Over the years that I was a buddy for AIDS patients, I came to love every one of them. And when they died, I grieved.
In five years, I went through seven patients. They were all gay, and they all died.
Just at the time when I decided I couldn’t face another death, medical science isolated the means of transmission—bodily fluids, especially semen—and discovered medicines that treated the conditions brought on by the disease. The death rate plummeted. I ceased being a buddy. I worked for several years with the homeless, then spent seven years caring for the dying in the hospice system.
My experiences with the men who died of AIDS changed my life and outlook. I discovered that all my unconscious biases against gay men were wrong. I learned that the only difference between me and my patients was their sexual preference. They were men just like me. And the other volunteers—I was the only straight buddy—were blessed with an unusual strength and willingness to put their lives on the line to help their brothers. These were heroic men, not the sissies I’d been led to expect them to be.
Now, all these years later, I have put aside volunteer work. I’m too old and feeble to care for those who cannot care for themselves. But I see that working with the dying gave me a deepened understanding of the human soul. It enriched my lifework, writing.
My experience of caring for dying gay men, moreover, gave me a unique insight. I was so moved by the experience that my understanding of living deepened. And, since I was a writer, I wrote about it.
The result was the novel No-Accounts (Apprentice House, 2014).