This is an article I wrote for the Western Kentucky Catholic monthly newspaper in May of 1993. I was still married and living on the farm at the time, and a member of the Diocesan AIDS Task Force, the office manager of KIPWAC (Kentucky-Indiana People With AIDS Coalition), and foster mom to 2 young men dying of AIDS.
So there I was, moving along aimlessly through life, looking for “meanings” where none existed, never quite moving out of the sixties frame of mind, a poet without a coffeehouse. The kids were grown and getting on with their own lives. My husband is a farmer, so I am accustomed to seeing him only at mealtimes. My days were spent doing crats, playing my guitar, watching movies,–real important stuff! I thought life would continue this way for years. But life has a way of delivering unexpected whammy’s! My Dad, always so strong and tall, was suddenly dying.
Day after day I drove to his house and watched helplessly as he lost strength. Mother never left his side, friends phoned, stopped by, wrote notes, sent cards. Each time the refrigerator got low someone brought in more food. Even strangers offered help. You see, Dad had cancer, and while it was once shunned and spoken of only in whispers, and yes, even considered a “judgement” from God, now it is an acceptable way to die.
After the funeral I felt the need to help someone, repay the kindness we were shown by passing it on to someone else. I started listening to people talk, and realized that while almost everyone is willing to help a person dying of cancer, not too many are willing to help a person with AIDS. AIDS is spoken of in whispers, considered to be a “judgement” from God. I didn’t know much about AIDS, and what I thought I knew scared me. Then I met someone with AIDS and he looked and acted just like me. We talked for a while, and when we parted–drum role please–I hugged him. And wow! I didn’t “catch” AIDS. So I started reading, listening, and learning more about this disease.
Oh, yeah, about that hug–a friend of a person who died of AIDS passed on a remark his friend had made–“Do you know why hugs feel so good? Because two hearts are never closer than when two people hug.” Wish I had said that.
Along the way I met Father Danny Goff, a priest who educates about AIDS, a man I believe walks hand in hand with God. Quiet, unassuming, he probably has no idea of the inspiration he is. He teaches the lesson of the Good Samaritan by daily example, which conveys more than words ever could. He asked me to join the AIDS Task Force, and he has taught me about this disease and much, much more. Following his example, I have learned to look beyond the disease and the circumstance surrounding it and to see the peoople, human beings, made in God’s image, and most certainly loved by God. I am learning to speak out about AIDS, and to try to educate the people around me.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to do something. When I talked to more and more people with AIDS and heard stories of friends turning their backs, jobs lost, and families pretending they didn’t exist, first I cried: then I decided I would be a friend.
These were people in pain, and in mostt cases their worst pain came from the rejection they felt, rather than the physical pain caused by the disease. But I don’t mean to imply that every family has rejected their ailing sons and daughters. A great number of families have been drawn closer together and strengthened by their desire to make the time they have left more meaningful.
A year ago I didn’t know anyone with AIDS. Now I know several. I have met several care-givers, people with hearts big enough to overlook the physical failings of a person dying of AIDS and see only a person who needs a hug–“two hearts are never closer–“.
I like to think I have grown in the past year, become more caring, more giving. I realize I have a lot of growing to do, but words that were once a struggle to write flow more easily now. I think I’ve found the coffeehouse.
I spent 6 years working with the People With AIDS (PWA’s) in this state, going from one area to another, speaking to school children, adult groups, any place that requested a speaker, always learning more about the disease, losing people who had become part of my life. Then came the day….first Rick, one of my foster sons, and then Fr. Danny, my mentor, born with hemophilia, the young man who worked tirelessly to force the drug companies to begin testing the blood supplies that ultimately killed him. They died within 2 weeks of each other, and there was a litany of friends after them. There had been so many before, but with Rick and Danny beside me I could handle it all. Without them my grief was endless and it was time to step back and pass the torch to someone else. I had an MS relapse, a divorce, a broken foot, and so many other problems hitting me at the same time that I wasn’t sure I could go on. The torch was passed to my friend Rita, who kept it blazing for many years.
The day the AIDS cocktail was discovered was a day for rejoicing, but that is still not a cure. The disease is still out there, and believe it or not, Senior Citizens are more likely to get it now than the younger, more educated population. One of the last of my friends still living with the disease has passed on recently. It continues to affect me, even after all these years, but I am able to handle it again now. I loved them all, in their sweetness and their light. The young couple wondering what would become of their children when they were gone. The young mother, praying her baby had not been born with the disease. RIP all of you.