Your grief, my grief, our grief

From 1991 to 1993 I volunteered at the AIDS Hospice on Mission Hill in Boston. Since volunteers were not medically trained, our work was more housekeeping than anything else. (Yes, I can change the sheets of your bed while you’re in it.) We were also privileged to sit with the patients, talking with them or simply being with them. We sat in their rooms or outdoors on the patio. We went walking with patients who could walk without danger, and we took others for walks in wheelchairs. We became friends with the patients even though we understood the short time we would be with them. One of the qualifications for being a volunteer was that one previously must have been with someone when they died. I met the qualification. And then I was with about a half dozen of the hospice patients when they died.

I became friends with the one straight man patient. He was from Lawrence, MA, and, in his working days, had been a pimp with a group of “girls” whose lives he basically controlled. He contracted AIDS from one of his “girls” who had contracted it from one of her clients. She was also in the hospice’s care. One day he and I were sitting on the patio and he said, “Promise me. Flowers.” I was puzzled, so he repeated, “Promise me flowers on my casket.” I promised him that I would speak with the chaplain about his request, which I did. About a week later I was sitting with him in his room. He was in and out of consciousness, but at one point he became fully alert and said, “You promised me flowers.” I said, “Yes, the chaplain says you will have flowers.” The next day when I arrived at the Hospice, he had died.

I write this today because Covid-19 has brought to my mind – no, not my mind, but my heart, my spirit – the grief I lived close to for those two years. I have some real sense of what a rampant disease can do to a community, my community. (Since about 1990 there have been far fewer gay men of my approximate age than of any other age group in the US.)

When the ranting and raving and politicking and other cruelties are over, hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbors and families will be living in a world of grief made terrifying because it seems so unnatural and unnecessary. No matter who turns out to be right or wrong about any of the facts or fictions about Covid-19, our responsibility will be to care for those in grief. For thirty years I have carried in a small corner of my mind and heart grief for a man I knew for only a few weeks and whose life was so different from mine that it seems impossible that our paths could ever have crossed. Yet to this day, I try to find ways to keep my promise to him. Flowers.

For others.

And I barely knew him.

About Harold Knight
Retired English prof, SMU. Old man. Musician. Passionate about justice, equality, freedom. Therefore, I am a fervent supporter of and advocate for the Palestinian People as they struggle to survive genocide. That also means, of course, I have no use for US 45.

One Response to Your grief, my grief, our grief

  1. Mary Kalen Romjue says:

    Beautiful Harold. I lost my Aunt Dorothy last week. She was 95. Young or old, they are missed. Flowers, I was able to send some even if I could not be there with her.

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