San Francisco Chronical
January 10, 2010
George was born on November 15, 1946 in Berkeley and died December 3, 2009 in San Francisco
He died at his beloved Maitri where he has volunteered since 1988. He is grieved by a community as diverse and colorful as he and we thank him for his generosity and love.
George was called to action from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1981. He joined the Zen Hospice Project in its early stages which became Maitri Hospice. He was an integral member of the institution's growth and evolution from the beginning He showed up. He never left. He leaves us with many gifts -- the gift of Maitri, which he helped shape and protect. And the gift of modeling compassionate friendship - from the inside out.
As he began to fight his own battle with a rare sarcoma he made the illness into a communal experience sharing his medical news, acknowledging fear, anger, and regrets along with his profound love of beauty and culture through his blog
We would have wished for more time with George. We are grateful that he showed us what courage looks like and how to exemplify the gift of presence. In the end, he died peacefully, surrounded by love and compassion from friends near and far.
“I have trusted that my life was guided with purpose and intention. Fundamentally, I have felt well used in my life and San Francisco was the container for my work. Gratitude doesn't begin to describe how much I love and appreciate this City.”
The memorial for George Stevens will be held February 14, 2009 beginning at 3pm followed by a reception until 5pm at Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, 290 Dolores Street at 16th in San Francisco
An enormous mind and spirit has departed. He died at his beloved Maitri where he has volunteered since 1988. He is grieved by a community as diverse and colorful as he and we thank him for his generosity and love.
He was called to action from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1981. He showed up. He never left. He leaves us with many gifts--- the gift of Maitri, which he helped shape and protect. And the gift of modeling compassionate friendship - from the inside out.
Because George was always a writer we have enclosed his voice in his obituary. All of the enclosed excerpts are directly from his blog that he began writing upon his diagnosis in Sept. 2008.
“I have sat at the bed of many people during their terminal illnesses. I have sat with people as they died and continued to sit with their bodies for a time after their death. But I had never sat at my own bedside until the night of September 16th, 2008. That night, I realized that I would die. Not necessarily from my current sarcoma diagnosis, but that I would physically die. This was so difficult for me to grasp that I digressed into estate planning, and deciding who to gift with my rugs, my glass, my furniture. After an hour and a half, I had disposed of my worldly goods. 'What now,' I wondered. Then, finally, I burst into tears.”
“My destiny led me to learn bedside care from Eileen Lemus who had started a small, hospice program at San Francisco General Hospital. I worked with poor men who had various cancers, and then, in mid-1982, I met Michael Maletta who was laying in a hospital room at SF General with a complex list of debilitating illnesses that seemed likely to kill him in his late 30’s. AIDS had arrived in San Francisco.”
He then joined the Zen Hospice Project in its early stages and joined Issan Dorsey at Maitri Hospice in the Hartford Street Zen Center.
“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. Through our actions we leave the greatest impression of how we choose to live this life."
George chose to bring emotional support to the suffering and dying. He met the epidemic with strength and concern and fueled his time on this earth by bringing comfort and dignity for each person he met and cared for.
As he began to fight his own battle with a rare sarcoma he made the illness into a communal experience: sharing medical news and changes to his health, acknowledging fear, anger, and regrets along with his profound love of beauty and culture. He used his remaining time to make peace with all of his relations and to savor the irreplaceable qualities of life: delicious meals shared with wonderful friends and volunteer work at Maitri until he physically was not able.
“I am writing this posting much sooner than I would have wished to. The simple fact is that my health is declining much faster than I expected. I am moving into all the expected signs of dying. I have lost my appetite. I have little or no taste for food. I could elaborate on each of these symptoms but why? What I do want to do every day is sleep. Lots of sleep. And then when I wake up, I sleep some more. After a lifetime of spirited living with all of you, it is my time to go.”
We would have wished for more time with George. We are so grateful that he showed us what courage looks like and how to exemplify the gift of presence. In the end, he died quickly, surrounded by love and compassion from friends near and far.
“From the moment that I connected that voice in the winter darkness with my destiny to move to San Francisco and become a caregiver, I have trusted that my life was guided with purpose and intention. That isn't to say that I haven't gotten lost since then or made mistakes or regretted some actions. But fundamentally, I have felt well used in my life and San Francisco was the container for my work. Gratitude doesn't begin to describe how much I love and appreciate this City.”
What was most important to George?
Relationships, his friends. To George being a good friend meant everything. The issues of justice, human rights, equality were his concerns. He was generous with his time as a friend and volunteer. He loved to write, he enjoyed his imagination, his inner life and journey’s before this life and into the next, astrology, reading and learning. His BLOG gave him tremendous connection and a place to share his thoughts about his journey through life.
He had an enormous love for beauty that was almost religious. Opera, and music of all kinds from symphonic to the Grateful Dead. Art,of all kinds; Food, from simple to sublime. Among his favorites: Boulette’s Larder and Kokari.
His parents moved to Portland when he was a baby. George graduated from Portland State University. Majored in English and literature. He taught English. He had a full and happy life in Portland, before moving down to SF in 1980.
His mother died last year. Her sense of style and beauty greatly influenced George. They shared a love of music, travel, food and art. His father has dementia and lives in a Portland nursing home and he is survived by his sister, Betsy who is married and has two children.
Since 1987, Maitri has been providing hospice and 24-hour care to men and women living with AIDS. "Maitri," pronounced "MY-tree," is a Sanskrit word that means "compassionate friendship." In this 15-bed facility, skilled professionals and dedicated volunteers offer nursing and personal care as well as emotional and spiritual resources to help meet the special needs associated with HIV-related illness. This non-profit program in San Francisco is focused especially on those who might otherwise be without adequate resources or care.
For more information/ to volunteer please contact maitrisf.org 415-558- 3000
Written by Traci, photo by Gaetano