In loving memory of Gregg Gour
I composed this post last night as I was out for a walk, when I had the overwhelming feeling that he was gone. (It's possible I was actually walking past the hotel where he chose to end his life) But as Gregg told us all many times before he left us, he didn't want our pity and he didn't want our sadness. Now as I actually sit down to type knowing officially that he is gone, realizing that an email sent yesterday was actually his way of saying he was really gone, I can't think of what I meant to write. I have been very fortunate in my life to have so very few experiences with death. When Gregg told me he was going off his meds, I thought immediately what a empowering way to take control of your life/death. None of us can truly know what it felt like to be in his skin living with AIDS for almost 25 years. Was he depressed? To an extent, yes, but he was also in his right mind and had seen too many friends go through the ravages of the disease at the end. And what I take away from this experience is the right to be able to control your own life. How beautiful could it be to have the opportunity to say good-bye to your friends and family? To be in charge of how much pain you have to withstand? To know when it's time?
Who was Gregg to me? He was a boss when we first met, but as the company we both loved and fought for went bankrupt, he continued to be a dear dear friend. He was passionate and compassionate, always giving 110%. When he loved something, you knew it... of course when he hated something you knew that too! He loved working at Warner Brothers (until it began affecting his health so much), in the few times I visited him there, he delighted in showing me where he had seen celebrities and gave me his own studio tour of the sets he was able to sneak on. I looked forward to his emails about the current crop of TV shows that he was watching (His new fall season spreadsheets always made me laugh) and his Oscar and reality show predictions were usually pretty accurate.
He was not ashamed of his condition, and in his final trip across the country over the last few months, he took the time to explain to people about Compassionate Choices (aka the right to die act) and why he was doing it. I like to know that he did make a difference, even in his final days. This article that ran in the Sacramento Bee today sums up what I can't seem to say eloquently enough. I'll miss you Gregg.
Assisted-suicide advocate ends AIDS fight his way
By Laura Mecoy -- Bee Los Angeles Bureau
Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Story appeared on Page A1 of The Bee
BURBANK - Dying from AIDS, Gregg Gour spent his last three months traveling cross-country and overseas to deliver a final farewell to family and friends and to advocate for assisted-suicide legislation.
Then, with the meticulous planning that was a hallmark of his life, the 48-year-old former accounting supervisor from Los Angeles took his life Sunday night in a Burbank motel room. "Don't cry for me," he said in a final e-mail to family and friends. "At last I'm free."
In a final interview with The Bee, Gour said if the bill had become law, he could have taken an overdose of a sleeping pill prescribed by a doctor and had his family with him when he died.
Instead, Gour had just one friend at his side as he suffocated himself using a method he learned from an organization that advocates assisted suicide.
"I wanted to be there to hold his hand," said Gour's oldest sister, Debra Dannemann. "We all did. We felt we couldn't, and he didn't want us to be there because he was afraid it would implicate us."
Michelle Boyaner, a documentary filmmaker who was with him until minutes before his death, said Gour was happy and calm that the "day was here."
"He was so at peace," she said. "I've never seen anything like it."
A gay man who contracted the AIDS virus through unprotected sex, Gour had lived with the disease for at least 24 of his 48 years.
He decided nearly two years ago that he was tired of fighting the virus and quit his medications.
He said he knew, after nursing others through the final stages of AIDS, that he would take his own life rather than subject himself and his family to a long and agonizing death.
Gour became a spokesman for Assembly Bill 651, a controversial measure that would make it legal for doctors to prescribe drugs for terminally ill patients to hasten their deaths.
A similar bill was shelved for lack of votes last year, but supporters say they are encouraged by a U.S. Supreme Court decision this year that rejected the federal government's bid to block Oregon's assisted-suicide law. The California measure is pending in the state Senate.
Gour lobbied for the Assembly bill in Sacramento in January, just before departing in a recreational vehicle with his dog, Cody, for a cross-country trip he called his "Goodbye and No Regrets Tour."
