JAN 1996


Therapists Talk 
Shrink Rap 


    Michael E. Holtby, LCSW, BCD


Lets All Wear Red

Originally published in Colorado's AIDS Newsletter, Resolute!, January 1996

What follows is my Christmas letter to friends and family -- written in December, 1994. The statistics are a bit out of date, but the message is still as powerful and pertinent as ever!


Death, I know your Winter face.


We have met in random places-


legendary landscapes,


halls of sorrow;


I shall wear RED tomorrow!


from Counterpoint

by Lynx Chiasma

Dear Friends,

Another year, another Christmas letter. I could detail the minutia of my life the last year, but instead I want to tell you why I'll wear RED tomorrow.

Just before Christmas last year I lay holding Calvin. I told him I believed that when people you were close to died, they would be there to help you when it was your turn on the other side. Calvin said he believed that too. I told him he damn well better be there when I crossed over! He reckoned that was fair 'nuf. A week later he died.

Such a profound gift: to be with someone who knew he was dying, accepted it and was willing to be fully present with us; talking about his feelings rather than superficialities. We had gathered around his bed to say "goodbye", the members of his HIV group. It was so intensely emotional it had the crisp sensation of the cold winter outside: frozen snowflakes sparkling like diamonds in the air.

A dozen of my clients have died this year; forty-some since I started keeping track.... a decade of AIDS. Thusfar, in this Country alone 204,000 have died; 92 more every day. We can become numbed by statistics, but there is a person, a lesson with each number. From this last year I will most remember Don, who faced death and never blinked. After five years of knowing Don, he asked me to write his eulogy -- six months before he died. We reviewed the landscape of his life and were closer than most people risk in their daily lives. The urgency of Don's mortality left no time to waste. He went out like an orchestrated Hollywood movie: Father Gold gave last rites, then two songs were played which he'd requested for his memorial service, and he was gone.

The men who remain in Calvin's HIV Group lament how difficult it is to connect to people not experiencing the immediacy of a life-threatening illness. They view the rest of us as backed away from our lives and our feelings, avoidant and prone to denial.. Most of us live, in what Gary called the Ostrich School of Reality. We avoid authenticity and honesty in the name of protecting each other, and step back from confrontations that would serve to bring us closer. We compromise, we appease, we delay, we are passive. We are consumed with fears of not being liked, acceptable; and distract ourselves with a plethora of addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shopping or work. We seek comfort rather than growth. We seek security rather than the risks which yield greater potential rewards, but also the possibility of failure. We are the victims, rather than the captains of our lives. A tragedy greater than dying is not living. In his homily at MCC's World Aids Day Service Father Marty Wolf quoted Geneen Roth, and in doing so explained his personal evolution with AIDS:

The purpose of healing is not to be happy forever -

The purpose of healing is to be awake --

And to live while you are alive

instead of dying while you are alive.

Carpe Diem! Seize the Day! As I sat this year with Paul, Gregg, Kevin, Nick and others who lost their lovers to this epidemic, I am clear on the importance of relationship. These men go over their lost history with a painful poignancy that makes me very thankful for the people in my life. I am blessed with many close relationships with friends and family, but I also feel I have made it a priority, being influenced by these widowers and others in past years. In the end little is of much consequence beyond our relationships. As Joyce wrote in her last months, " Let us not get to the end of our life and realize we missed a lot because we were so busy working or saving money or whatever; that we overlook relationships."

And so my friends, may we share these Holidays with a renewed resolve to be truly aware, conscious and mindful. May we honor and appreciate each other, and strive to truly be with each other. All we really have is each other. Tomorrow, may we all wear RED!



Last messed with November 15, 2001

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