she’s still surrounded by love,” she said. “She’s still surrounded by comfort and care, and there are societies where that is not at all ever the case.”
Though she longed for children, Maynard died with “zero regrets on time spent, places been or people she loved in her 29 years,” the obituary said.
She told PEOPLE the same thing.
“I’m happy I did all the traveling and volunteering I did,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be beyond grateful with the support I’ve received from my immediate family. I feel good about the 29 years I’ve lived. What more can we do?”