This is How I Honor My Grandfather’s Legacy

March 18, 2021

We stood with my Grandpa Tom in a circle around his hospital bed until after he passed away in good spirits, almost nonchalantly. We all held or touched him in some way, with me holding his hand, until we saw him through to the next realm. I witnessed death as it should be—as Grandpa Tom had determined long before this moment.

image of an aged handwritten letterGrandpa Tom was not in the kind of pain my Grandpa Vince was in. Our favorite cowboy should have died in his house surrounded by friends and my big Italian family, eating his favorite foods, sharing memories, laughing, talking about life and watching “Seinfeld.” Instead, he died alone in his bathtub, having ended his own life to escape the pain caused by leukemia. He left behind a note saying sorry for not being able to endure a feeling that he described as if someone was “drilling multiple holes into [his] bones constantly.” I witnessed death as I believe it should never be—painful and solitary.

Despite my anxiety with public speaking, I’ve shared this story countless times to honor the death Grandpa Vince deserved. I speak in hearings and in front of committees about authorizing medical aid in dying—a compassionate way for terminally ill individuals to bring about their own death on their terms. I recognize the same speakers sharing similar stories alongside me in rooms filled with powerful and emotional energy, never a dry eye in the house.

My family is very proud of what I am doing by sharing my grandpa’s brave story. Medical aid in dying is not authorized in New Mexico yet, but we just cleared our last legislative hurdle. On March 15, the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act was passed by the Senate, clearing the way for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature. But authorizing medical aid in dying is only the beginning. We must also ensure that terminally ill people have meaningful access to the end-of-life care options they want and need.

Compassion & Choices is raising $100,000 by April 15 for their Compassionate Care Fund. Along with the Compassion & Choices Action Network, they’re fighting in state capitols across the country. Their annual fundraising campaign will help them advocate for options like medical aid in dying and ensure people can access those options in all 50 states. If you can, please contribute and become a defender of compassionate care today.

album cover featuring Vincent Distasio

I used to be really scared of death, but now I hold a healthier view. Because I know now that part of what’s hard about death is the uncertainty that you won’t get to say a final goodbye.

The day medical aid in dying is enacted in New Mexico will mean the world to me and my loved ones. It would give us some closure about how my Grandpa Vince died, especially to those who weren’t able to see him before he passed. Access to medical aid in dying would mean no one else would have to go through what he did and make the decision he had to make. It would mean that his brave but tragic death would not have been in vain.

Thank you,


Compassion & Choices
Media Contacts

Sean Crowley
Media Relations Director
[email protected]

Patricia A. González-Portillo
National Latino Media Director
[email protected]
(323) 819 0310

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