"A Wisconsin Couple's Love Story," by Tom and Mary Torinus

Tom and Mary Torinus, who chose to go together as one heart, one soul, one love.

To our family and friends (January 8, 2021)

Faced with ever-greater losses of mental capacity and increasing suffering and pain, Mary and I have decided individually and together to end our lives. To “go together” as one heart, one soul, one love.

On Thursday, Jan. 7 (2021), we hastened our deaths. By our choice, we died gently and peacefully while holding hands and lying side-by-side in our bed at home.

For us, it was the culmination of our 55-plus years of love and life together in which we had become one life, one heart, one soul. A grand finale for our lives lived fully together, our cup running over.

We emphasize that we see this also as the beginning of a new life together, one which we cannot define, but which we know in our heart of hearts to be a life of new freedom, innocence, beauty, love and peace. So begins our new grand adventure.

Mary was diagnosed with dementia in early summer of 2020. We had suspected its presence in her for several years. We intentionally delayed a medical diagnosis because there seemed no cure beyond what we were already doing, and because we knew the definitive diagnosis would only give us more fear and dread. Her symptoms have steadily worsened, especially since summer.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis over 10 years ago. For years before, I could find no diagnosis for my joint pain in neck, shoulders, back, wrists, and knees. Finally, I found one and have had excellent medical care since. Yet, for me, the chronic pain has been challenging indeed and has had a cumulative effect, slowly stealing away the zest, passion, and wild desire for life that I have loved in myself and hope you have known in me.

I still experience much pain. I have long been dependent on opioids and other drugs for any sense of well being. I must use more and more of these drugs just to get through the day and night.

These are not complaints. Hardly so. Mary and I have long celebrated our lives and have been filled with gratitude for our life together with all of you all these years. The vision that we might “go together” has seemed a promise and a crescendo.

We have approached our death just as we have tried to live each day: with an ever wider and deeper appreciation of the beauty all around us, with an ever greater sense of the sacredness of our lives and yours, with profound reverence for all persons and creatures and moments, and for creation itself.

With deepest discernment and personal authenticity, we feel we have been called to this graceful ending together. At age 82, we share a sense of wholeness and completion which younger people cannot yet grasp. This fullness slowly and generously has come upon us and has offered this right time.

We are deeply certain that this ending also is a new beginning for us, a transformation into a life even more expansive and beautiful. Nothing will be lost; all will be gained. We look forward to a more relaxing and profound, if inexplicable intimacy with each other, with this world and with you.

Everywhere in nature, life and death are so intimately intertwined. In the dark underground, a seed husk breaks open into a shoot, then reaches itself upward to find the light and warmth of the sun; this forms a stem, then stalk or trunk, then branch, then twig, then leaf, then fruit, then new seed. The seed drops into soil made rich and nurturing from the past lives of other fruit and trees and leaves. It becomes soil, which now nurtures new life.

In all of this, there is a vibrant life and a beauty, even glory. Mary and I now become the soil life grows in – maybe a new seed.

Here is a favorite quote of ours from Wendell Berry’s The Autobiography of Jaber Crow:

I was all filled to running over with the thought of heaven.

I thought an unimaginable thought of something I could almost imagine,

a sound I could not imagine but could almost hear:

the outcry when a soul shakes off death at last and comes into heaven.

I don’t speak of this because I ”know” it. What I know is

that shout of limitless joy, love unbound at last, our only native tongue.

None of us can see beyond death with our five senses and rational/logical minds. That limitation allows us to hold any imagination we want about our next lives. Mary and I have chosen the best imagination, the one that has best enhanced our lives in these bodies on this Earth.

Why not?

In a very real way, though, this vision is far more profound than an act of imagination. It arises from all of our human experience and the deepest source of our knowing.

There are those who will feel we have made a choice only God should make, that God should take us “naturally.” Our experience is that God has always come to know us more intimately through our conscious growing and has become ever more present in us as we have taken conscious responsibility for our lives.

God also has guided our conscious choice in this final act. It is a calling.

Medical technology has made our lives longer and more joyful. It is also used in the medical system in usual but unspoken ways to hasten the deaths of those who are suffering greatly with no hope of lucid recovery.

Our God cannot wait to see us, hold us to her breast. “I have only one question,” she will ask urgently, “Have you enjoyed the gift life I gave you?” We will say, “Yes.”

We are aware that our “going together” will shock many people. Others may be grateful to know that this is possible.

We have examined closely all alternative paths forward, always with a great depth of feeling and bold openness, ranging from gripping fear, to deadening sadness, to childlike wonder and hope.

Mary cared for her mother as she suffered dementia for 10 years and for her sister, Stephanie, as she suffered dementia for as many years. Her mother spent a full decade at home, the last year-and-a-half with a full-time, 24/7 team of six caregivers. Stevie spent seven years in nursing facilities. Both lost almost complete mental capacity.

As Mary cared for them through those years, she determined that if she were struck with dementia, she did not want to live out the full ravages of the disease, losing her sense of herself, her loved ones, her life. Also, she was determined not to go into an institutional nursing facility. Of these things, she has been most certain to the end.

Knowing that his own rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis and sleep apnea would not be terminal but would bring chronic, long-term pain and suffering, Tom has for five years studied methods of dying with dignity by conscious choice when his suffering became overbearing.

Medicines, the people who developed them, and those passionate medical doctors, nurses, and practitioners who have cared for us immensely extended our lives and capacity to enjoy it. Bless them all.

Yet the time did come.

It is very difficult for us humans, in the culture we have created, to accomplish a conscious, gentle, compassionate death, the kind we give to our beloved pets. Mary and I are pleased to have found great help from passionate, compassionate and courageous people who have stood strongly for a culture and a legal structure which would allow persons to choose their own time and way of dying and get medical and personal assistance in carrying out their desires.

These people see this as the next civil right, as we do ... We see them as the new suffragettes ... If we were younger, we would join the movement to allow and assist people to die consciously with dignity.

This “going together” has been an extremely challenging path for our family. Few long-time partners even allow themselves to consider it, even though it might feel a wonderful culmination of their love.

Our daughters, Alex and Liz, have been in full dialogue with us at every step of the journey, sharing all of our thoughts, wonderings, overwhelming feelings, spiritual questioning, and questing. We decided that we would move forward only step-by-step as one, and only in the spirit of love rather than fear.

We would take no step until all of us were together, One, acting in Love. This process has demanded immense courage and trust in God. It has also grown us deeply as a family.

From all of you, our family and friends, we ask understanding, empathy, compassion. As Atticus Finch advised to Jem and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, we hope you will “walk awhile in our shoes.” From some, perhaps, we will even need forgiveness. We humbly ask for that, too.

You have played such an inextricable role in our beautiful love story, which can only be a story of relationships. “Thank you” is the most we can possibly say and it must suffice. We hope we have been a gift of love to you as you have to us.

With you forever,

Tom & Mary