My beloved Donimo died on April 21, 2020, just after 2pm Pacific Time. Donimo was my partner of 22 years, and remains my best friend and my absolute soulmate. I used the word “died,” but it would be more accurate to say “flew fearlessly and joyfully out of this world.”
Donimo was almost 55, and had suffered from high levels of chronic pain for 40 years. Over the past few years in particular, her health had grown much worse. She had ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), fibromyalgia, serious car accident injuries, and other conditions as well, all of which caused severe pain and weakness. For decades, Donimo pursued countless possible treatments, with grit, hope and determination. But everything she tried either caused her to get sicker or had no appreciable effect. Since February, Donimo had been bed-bound, only able to walk a few feet. On many days she was barely able to move or speak for hours on end.
After an excruciating decision-making process, Donimo decided to end her suffering with medically assisted dying (MAiD). She did not want to die. There were countless things she still wanted to do in this world. She was full of love and curiosity and ambition. But it became overwhelmingly clear that we had exhausted all possible options in both conventional and alternative medicine. At that point, Donimo became determined to prepare herself to die with as much peace and acceptance as she possibly could, and to embrace whatever comes after death.
She and I spent many hours crying and screaming and raging, holding each other, loving each other, trying to laugh a little bit. We read and read about death and dying – memoirs, poetry, philosophy, religion. We both became sure that there is something after death. We are sure that it is, in the words of Rabbi Marc Gellman, “wonderful and loving and peaceful and joyous.”
Guided by Donimo’s wishes, four brilliant members of our chosen family – Terra Poirier, River Light, AJ Murray and Emet Davis – put everything in place to make Donimo’s transition exactly what she wanted. Terra, River, AJ, Emet, Donimo, me, my father Rob, and our dearest dog Jackson gathered right at the edge of the loudly rushing Lynn Creek, at Lynn Headwaters Park in North Vancouver.
I struggled to accept Donimo’s choice until I saw her dressing with care for the event, smiling out the window at trees and flowers as we drove to Lynn Headwaters in the medical transport, crying and laughing with all of us right up until the moment of her death. For the few hours we were at the park, Donimo was radiant. She took turns speaking to each of us. We each tied a blue thread around her wrist so she could carry us with her as she left. She gave us each a river rock and told us why she chose that particular rock for us. She kept telling us that she was happy, that the day was perfect. We were all beside her, touching her, when she died. She was lying on a soft mattress on the grass, covered in blankets, cedar branches and cherry blossoms, gazing up at the sky. Jackson was by her side too, watching over her, as he had been doing more and more as the time got closer.
I know that I will grieve for a very long time, that I will miss her and adore her forever. And I am grateful that she is no longer in pain. I know that she still exists in some form – I imagine her close by, in the air, in the trees, and I imagine her playing and running through the stars. She is free.
Donimo was a sharp-eyed artist (metal work, photography, drawing) and a keenly observant lover of visual art, literature and music. She was a fiercely devoted friend, a passionate activist for queer and disability rights, and had a great tenderness for small dogs and exceptional children. She had a mischievous streak and a fantastic laugh and told horrible puns. She was devastatingly handsome, with an incredible appreciation for nice men’s clothing which she wore in the queerest, proudest way.
Donimo is survived and mourned by me (her partner, Sarah Leavitt), her brother Larry Hanson (Yolanda), sister Trish Postma (Henry), nephews Richard and Josh, niece Stephanie, my father Robert Leavitt, and four chosen family members who have cared for both of us for almost the entire past year: Terra Poirier, River Light, AJ Murray and Emet Davis. Uschi Schnell, Katie Ash and Amy Shapiro have been loving and supporting Donimo for years from miles away. There are also many other friends, too many to name, who sent messages, food, and gigantic amounts of love during this brutal time. We see you and we love you.
Thank you to all the health care workers who did what they could to ease Donimo’s suffering over the years: massage therapist Teresa Koelewyn; physiotherapist Robin Eisler; naturopath Dr Caroline Coombs; Dr of TCM Melissa Carr; counsellor Kerry Chutter; and medical doctors Ellen Wiebe, Rhonda McKay, Gil Kimel, Nardia Strydom and Laura Connolly. Thank you to Althea at the Assisted Dying Program at VCH, the staff at Dying with Dignity, and to all those who have fought to legalize assisted dying and make it accessible to more people. Thank you to the staff at Lynn Headwaters Park. Thank you to Ngaio at Koru for performing a green burial for Donimo.
Donimo is buried at Mountain View Cemetery. There is no marker yet, but she is in the Old Section of the graveyard, as seen on this map, and the number of her plot is OLD-4-01-012-0011. She lies beneath two gigantic old cedar trees and a holly tree. She had a strong desire to become part of the earth, for her molecules to be reused and transformed.
If you are financially able, in lieu of flowers, please donate in her name to the Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Action Network. Donimo is very proud of the photos she posted to her Instagram account, @queerview, and wanted me to share the link after she died.
Because we cannot hold an in-person celebration of life at this time, we are asking people to share memories and photos on this website, created by Krisztina Kun and Terra Poirier. Many people have already written wonderful letters to Donimo about her impact on their lives. Please feel free to share these on the site too, if you feel comfortable doing so.
All my love,
April 23, 2020