At 69-years-old, Larry Riley has lived one hell of a life; in fact, he's lived a dozen lives.
He is a father of two, a grandfather to three, an ex-husband to one, a former electrician and refrigeration mechanic, a highly regarded amateur boxer, a windsurfing instructor, and a Gold Coast bouncer.
This weekend he has chosen to die.
Larry has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - COPD for short - which has left him bedridden.
This month, he was granted permission under Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) program to end his life.
Surrounded by friends and family, he will drink a small, bitter concoction, fall asleep and pass away.
"My decision is 100% solid," he said.
"I've suffered for six years. I suffer from pains in my ankles, knees, hips, stomach, bowel, neck and bladder."
"In the last two or three weeks, I realised I am getting worse quickly. Today (Wednesday) is a blessing, but yesterday I could not talk."
"My kids are coming up Friday. I've spoken to all of my friends, and they are all on my side."
"My mind has blanked out beyond this weekend. Everything is going exactly how I want it to go."
Larry, the Larrikin
Growing up, Larry was known for his speed.
At five-foot-eight-inches, he was a lightweight in the boxing ring but a force to be reckoned with in the real world.
"I was fairly sporty for a little guy. I started out doing judo when I was young," Larry said.
"I played football. I was captain of the cricket team, my school's fastest 100m runner and the second-fastest swimmer."
"I gave up footy because my ankles couldn't handle it, so I took up water sports. I loved rowing, diving, and swimming of course."
Larry sporting pursuits took a backseat when he took up an electrical apprenticeship.
However, his natural ability was called upon after his pay packet was left wanting.
"During my apprenticeship I couldn't make enough money to live; I was making eight dollars a week and my flat cost me ten dollars a week," Larry lamented.
"So, I started boxing. I got my head knocked off a couple of times but soon got good enough to fight a couple of times a week."
"I was fighting in Festival Hall on Channel 7 doing four rounders for $60 a night. It was like Christmas."
"I was doing that two nights a week, which was illegal. I was 17 too, which was also illegal."
"Everyone knew, but they didn't say anything."
After three years of boxing, Larry knew he needed to get out of boxing for money.
He moved to Queensland and trained by himself at a police gymnasium.
"One day I was training by myself, minding my own business, when two men came up to me. I thought I was in trouble," Larry said.
"It turned out I had been selected to compete in the Commonwealth Games. I was gobsmacked."
"But because I was an amateur, I had to pay for the trip myself. So, sadly I had to knock it back."
Larry nimbleness and martial art prowess landed him a job as a successful bouncer on the Gold Coast.
Eventually, he found himself back in Melbourne, living in and around Frankston.
At 28 years old, Larry was introduced to wind sailing, and it soon became his new obsession.
"I loved wind sailing to death," he said passionately.
"I would sail every day. I got a job in Sandringham beach and lived in the boat shed for two years."
"I was teaching classes every day with ten school kids at a time and never had a failure.
"The icing on the cake was I could never teach my wife to sail."
The need for qualifications and licenses soon forced Larry away from his passion.
A likeable, albeit cheeky man, Larry made friends wherever he went.
He lost many friends, too, including several close friends during the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983.
After the ash settled, he devoted his time to rebuilding homes for his partner and surviving friends in Cockatoo.
"I was working in Yarra Glen; we were renovating 'Gulf Station'," he said.
"We were cutting everything by hand with axes. I'd come home and use a manual press to make mud bricks for my partner's home. I'd do that to midnight, have a feed and go to bed. Do the same thing the next day.
"It took us a year to make enough bricks to build the house."
I didn't want to end up in a nursing home. I'd be trapped there for years.
Larry would return to his old trade as a sparky several times during his life.
He eventually ran his successful businesses and used that money to buy a home for his family.
While the desire was still there, bureaucracy eventually pushed him away from the electrical trade at 56.
He became a refrigeration technician, something Larry enjoyed far more than being a sparky.
