June 27th, 2009: Over the past two weeks, my big effort has been to draft a project plan for the rest of my life. It's a list of tasks that I'd like to accomplish between now and after my death. The tasks are grouped into categories such as: Finances, Distribution of Property, After End-of-Life, Travel, etc. Some of these tasks are dependent on other tasks being started or completed. Many of the tasks are stand-alone events.
One of the task categories is: Moving into Maitri. A couple of months ago during dinner with my friends Bob, Bill, Eileen and Kirsten, the subject came up about me moving into Maitri. during the final stretch of my illness. As most of you know, I did bedside care at Maitri starting in 1988 when there was just one resident. I've been part of the institution's growth and evolution from the beginning. To say that I love the place is an understatement. I am very proud of the quality of care that has been provided there over the years, but particularly since the move to the current location at 401 Duboce St.
I volunteered as an emotional support caregiver until 1995, then I took a year off from directly visiting with residents. Instead, I took care of the garden. In 1996, I joined the board as a member with a background in residential care. I've been on the board ever since, serving with the architectural planning committee as we developed the layout for the new Maitri. I've chaired the program committee, and been vice president and secretary at various times. In the past five years, I've delivered a pre-history of Maitri talk that I deliver to incoming groups of volunteers. In that presentation, I gather far-flung influences--the discovery of penicillin, the American teachings of Suzuki Roshi, the civil rights movement, gay rights, feminism, hippie values, the advent of the drug culture and the growth of the hospice movement--all of which have sourced Maitri as a unique and successful home for end-of-life care.
Because Maitri has always been dedicated to serving people with HIV, I have never thought of moving in there. However, it seems that 14 of the beds in the residence are mandated for people with HIV and the 15th bed does not have that condition. After that discussion at dinner, I imagined moving into Maitri and what a fine place that would be to receive care during my last days. I know the staff there, and I trust their skills. Also, I have always felt close to the residents, although I don't know them as closely now that I'm on the board. A month ago, after our board meeting, I had dinner with Tim Patriarca, the Executive Director. As I was about to bring up the subject of moving into Maitri, he said, "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but have you thought about coming to Maitri toward the end of your illness?" I laughed and replied, "I was just going to bring up that subject." We talked. I told Tim how much I hope that I could move in. Tim said that there needed to be a careful search through the legal contracts with HOPWA (Housing Opportunity for People With AIDS) who provided our initial funding, but he thought that it could be possible.
On Thursday of this week, I received a phone call from Tim saying the the HOPWA team concluded that I would be able to stay at Maitri. Happily, this 15th bed isn't just for me. It can be given to others who want to be cared for at Maitri. Also, just because the bed is available doesn't mean I will move in. There may be someone else using that bed at the time I'm ready for admission. What the decision means is that I can legally move into Maitri if and when the bed is available.
I can't tell you what a relief it is to know that I will be taken care of during my last days by a community that I already know and love. The weight off my mind is huge. It wasn't until I woke up the following morning and hear the first though in my head, "I can move into Maitri!" that I realized how important this is in the whole trajectory of my illness. I am very, very grateful. It is truly a grace note for me in this already full Gay Pride Week.
A curious footnote: Several years ago, there was a calendar published with pictures of gardens in San Francisco. One of the gardens for a now-forgotten month was of the inner courtyard at Maitri which had been lavishly filled with petunias, black bamboo and other vigorous plants by Peter, one of the residents. I liked the picture so much that I took it out of the calendar and hung it at my desk at work. As I've moved around as a consultant, from Schwab, to Wells Fargo to PG&E, the picture of the garden has come with me. Sometimes I'm not aware of it for days on end. But it has been there for several years now, facing me as I work. In the many hundreds of times I've looked at that garden, it never occurred to me that it was my destination. Now, I understand differently.