Here is another piece written by one of our students. She always has an amazing perspective to offer. Thank you Laura.
By Laura Garren
Tragically, a dear friend of mine died recently of AIDS. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that he hid his condition from his family and friends, and he chose not to take the meds that would have allowed him to live with this chronic but manageable disease. In effect, he chose death. I don’t understand why he did not tell anyone he was sick; I’m not sure if he was afraid we not would help and support him—or afraid that we would.
All was revealed only two-and-a-half weeks before he died. He grew very ill, and his family finally convinced him to go into the hospital. Then, as we watched helplessly, he wasted away. His doctors did everything they could to combat the opportunistic infections that ravaged him, but it was too late, and he refused to fight. Now, we who love him are faced with unanswerable questions, as well as the emotions attendant to his loss. I am heartbroken and grieving, but my feelings are tainted with anger and regret.
Why did he choose the path he did? Was he afraid to tell us he had AIDS? If so, why? Did he think we would turn away? Or did he know we would have harangued him and forced him to seek treatment? I must conclude the latter, knowing him as I did. He did things his way, always. I wish I could have done more for him, although I don’t know what that would have been.
At his best, he was generous, nurturing, wickedly funny, creative, and charming. He also was capable of being waspish, stubborn, controlling, intractable, and evasive. He was a perfectionist, and intensively jealous of his privacy. In the year before his death he isolated himself and actively drove people, myself included, away.
I will miss him so much, having been attached to him for so long (25 years). He was that rare and valuable friend who told the truth as he perceived it, even if it hurt. On the other hand, he could take the same in kind. He lacked the filter that constitutes a boundary between most friends, because most friends don’t really want to know every thought you have about them, and vice versa. If he loved you, however, you were going to hear whatever opinion—good, bad or indifferent—that percolated up through his consciousness. I had to learn to shrug off his verbal darts and develop a thick skin. He was sometimes challenging to be around, but I always knew where I stood with him.
However, his prickly exterior hid extraordinary kindness. He brought home all manner of strays—including myself, at one point—and took care of us in times of need in what he wryly termed his “Halfway House.” He was exceedingly generous with his time and his gifts. He helped me set up house when my husband Chuck and I moved to Greenville two years ago, onto the street where he lived, with my childhood friend. I wanted to be closer to them and to other friends in Greenville who could support me in my role as caretaker to Chuck, who is a stroke survivor.
My friend took care of me for a while, but then began to ail and then to push me, and others who loved him, away. During the last three weeks of his life, when we learned the truth, we did what we could to take care of him. I only wish he had told us about his condition, or that I had forced myself harder into his life last year, when he was pushing me away. I struggle to stop beating myself up about that, though, because I can’t change the past. And, as my friend himself would say, “Regrets are for dinner parties.”