However, the commissioner wouldn't allow him to change trades without any homework.
"I had to do an apprenticeship, in my 50s. The bastards wanted me to do an electrical course," he chuckled.
"It gave me something to do until I retired."
After his health got to a stage where he couldn't work, Larry retired in 2015. He moved to a small cottage at the foot of the Grampians.
Dying with dignity
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common types of COPD; despite the advancements of modern medicine, the disease is still incurable.
"I can't walk. I can hardly breathe. I'm down to about 10 percent lung capacity at best," Larry said.
"I can't breathe, so I can't exercise; that means I can't maintain myself. I'm wasting away and it's mainly due to smoking."
Larry believes he started smoking probably at 16 years old; however, he remembers being advised to take up smoking early by a doctor.
"My GP at the time said I should take up smoking because he thought I was hyperactive, but I was just an active kid."
Years of smoking and working in unventilated environments took its toll on Larry's lungs.
"I should sue the tobacco companies because they do a good job of making those things addictive," he said.
"It got to the stage where it would take me an hour to recuperate my breathing after walking three steps to my potty chair."
Larry admits, "I smoked myself to death", but something inside him said that should not define him. Four years ago, he laid down one final challenge for himself.
"When I put that last cigarette in my mouth, I said 'Well, you are going to die." he said.
"I said to myself 'How about one last challenge - give them up?' I'm always good for a challenge and it's given me few extra years. It's the biggest challenge of my life."
After losing the ability to walk, Larry began wearing nappies.
"It's a horrible thing to transition to, believe me," he said frankly.
"I have a catheter, and that is hell. They run it straight through your prostate, and it's the last thing you want to feel."
"I don't want to feel that anymore."
In the last two or three weeks, I realised I am getting worse quickly.
When Larry decided to end his life voluntarily, he was met with many obstacles.
Despite being bedridden for a year, he was asked to travel to Ballarat to meet a Consultant Specialist for an assessment.
"I had to see the Consultant GP twice and the Consultant Specialist once. Spread out over a couple of months," he said.
"They were doing house calls in Ballarat, but not here."
"We would need to hire and pay for an ambulance privately which would have cost more than $1000 one way. We couldn't get it together."
Fortunately for Larry, the doctors responsible for the Voluntary Assisted Dying program in Western Victoria changed.
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"One of the doctors contacted us to say he would come out and do a home visit."
"A few days later, we were notified that the other doctor, who was on holidays, would be happy to come and see me also at home. They came and visited me the next day. The relief was bliss."
Getting two doctors to visit him at home was one thing, but gaining the required permission was another thing.
"I had this speech in my mind, you know, his spiel about why I wanted to do this," Larry said.
"I went over it in my head a number of times, but when the doctor asked me why, I just looked him straight in the eyes and said, 'I want to die', and he said fair enough."
"I was over the moon."
The relevant paperwork was submitted to the Alfred Hospital, and two pharmacists from the Statewide Pharmacy visited him a week later to deliver the lethal components.
"There's a good chance I'll fall asleep this week and never wake up; it's almost happened a couple of times," he said.
"But in between those times, when I'm awake, I struggle terribly."
"I'm too scared to stop breathing."
Despite everything that has happened to him, Larry considers himself a lucky person.
Nevertheless, he does not want anyone else to go through the same trials to participate in the VAD program.
"I want everyone to know what is available to them," he declared.
"I'm lucky that I lived close to Ballarat and Warrnambool, but some people live much further away from these places.
"The government is decentralising the nation, telling people to move to the country, but we don't have the infrastructure.
"I didn't want to end up in a nursing home. I'd be trapped there for years."
Larry said the nursing home system is criminal.
"I'm part of the baby boomer era. They started sticking us in nursing homes, telling us to sell our homes and give them the money," he said.
"They tear the old people apart, but they keep us alive to sell us drugs.
"I can tell you every drug I have taken has made me worse."
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Lifeline on 13 11 14. Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
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