I have been forced by circumstances to know more about death than I would like to know. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, I managed a café in Dupont Circle, which is to DC what the Castro is to San Francisco, the center of the gay and lesbian cultural life of the city. Within the span of a few short years, we lost our head bartender, our chef, several waiters and countless customers to the dread disease.
HIV/AIDS was the Calvary of the gay community. I know some will be shocked by the comparison, but I stand by it. For these men, and it was mostly men, were struck down at a horribly early age and so their deaths lacked the naturalness by which Sister Death usually accomplishes her work, coming to those who have lived long and fruitful lives to be buried by their children. Here, the parents buried their children. At dozens of hospice visits, I saw living “pietas” as mothers comforted their dying sons. At dozens of funerals, the bewilderment and the fear that gripped the apostles was evident on the faces of the friends and families who gathered to bury their dead. And, the suffering was, as you can imagine, unimaginable.