AUG 1994


Therapists Talk 
Shrink Rap 


    Michael E. Holtby, LCSW, BCD

The Measure of a Man's Life

Originally published in Colorado AIDS Newsletter, Resolute! , August, 1994

Do not reproduce without the permission of the author.

How do you measure the meaning of a man's life?

I find myself in front of you with a tremendous honor and an equally tremendous sense of responsibility. David has asked me to give his eulogy, in the characteristically thorough way in which he took care of every detail of his life , as well as his death, he has heard what I have to say.

David had come to see me four years previously. AZT was causing him to have a lot of nausea and anemia. He was having difficulty continuing his sixty hour work weeks as a Denver company's CEO, and was grappling with the prospect of going on disability. Ironically, in the end I was the person who knew him the best, his psychotherapist. He asked me to write his eulogy ... six months before his death. We used it as a therapeutic tool to review his life and its meaning to David and others.

David was from a ranch in Montana. A place where being gay was unacceptable and not tolerated. As sophisticated in the ways of the world as David became, he never overcame his roots. He was a man of few words, a wry sense of "poking fun" humor, and an intolerance for weakness in himself and others.

David had been a very private person, both because of his background and because he was gay. He remembers his mother telling him never to open someone else's refrigerator or kitchen cabinets...and never air your dirty laundry outside of the family. David was very compartmentalized: he lived in the world of business, and separately in a gay world of leather and body building, and the rural world of his family. Even his lovers were kept from the entirety of his life. Thus, his therapist became the sole confidant for the sum of his parts.

AIDS was the wake-up call that David needed to change his life. He could no longer hide. He finally called a meeting of all his staff, after telling his Board of Directors, and announced he was leaving and why. He expected ostracism and got the opposite. There wasn't a dry eye in the place, as David was loved as a fair boss who looked out for his people.

As a young boy he had learned men don't cry, or otherwise let their feelings get in the way. He recalls having a pet dog that got into the chicken coop. His father took his rifle and from the front porch shot the dog dead. Men don't cry.

He once told me Hell would have to freeze over before he could really express his feelings. Unfortunately for David, if you can't show emotion, you can't be close to people. Then, with his first real brush with death he was hospitalized. He lay in his bed with IV's in both arms, having lost considerable weight, weak and barely able to talk. He looked up to me and said with his characteristic humor, "Well, Hell froze over!"

At his memorial David wanted me to quote Anthony Perkins, the actor who died in September, 1992, because it reflected his own thoughts:

There are many who believe that this disease is God's vengeance, but I believe it was sent to teach people how to love and understand and have compassion for each other. I have learned more about love, selflessness and human understanding from the people I have met in this great adventure in the world of AIDS than I ever did in the cutthroat, competitive world in which I spent my life.

David died like the final scene of a Hollywood movie: Father Gold gave him last rites, the two songs played at his memorial service were played on the tape recorder, and he was gone.



Last messed with November 15, 2001

Copyright(c) 2001 Michael E. Holtby, LCSW. All rights reserved.