Archive for October, 2015

AIDS Memoir–Last Rites and Diaper Change

Friday, October 30th, 2015

This is an old writing, published in a British newspaper.

Faith and Reason: Deadly afraid of dying all alone: The Rev Robert Rea, of
Newark, New Jersey, gives an account of the challenge of trying to give
individual care to an Aids patient in the last days of his life in an American

Saturday, 11 December 1993
I NOTICED in a recent gospel reading that when the Son of Man comes, he comes
to judge the nations. We usually hear a judgement of our individual behaviour in
this reading. And we can usually find things we individuals do to help the
least. But what if that is not the question being asked? What if our national
behaviour is at issue? What if it is presidents and legislators and
administrators that are to be judged? So I thought I would detail what I have
been doing over the last few days that I do, and my agency does, on behalf of,
and instead of, the nation. But that is preface.

Greetings from Calcutta, USA, and the St Somebody Aids Resource Center. Thursday
I got a call from the local visiting nurse in our church about a man, call him
Jose. Jose has been hyperactive and clinging to the home health help, because he
is dying and afraid and he has only eight hours a day of her services, so he
causes a fuss when she has to go home at 4pm leaving him alone. Maybe as a
priest I could go in and pray with him and calm him down. So I did. It worked
some, but he is alone all night.

If you’ve seen the figure of Christ on the most agonised possible Spanish
crucifix, you know what Jose looks like. No muscle mass to speak of, lying on
the couch because he is too uncomfortable on his hospital bed. Besides which,
think what it must mean to him to climb into that hospital bed. Deadly afraid to
die, wanting to die at home, and not in a nursing home. One of his best friends
died last week, the other is now dying in the hospital.

Jose is in pain but they can’t or won’t do anything about it because he is an
intravenous drug user and they are afraid to mix in any other pain meds. Come to
think of it, he hasn’t been able to go out and get his methadone for two weeks,
let alone street drugs. So not only is he facing death, but he is going though
withdrawal at the same time. No wonder he is in pain. I do my job, I comfort and
talk to him about all this. I anoint him and give him communion. Later, when I
check back in after the nurse has gone home, I have to help him clean himself up
and change his diaper. The comforts of religion, Last Rites and diaper change.

I talk to the visiting nurses. He’s not sick enough to get round-the- clock
care. They will try for more hours but it takes a while to get approval from
Medicaid – ie, welfare here in Calcutta, USA. So I see him again Friday. And
leave him alone again. I can’t stay with him. It is in a neighbourhood where I
as a white person am not very safe. And my car was stolen earlier in the week.
But he is supposed to have health workers over the weekend.

He says he doesn’t want to die alone. I tell him I will do my best to see that
he doesn’t. I tell him he isn’t going to die Thursday night. Friday I tell him
he won’t die over the weekend. I believe this; I can see he’s not quite that
close. And he isn’t. I tell him I will see him after church Sunday.

Sunday it turns out his sister-in- law came Saturday and found him alone, so she
took him home. Nobody is around to tell me where to find him. Well, at least
he’s not alone.

Today the health worker calls me to tell me where he is. So I see him and sit
with him a while. Today he can’t hold his head up to eat or drink. We, the
worker and I, sit him up and his head falls back and hits the couch with a nasty
crunch. Finally we get a pillow behind his head. He can’t use his atomiser for
his asthma any more either. The nurse covers his legs, which he doesn’t want.
She says he’s got to or he’ll catch pneumonia. I think to mayself that it would
be a merciful end. He asks for the oils which I had not brought. I was reverting
to my job as social worker. Tomorrow, I promise him, I will bring the oils.

Later I talk to the health worker who takes such wonderful care of him. She says
she isn’t sure she can continue. The neighbourhood isn’t safe enough for her to
come to. She gets off at 4pm and has to take a taxi to a streetcorner safe
enough to wait at for a bus.

Later yet I talk to his sister-in- law. (This is Hispanic for some sort of
relative. She calls him her uncle.) She says that she is getting another eight
hours of health aid care arranged. If she can do that she can take the other
eight hours of the day, and move him back to his own apartment. I applaud that
heartily. We will work on getting him to use the hospital bed, where we can
crank him up so he won’t choke and suffocate.

The sister-in-law says she won’t have him be alone and incontinent. I applaud
that even more. She is going to try to get him into the nursing home where she
works, but the paperwork takes several weeks, and then there is a waiting list.
I tell her I don’t think we have time. He is going to die sooner than that. This
shocks her somewhat. We talk about that for a while. So now we are making plans
to find people to stay for the gap between when the sister-in-law goes to work
and the aid comes in the morning. That much even I may be able to do.
So this morning the sister-in-law called the ambulance and sent him to the
hospital. This time the hospital is keeping him. He has meningitis, they think,
and gangrene on his feet. So he has a couple of days. They think he will make it
tonight. His condition is stable. He’s in a lot of agony but the vital signs are

He can’t really talk anymore. He makes sounds but you can’t tell what he’s
trying to tell you. So I anointed him and said goodbye in case I didn’t make it
back to see him again. Tomorrow is our day to give out the turkeys and dinners
for our clients. If I get a chance I will try to see him again. If not, I will
try to get by on Thanksgiving. Without a car, it’s difficult.

Next we think about a funeral.

So keep all of us in your prayers.

I think I know what the son of Man would say about our individual work. What
would he say about the nation that allows people to get into this state?

