On Tuesday, I shared with you my friendship with Robert and Andrew. Both of them died in late 1991. Andrew first—in a Minneapolis hospital—and then Robert in the VA hospital.
Andrew’s parents were with him when he died. They had his body cremated and carried his ashes back home where they buried him in the family plot.
After Andrew’s death, Robert was admitted to the VA hospital where he died in a few short days. When I visited him there, he shared memories of his life. He especially like to talk about the trip he and Andrew had taken together in the past spring to Winona, Minnesota.
I still have the photo of them on the bluff above the relentless flow of the Mississippi. Andrew sits on a rock wall, his face alit with laughter. Robert stands beside him, clearly pleased with the joke he’s just told. A spring breeze ruffles their hair as it, too, meanders through their lives.
A bluff in Winona, Minnesota, overlooking the Mississippi.
That time away had refreshed both of them and perhaps helped them live longer. But when Andrew died, Robert grieved deeply and simply let go of any desire to live without his companion of so many years.
His parents came to the VA hospital. His mother wept; his father simply stood there, unsure of what to do. Clearly, his fear of the disease kept him from touching Robert’s hands or kissing his cheek or smoothing the hair back from his fevered forehead. He hovered near the hospital bed, caught in his own dilemma of whether to embrace his son. He never did while I was there, but I’ve always hoped that when alone with his son, he did clasp him close and assure him of love.
Robert's mother was both gracious and generous when I visited him in the hospital. She encouraged me to stand close to the head of the bed. I held his hands, brushed my fingers against his tangled hair, and sang the songs he’d enjoyed when Andrew had played them on the piano. He responded with a whisper of a smile, and his mother smiled tremulously at me.
And then it was over. Robert and Andrew were together again. A year later, they were with me in spirit when I stood before a group of friends at the Stillwater Library and signed copies of A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story.
One of the things Robert, Andrew, Mary, and I had talked about at our prayer meetings was the possibility of that book being published. They were delighted when Crown offered me a contract in July of 1991. Had they been alive, Robert and Andrew would have done a little living-room jig in their joy for me on the book’s publication day.
I dedicated A Cat’s Life to the three of them: Robert, Andrew, and Mary.
Volunteering at the St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center was one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I made three good friends—Lon, Robert, and Andrew—and I met many other men whose courage touched my life.
All of this started with a Newsweek article about the “epidemic” of AIDS. We never know the moment when grace will touch our lives. Because of that, we sometimes miss the opportunity of growth in the enduring human spirit.
I shall forever be grateful that I read that article and that I was able—for some unknown and inexplicable reason—to respond to the promptings deep down within me that said, “You can do something about this. Will you?”
In “doing something” for those I met at the AIDS clinic, I did something for myself. And isn’t that the way life always is? That when we reach out to others, others reach out to us and we are twice, thrice, blessed. There is blessing both in the giving and the receiving. And who is to say, which is which?
Photo from Wikipedia.