Working with the Dying

In the early 1980s, I read newspaper accounts of men dying of AIDS on the street because no one would go near them or touch them from fear of being infected with the disease which was, back then, invariably fatal. I had faced death repeatedly in combat and watched men die. Working with the dying didn’t frighten me as it did most people. So I volunteered to care for those dying of AIDS despite the threat that I might come down with the disease. Over a period of five years, I helped seven men die a dignified and largely painless death. Eventually, we discovered that the disease was transmitted by the exchange of bodily fluids. Then, when science discovered a means of preventing death for AIDS patients, I moved on to helping others. I spent two years working with the homeless and, after that, seven years of working with the dying in the Gilchrist Hospice. When I got too old and feeble to lift my patients to their feet—a requirement when working with the seriously ill and the dying—I had to quit.

Now I am getting old enough that I must face the likelihood of my own death. Evidence available thus far is that I’ll reach my goal of living to be over a hundred, despite temporary setbacks like my current bout with pneumonia-induced lung congestion and coughing. So far, so good.

These days, I’m too old and frail to help people die. But I still do what I can by contributing money regularly to Gilchrist. And I am content knowing that I did more than my share. I am proud of my willingness to help others to die in peace.

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