Despite his frustration with the opposition he encountered in the Legislature, Gour continued to make the case for "compassionate choices" in e-mails, interviews and a documentary in the works about his travels from Los Angeles to his mother's home in East Stroudsburg, Pa.
Opponents of the measure on Monday disputed the idea that Gour's situation made a case for the bill.
Marilyn Golden, policy analyst for the Disability Rights and Defense Fund, said the legislation "sounds like a great idea" in a case like Gour's, where the patient is deciding without any coercion.
But she said the high cost of health care could prompt doctors and families to urge someone to end his or her life before that person is ready.
Or, she said, a terminally ill or disabled person might choose suicide in a moment of depression, rather than waiting for the sadness to lift.
Gour, a man with a big smile and an engaging sense of humor, insisted he was experiencing no depression. Instead, his sister said, he used his final days for others.
He'd long been a volunteer, raising money to fight breast cancer and AIDS and helping other groups.
He said many of those he visited had subsequent discussions with their relatives about how they wished to end their lives and what measures should be used to keep them alive.
"If nothing else comes of this, I want people to have talked about it openly ... because it's going to happen to all of us," he told The Bee nine days before his death.
The trip also gave his family and friends a final chance to say whatever they wished to him in person. He wanted no memorial service.
"It helped them accept my decision to stop taking the meds because they could see I was content, and that I was at peace," he said. "I got to say I loved them, and they got to say they loved me."
He had a family reunion in Detroit with 40 relatives, attended a sister's wedding in Denver and estimated he saw at least 100 people en route to Pennsylvania.
He arrived in Pennsylvania in March, parked his RV and traveled by train and plane to New York City, London and Ireland in a "trip of a lifetime."
"Altogether, I saw 10 shows in New York and 12 shows in London," he said. "I drove around most of Ireland - just not Northern Ireland."
Along the way, he kept a long list of people updated via e-mail detailing, often with a great deal of humor, his travels.
Several urged him to abandon his plans to end his life, and he patiently explained that suicide was preferable to the lingering deaths he'd witnessed while nursing two roommates and a lover through the final stages of AIDS.
As early as 1996, when his therapist persuaded him to write a letter to his disease, he had decided he would choose his death.
"You were winning the battle with my immune system," he wrote to the virus in his body. "But I was going to win in the end, because I would end my life, not you."
He fought the disease for eight more years, benefiting from the strides in AIDS research. But he had to keep changing his medications as the virus developed resistance to each one.
Last year, when his doctor told him his new medication would require twice daily injections, Gour decided he didn't want to fight any more.
With his physician estimating he had just six months to live, Gour set out on his tour in February. He traveled farther than he had originally dared plan.
But on April 11, his legs hurt so much during a four-hour trip that he abandoned his new plans to drive his RV back to Los Angeles. He decided to stay in Pennsylvania with his family.
His breathing became more labored as the days passed. He could barely speak without coughing. Walking became a struggle, and he was in pain.
Dannemann, his oldest sister, said her brother spent his final days doing what he loved: watching movies and tapes of his favorite television shows, and being with his family.
At one point, she said he curled up on the sofa next to his 72-year-old mother, placing his head in her lap and letting her stroke his hair as she had when he was a child.
Gour left his family behind in Pennsylvania and flew to Los Angeles on Sunday to end his life.
On Monday, Dannemann said their mother was struggling with her son's death, even though she'd spent months preparing.
"We were up all night, and she said, 'I'm not supposed to outlive my son,' " Dannemann said.
But Dannemann said she was at peace because she shared her brother's faith in an afterlife.
"The last thing I said to him was I will see him in heaven," she said. "I have God's promise that that is where he's going to be."
As he entered his final days, Gour said he felt God was guiding him throughout his final journey.
"I feel God has completely directed this all along the way," he said. "I have even less doubt, less fear and even less anxiety than I did because I feel this has been coordinated and approved by God."