Last week on Monday the 17th of September I was marking the 23rd anniversary of my partner David Woodyard’s death from complications related to AIDS. Earlier that day I got word through Facebook that a dear friend of 40 years had died at his home in a neighboring state. He had passed away from metastatic cancer with his loving wife of 50 plus years at his side and home hospice in attendance. Perhaps it was all those many years of tobacco and whiskey. He was 81, though that really doesn’t seem all that old these days.
Yes, the dear friend of those 40 years does have a name though out of of respect for his widow, and what she may know or may not know, I am being sensitive to her needs at this time of obvious grief and keeping their identities anonymous. That is as anonymous as anything can be 2018. There really are so many ways we can all be up in each other’s business these days.
She did call me on the phone a day or so later to make sure I heard about his death. Our tearful conversation involved details on his last hours. She also said to me how much my friendship had meant to him over the years.
I last saw him about a year ago and that visit as most had over 40 years came with benefits. This relationship has reinforced for me the belief that we can live multiple parallel lives that only remotely brush up against one another and if each life is lived with sincere love, respect and appreciation all the details of each do not need to be shared with the entire cast of characters.
I appreciate that this conjures up potential images of cheating, lying and frequent obfuscation. And often in these cases that is the situation. What matters most in these complex webs is the intention. By all indications their marriage was sound and extremely mutually supportive and loving throughout. Our mutual liaisons once or twice a year over many years were scrupulously safe from an HIV perspective. One can have very erotic play with no danger of transmitting any thing really except the common cold or flu. Trips to the grocery store can put one at much more risk of various infections than rolling around naked with someone.
I do know for a fact that I was not his only same sex diversion he had and those dalliances may have been totally and mutually agreed upon between the two of them, husband and wife, and none of my business really. Perhaps I am trying here to assuage my own guilt and regret that things could maybe not have been more out in the open, but they weren’t.
So you might ask why I was even at group last week but for me the answer is simple. That is just the time to be in the company of supportive family even if the group that day included a “sensitivity training”. Though I did have issues with how our sensitivity training was presented and I do feel we as a group are the ones who should be doing the training it was done with the best of intentions. As I think about it we do sensitivity training and profound education of one another when we get together and with respect share out life stories every week. Virtually any shared queer life story lends itself to empathetic bonding for both those sharing and listening.
As I have mentioned on several occasions in my writing for this group the advice from an old Buddhist teacher often comes to mind: when talking we are stating what we already know, it is when listening that we can actually learn something new.