A Written End-of-Life "Conversation" from the Toronto Town Hall
These words were kindly prepared for us by one of our focus group participants who spoke them at the Town Hall meeting held in Toronto on March 14, 2015. He has provided permission for us to share them with you on this site.
I have recently been faced with my own mortality at age 63 (soon 64), and only now understand the importance of having to put end-of-life plans in place.
Having been HIV+ since 1980 (on record February 1984 - Study results), and again diagnosed with cancer for the third time, and potentially facing the challenges of ALS, I was faced with very frank and necessary conversations with two close friends, and my 92 y/o aunt, about my end-of-life preparations and arrangements. Having been recently "dumped" by my partner of 15 years in Quebec, I found myself living in Oshawa, and now Toronto, alone and quite frankly, scared out of my wits. What now? What needs to be taken care of so I am prepared for the final journey of my life?
My first step was to terminate my former partner's Power of Attorney (POA), including on all bank accounts, insurance policies, medical decisions and over my financial affairs. In a mad dash, I climbed into my car and drove to my banks, terminated existing POA's and accounts linked to my former relationship. Letters were sent to all insurers by facsimile, re-designations were completed (To the Estate of...), and met with a wonderful lawyer. Within one week, I had a new Will, POA enduring & financial, and started the search for cremation services. I want to be cremated and my ashes spread off the coast in California, at sunset - below the house I once inhabited on the ocean in the 1980's.
Then , the one-on-one meetings took place - this is most challenging - discussing what is to occur when I am on my death-bed, and beyond my death. But it had to be placed on the table for all to see, understand, question; and for me to crystalize exactly how and who are to act upon my final wishes. For me, this process presented a clear and concise picture of how my final days and after my death are to be fulfilled. I felt as though I was out in the ozone or on another planet - as though I was experiencing an out-of-body levitation, looking down at the exchanges taking place. BUT, I felt good - my wishes and plans were being finalized and put in order before my eyes. I felt relief, excitement, fear, sadness, joy...but mostly contentment. I made it through this process - and did not die during the discussions, or "fall apart", cry, vomit, faint, scream, "go silent". I felt absolutely wonderful - in control over something that we as human beings have little or no control over. We spend our lives learning how to control everything around us - including those around us, as a young adult growing up in the 60's and 70's - becoming part of the "dress-for-success" generation - always in control - as we "should" be.
What was missing was that gigantic beast called FEAR - the initial emotional response I lived - being single again, alone, lonely, melancholy, scared, and asking "why me"? I now felt "complete" and once again in control of the uncontrollable - illness, suffering, fear, death and the "what-to-do's" after my passing.
In the LGBT Community, we have been challenged all our lives; perceived and realized. We spent a good deal of our lives feeling rejected, different, alone and lonely, distant from family and friends - often living several different lifestyles in order to mask who we really are. Not only do we often spend our lives in guilt, fearing rejection, recipients of bullying, derogatory comments and slurs, physical and emotional abuse, but now facing the reality that as we are viewed as being "different", how we find a safe place for the older days of our lives. Are we going to be ostracized or abused in a senior's residence - can we be ourselves or do we have to go back "into the closet" - a lifestyle many of us endured throughout our lives. Not only are we facing our end-of-life issues and concerns, we are facing how we can live out the remaining years of our lives as who we are - trying to be true to ourselves and to those we love and cherish. By taking the reins and putting these necessary documents and wishes into action, we secure who we are/were as we chose to live. This is the time to face these concerns and issues head on while we are still strong and focused - and in control of our faculties.
I can't impress upon you how important it is to proceed as quickly as possible with the preparation of a Will, Power of Attorneys - both financial and Enduring. To establish personal relationships with the few who will hold your future in their hands, fulfilling our wishes and desires out of their love and appreciation of who you are. Know that once you have these steps completed, including a "wish list" of other things that you want taken care of in said manner. It is freeing - satisfying to know that you don't need to fret over details and major issues when you are too ill and weak to possibly attempt to correct whatever path has been taken on your behalf. You will feel relief, contentment and physically "lighter" knowing that you don't have to worry about such details when you are prepared to transition beyond the earthly environment.
I mentioned this in the discussion forum in Toronto in March 2015 that - with the passing of new legislation supporting the “right-to-die", or euthanasia, I fear for those in the LGBT Community, the act of ending our lives has or will increasingly become a viable option for those who fear or anticipate facing the uglier side of humanity in their dying days. Although I do believe in euthanasia, I do not see the act being a viable choice for those in our community. We need to just take that extra care, document, prepare for any event involving conflict that might occur at a time when we are least able to act upon these concerns. I urge all in the LGBT community to follow my process of securing your final requests. You will feel lighter, free of further emotional burden - not only to yourselves but to others who care about you - OR don't care about you or for who you are.
While, I may sound well prepared and fulfilled with my recent actions, I still as you, fear the "process" that comes over us in a weakened state. Please realize that you are not alone, but you have to move beyond your well-maintained protective shield in order to feel you can die peacefully, knowing your wishes are being actioned when necessary. This is a time to clean house - rid yourself of those personal possessions you have not used, touched, dusted, sat in for 1, 2, 3 years. I recently moved to Toronto from Oshawa - paid movers to move 93 large boxes of "stuff" and furniture that has subsequently gone into 4 dumpsters - full! Furniture and all - things I thought were important but had no meaning to me at this time of my life. Lift the veil - you will be surprised how open, free and unencumbered you feel. You now have the energy to take command of your future, when you are able and willing to take that leap. You will not regret it - it is so wonderful.