This is one of those Story Telling Topics that really brings home to me what a lazy undisciplined writer I am. My life certainly dating from the death of my father in August of 1980 up until my most recent shift in Urgent Care, which was yesterday, has been chock-full of experience after experience of life’s impermanence and the personal grief that causes. I should be writing at least several chapters on grief if I were ever to get off my ass and write a memoir. The reality though is that the topic of Grief is going to get less than a thousand words as usual.

If I were in a really self-indulgent mood I suppose I could conjure up reams on grief around my own HIV infection and that of many, many friends and clients and their suffering and too often deaths over the past 35 years. An issue of self-exploration here for me would perhaps be how much of my own grief over the decades has really just been self-indulgent wallowing in the pool of “poor pitiful me”. How unfair that I am “forced” to face my own mortality every day when I swallow my HIV meds. And even worse how come I have witnessed so much suffering and death of others? I really need to watch this tendency in myself carefully and continually realize that no one gets out alive and many through the ages up until this minute have it so much worse than I do or ever will.

Nevertheless, that all said let me delve self-indulgently just a bit into my own grief issues, as they seem to come into focus for me especially this time of year. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death. The Grateful Dead were an integral part my life for decades. During the darkest years of the AIDS epidemic, from the late 1980’s until 1995 when I was not only looking down the barrel of my own infection I was also the nursing manger in the AIDS clinic at Denver Health and living with the love of my life who was dying in front of me. The music of the Grateful Dead was a great solace in those years and remains so today actually. I was at the last two shows Garcia and the Dead performed at Soldier’s Field in Chicago July. 1995.

Those shows were not particularly memorable at the time in large part because Garcia was not well but it never occurred to me that he would be gone himself in a few short weeks. The memory of hearing the news of his death on August 9th, 1995 is indelibly etched in my mind but not for the reason you may think.

Minutes after the news exploded across the world of Garcia’s death of a heart attack in a rehab center in Marin County my life partner David Woodyard, who was battling several major HIIV related issues of his own at the time, was on the phone deeply concerned about me and how I was taking the news.

This was and still is for me the real lesson on how to handle the feeling of grief in my own life. I need to always take a moment or several no matter what the circumstances and look around, outside my own little puddle and attempt to be “conscious of life’ and what an amazing trip it is to get to experience that at all, even when filled with grief.

David was teaching me that lesson right up until his own death five weeks later at 9 AM on September 17th, 1995. That was when my own real grieving began in earnest with no Grateful Dead song able to console me. Not even the beautiful lyrics of Brokedown Palace, which we played at his memorial.

Fare you well my honey
Fare you well my only true one
All the birds that were singing
Have flown except you alone

Going to leave this broke-down palace
On my hands and my knees I will roll roll roll
Make myself a bed by the waterside
In my time, in my time, I will roll roll roll

In a bed, in a bed
By the waterside I will lay my head
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

River gonna take me
Sing me sweet and sleepy
Sing me sweet and sleepy
All the way back home
It’s a far-gone lullaby
Sung many years ago
Mama, Mama, many worlds I’ve come
Since I first left home

Going home, going home
By the waterside I will rest my bones
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Going to plant a weeping willow
On the banks green edge it will grow grow grow
Sing a lullaby beside the water
Lovers come and go, the river roll roll roll

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Songwriters: GARCIA, JERRY / HUNTER, ROBERT Brokedown Palace lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

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