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In Memory of DennisPosted Thursday, May 21, 2009, at 2:43 PM
We're preparing for Memorial Weekend.
I've heard it said that every generation has its wars. My father's generation fought in World War II. The generation between my father and I had the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
My generation's war has been with AIDS.
I've known hundreds of Americans who have died of the disease. I did my hospital chaplaincy training in 1978 and often look back on those occasional patients where no treatment would work; in hindsight that's easier to understand. I returned to Indiana in 1981 and watched as HIV and AIDS began taking life after life in the churches and communities in which I served.
In 1990 I took training at the Damien Center in Indianapolis to be a "buddy" to people who might need assistance.
Dennis was the third person to which I was assigned. A brilliant African American man first diagnosed in 1987, he became wheelchair bound and had to go on disability after several opportunistic infections left him affected for the rest of his life. When first assigned to him in 1991 I found a man who was told he had only months at best to live. As one of the first trial patients on "the cocktail" of multiple medications, his physical existence suddenly improved and the doctors told him he might live a couple of years.
He died earlier this month, one of the longest living persons with AIDS in the state of Indiana.
Initially Dennis had so many needs that there were two "buddies" assigned to assist him; oddly enough both of us have ended up living in Greencastle. After the success of "the cocktail" Dennis returned to being self-sufficient. He found a company that attached hand devices so that he could drive his car. He volunteered throughout the western part of the state as much as he could. He gave presentations to mental health counselors in training on life as a person on disability.
But even with his improved physical condition he had lost the quality of his life. He lost the career he worked hard to achieve. He saw his disability income remain fixed as the economy and prices grew. And even with good insurance he saw the price of his medications go out of his reach. He had finally spent two consecutive Christmases away from any hospital and had the goal of doing so this Christmas.
Earlier in my ministry I struggled with giving certain people sympathy or help. I had smokers who came down with lung cancer and obese people who lost limbs from diabetes. A friend of mine drove an ambulance and changed my outlook. She said that when arriving upon a car crash they never asked which driver had caused it, whether any of the drivers were drunk, or if any of the drivers had fallen asleep at the wheel. She said their reason to be there was simply to help, not to judge, and now I think of that every time I see an ambulance go by.
My generation has lost hundreds of thousands of good people from AIDS. It's been a devastating war that has cost us some of the best minds and talents of a generation.
It no longer stays just a national concern when you personally know someone who has died of the disease. Instead, the loss becomes ... tragic.
When my father was able he would visit the graves of fellow veterans on Memorial Day. I don't have such a geographical place to visit.
Instead, I will pause, light a flame, and remember the many names and faces. I have a plaque that reads "Never regret growing old; it's a privilege denied to many."
This weekend, we are the privileged.
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P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.