Yesterday I was nominated by the rules committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for a position on the LGBT Senior Task Force that they’re forming. Its purpose is to come up with recommendations for how to deal with a whole host of problems that queer seniors face in this city, among them, a lack of affordable housing and a lot of homophobia in the services network.
The sad reality is that many LGBT seniors, who have been out for many years, have to go back into the closet when they are accessing services. Which is totally unacceptable, especially here in what is supposed to be the most queer friendly city in the country.
The full Board must now approve the nominations. That will happen in a week or two.
During the nomination process at the rules committee, each of the nominees had to get up and give a two-minute speech about what they wanted to do on the task force. I spoke about working on housing issues, since that is what I do for a living. I am a tenant advocate and counselor. I help a lot of seniors when they are in danger of being evicted and tossed out into the streets.
Some nominees spoke about their work with seniors who were isolated without family or support networks. That really struck me hard. No one should die alone without their family and friends.
I thought back for a moment to my own parents. Mama raised us to believe that family took care of family. You didn’t put a relative in a nursing home and let strangers take care of him or her. She took care of her own parents when they were dying. She assured us that she would curse us from her grave if we ever did that to her or our father.
We didn’t let her down.
Papa died suddenly from a massive stroke. It was over in days.
Mama’s cancer returned within a few months of Papa’s death. My sister did an amazing job of making sure she stayed at home as long as was humanly possible. Her last days were spent in a hospital, but there was no other choice. She was dying.
That’s the way it used to be in America. Family, especially in ethnic communities, always took care of their own, no matter how much of a hassle it was. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen much anymore.
Old people are a burden now. They’re discarded in nursing facilities. Families can’t be bothered taking them in. Or caring for them. Pay someone else to do it. Visit them now and then.
In the 70s, singer Janis Ian did a song (“Shady Acres”) about discarding parents in a home called Shady Acres: “Yes and they raised you well, but you wished to hell they’d go away/ so you wouldn’t have to pay for their food.”
I don't want to die in a nursing home. Like Mama, I will exact my revenge from the other side if I can. I don't want to be left discarded in a place where it's someone's job to take care of me. I want to be surrounded by people I know and love. And I want to die at home, not a hospital or nursing facility.
During the AIDS crisis, I helped take care of friends whose families had rejected them. I was also part of the support team for others whose families didn't abandon them, but they needed assistance in managing the day-to-day tasks. It makes so much difference when someone can spend their final moments on the planet in such a setting.
Like my friend Michael, who recently died surrounded by friends who held his hand as he took his last breath on this earth.