Dying As Her Authentic Self
Dying As Her Authentic Self
In honor of Pride Month, we are sharing a beautiful story written by a Gilchrist chaplain about how she helped a transgender person die with dignity.
Her name was Mary Lynn*. She looked more like Brett Keisel of the Pittsburgh Steelers or Grizzly Adams from the old TV show. The name and who I saw in the patient bed did not go together. I used two ways to identify Mary Lynn that I learned through continuing education: check the name band and ask the nurse or someone who knows the person for further identification.
She had long hair and a full, thick facial beard. And the person’s name was Mary Lynn. It piqued my curiosity. As I read the medical history and spoke with the nurse, the beard and the name began to make sense. Mary Lynn had transitioned from male to female earlier in her life.
She came from a nursing home to hospice, and when we received her, she could not communicate. I later learned from her medical chart and her daughter that Mary Lynn had transitioned from male to female many years ago. She had not had gender confirmation surgery and was unable to continue hormone therapy once placed in the nursing home. She did not have money to pay for it, and hormone therapy was not on the list of approved medications for nursing home patients.
I called her daughter, Chrissy. I said, “My name is Annie. I am a chaplain for Gilchrist. Is this an OK time to talk about Mary Lynn?”
Chrissy said, “Yes. He’s my Dad.”
I said, “Chrissy, from your dad’s medical history, we are aware that your dad transitioned from male to female. We want you to know that our staff is aware of this. We don’t want you to feel like you need to explain anything, and I am available if you would like to talk with me.”
She was grateful and thanked me for my candor. Chrissy said that Mary Lynn was still her dad and that she and her mom understood, but her brother had always struggled with it.
“I am glad you know,” she said. “It will make his stay there easier for me.”
I asked, “If your dad were able to speak to us, would he want to present as a woman or a man? We can honor his life and let him die looking as much like Mary Lynn as possible—or leave his beard and dress him like a man.”
Chrissy replied that she knew Mary Lynn would want to be seen as a woman. I immediately went to the nurse and doctor, who were so grateful I had talked with Chrissy. We told the nursing assistants that the patient was Mary Lynn and wanted to be treated as a woman. The aide shaved Mary Lynn’s beard. That was a very difficult task because the beard had at least two years of growth. The aides bathed her, washed and brushed her hair, and applied lotions. Finally, Mary Lynn looked like herself.
Her daughter said, “I know she is Mary Lynn, but he will always be Dad to me.” She expressed gratitude for our ability to not judge Mary Lynn but to care for her.
We are not always the person we look like on the outside. We are layers of pain and callouses, misunderstandings and unexplainable dreams and desires. To be able to live and die being your authentic self is the greatest gift anyone can have in this world. Mary Lynn lived as authentically as society would allow her.
For a while, she was lost in a health care system that did not value people’s uniqueness and authenticity. The feminine appearance of Mary Lynn, hidden behind a beard and male clothing, was released because Gilchrist cares for the unique needs of each person. Our Gilchrist teams treat people as they are, not how we want them to be. As a result, Mary Lynn died with dignity.
I hope every transgender person in Maryland and beyond reads this story. Gilchrist wants everyone to know we will care for the “authentic you.”
Written by Anne (Annie) Owens (She, Her, Hers). Annie is an ordained minister and a board-certified chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains. She is joyfully employed by Gilchrist and living her authentic self.
*Names changed to protect privacy.