AIDS Memoir–The Shrink

Friday, October 30th, 2015

So the monastery guesthouse sheltered persons with AIDS.
One day a man turned up who said he had been beaten up by
his wife and run away from home. He seemed the proverbial
Caspar Milquetoast, small, meek, anxious, and fearful. He
stayed with us for a week, I think. Then he told me that
his wife was coming to get him on Sunday. As indeed she
did. She was fierce and fearsome, an angry woman. She
referred to him as Doctor. I looked surprised. She said, Oh
he didn’t tell you. then she angrily took him and left.
Some months later, I saw his picture in an obituary in the
city newspaper. He was a psychiatrist, the Director of a
state mental health center in a neighboring state.

It’s familiar story, the married gay man having sex with
other men in secret. There are so many. A sociologist I
knew, Laud Humphries, made a study of this, published as
“Tearoom Trade: Impersonal sex in public places.” Perhaps I
may write more about him in another post.


Friday, October 30th, 2015

read Nehemiah at (Episcopal) Morning Prayer:
The exiles return to rebuild Jerusalem. The local authorities question their right to do so, Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab. This is Nehemiah’s reply:
The God of heaven is the one who will give us success, and we his servants are going to start building; but you have no share or claim or historic right in Jerusalem.”
And I hear the voice of Bibi Netanyahu.
And so it goes.

Lost In An Eternal Present

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Guy Debord says in The Society of the Spectacle that the spectacle obfuscates the past, imploding it with the future into an undifferentiated mass, a type of never ending present; in this way the spectacle prevents individuals from realizing that the society of spectacle is only a moment in history (time).

In a support group I am in, a woman told us a story to illustrate what she was saying. Then it became clear that the story told, which sounded like a true story, was from a TV show. This is a sad and bad confusion. We are losing our grip on reality, confusing fiction with it.


Friday, October 23rd, 2015

I think my cognitive dissidence was prefigured at my birth. I remember my grandmother saying when she got to the hospital for my birth, she had her shoes on the wrong feet.

But a lot of other stuff was going on too. My father died fifteen days after I was born, leaving my mother penniless, with no money to bury him, and no money to feed a child. He died of a cancer that was ugly and painful. She was forced back into her parents’ home. With me as a souvenir of what was probably a bad marriage. Later on, when she was angry at me, she would tell me I was like him. She once told me that he had punched her in the stomach when she was pregnant with me.

Years later, when I first knew what an abortion was, I thought to myself, “Oh that’s what my mother should have done.” I was quite aware that I was a burden. When she finally did remarry, it was because it was marry him and move away to his new job or lose him. She asked for my permission; she told me he had been asking her to marry him for eight years and that she said no because she didn’t want to saddle him with me.

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Wednesday we used the propers from the previous Sunday. The word ‘household’, struck me in the collect. then we read the story of Naboth’s vineyard, and Ahaz and Jezebel. Naboth will not give up his ancestral land, his vineyard. It is his place in the world, in God’s creation. It his place in the continuity of his people. The image of the vineyard is the sign of Israel, the people, and of each man’s proper place in it. Ahaz just wants it to add on to his estate in Jezreel.

Israel is the household of God.The cosmos is the household of its Creator. The Greek word is economia. It really means the arrangement of things and their management. Ahaz wishes to disarrange the world of Naboth to suit his kingly advantage. Naboth refuses. Ahaz sulks. His wife Jezebel then tears it up completely. She uses her royal prerogative to have Naboth condemned to death and his property is forfeited to the King. This is not the way God’s household must work. God sends the prophet Elijah to pronounce his judgement. Ahaz and Jezebel shall perish. Their political manipulations bring war and death to them in the ordinary course of the world. That world, however, is cosmos, God’s household is arranged in such a way that their acts have consequences.

In early Christian theology, there is the economy of creation and the economy of salvation. God in essence is not knowable, but God is known in the economy God made. God has made the world in such a way and violations have their consequences. God arranged our salvation in Jesus to fit the cosmos as it was and return it to what God created it to be. How God did this is the economy of salvation. The dire necessity that Jesus suffer so terribly and rise from the dead is is made necessary by the state of the world where he lived and died. Jesus’ suffering shows the violence and suffering that so distorted the cosmos that made his suffering necessary.

AIDS Memoir–Lee

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

A quiet Sunday afternoon at the monastery. We had eaten a
solid Sunday dinner and were replete and resting. Then I
got a call from the Guestmaster, Jonathan. A guy with AIDS
and his friends had rung the doorbell looking for help.

Back story: I had been involved with AIDS and the churches
for a few years. The community had agreed that the
Guesthouse could shelter people with AIDS temporarily. So
a good while back, Lee had been referred to us. Then his
friends took him in. Now they brought him to us; they could
no longer care for him. Maybe we could take him in.

But Lee was very very sick, far too thin, little muscle
left, very feeble, clearly more than we could deal with. I
admire his friends for caring for him this long, true
friends. Jonathan wanted my advice on how to deal. Lee
clearly belonged in a hospital. I knew the AIDS chaplain at
the public hospital with an AIDS ward; he had been in a
class I took at a local divinity school. So I somehow got
Dan’s number and we called him. He guided Jonathan and
Lee’s friends in how to get him set up to be admitted.

I took Lee into the common room where he could lie down on
a couch. I sat with him. He talked but mostly he wept. I
held him in my arms as he wept; it took a while. Finally
his friends took him to the hospital. He died a week later.

God works through us, God’s arms comforting the dying with
my arms. And I remember and weep.