Saturday, January 17, 2009

Times were very thankful

Not so very long ago things in America were very different. About 20 years ago when people were dying like flies from AIDS their going home celebrations were not always dignified. Here's an example:


Vernon a gay man served in the armed forces. I met Vernon through his ex lover Greg as they remained very good friends. Soft spoken, with his military discipline he had a kind heart and embraced me as a new friend. I was the youngest of their group of friends. There was always something going on. From a party, bar-b-Que, road trip to San Francisco or San Diego, beach parties, you name it they always included me.

As I began to get a little older and find my way through Los Angeles on my own with the lessons they had taught me. I would see Vernon out at the club or just around the city. He still looked good and still had that smile that let you know he cared about you.

Years later I heard that Vernon had AIDS and he wasn't doing very well. He was home with his mother here in Los Angeles. Maybe 3 weeks after I heard the news of his illness, I received another phone call that Vernon had died and given the details of his funeral.

I was there for the service that was held at the funeral home. His home Church would not allow his AIDS ridden body into the Lord's house. I remember the night when he passed and Greg and Vernon's mother attempted to find a Funeral Home that would take him. None of the Black popular funeral homes in L.A. would take him so they settled for a small one in the Black community. The white funeral homes were called too but all hung up once they found out the cause of his death.

After a few days of his body laying in the hospital the small black funeral home picked him up. The funeral home told his mother that they would be able to embalm him unlike most of the other homes that would not even if they did take him. As the ritual is you give the funeral home the clothes that you want the deceased to be buried in. His mother purchased a brand new Armani Suit (like Vernon always wanted), shoes, shirt and tie.

On the day of the funeral Vernon's mother was told by the Funeral Director that the service would be a closed casket funeral, due to the effects of embalming a person with AIDS. The service went on without a hitch. The procession formed and we were off to the cemetery. While following the hearse all of a sudden it stopped in front of the cemetery gates. We all pulled over and got out of our cars to find out what was wrong.

I walked over to Greg who was riding with Vernon's mother and he told me that, Vernon's mother insists on seeing her son before he is put in the ground. The reason they stopped outside the cemetery's gates is because this was a military cemetery and once inside Vernon would be the property of the military and nothing could be done. They tried to get the Funeral Director to open the casket right there. They were insistent but to no avail the Director said it was illegal to do that. They said the only way they could open the casket would be back at the funeral home.

Back to the funeral home we went. I can not imagine what was going on in the heads of the funeral home employees and director as we headed back. Once back at the funeral home they took the casket into a back room where they would allow only Vernon's mother and Greg to enter. All was silent outside the room waiting for this to end so that we could take Vernon to his final resting place. Moments later we hear arguing, the Funeral Director didn't want to open the casket. I understand that Greg pushed him out of the way and opened the casket. The next sounds was the scream and wailing of Vernon's mother.

The funeral home had not touched Vernon's nude body that still lay in the sheets from the hospital bed stuffed in a body bag! The Police were called and so was the news. An hour later only the Police had arrived. There was no news to report this travesty.

The task of finding another funeral home as you can guess was difficult. One was however found and this time there was no service. Just the burial. Vernon was buried in his Armani Suit, shoes, shirt and tie this time. He was put to rest finally with dignity.

I'm very thankful to have had Vernon as a friend.
Times were very different. I'm also, thankful that those living with AIDS are no longer dying as quickly as they were in the past.

This was a true story...I'm hopeful with these changing times that we will have much more to be thankful for.


jerzey_reality said...

wow..this is a story that makes you think about how things have changed...hopefully the future will bring more changes that benefit soceity

blkbutterfly said...

this story literally brought tears to my eyes. i have two close familiar members who are HIV+ and i have no idea what i'd do if this happened to them.

thegayte-keeper said...

wow this story made my heart is amazing how ignorance made society do crazy things when it came to this disease...I am thankful that Vernon's mother insisted on seeing her son before he was buried...this incident proved that it is hard for a parent to loose a child no matter how or when it happens

Curious said...

I remember those times, and in a way I was part of them pretending not to be scared but not sure of which way to turn. I'm glad those days are gone, at least I hope they've gone.

With all the stories and raids that you hear about shady funeral homes though, I think those places may be here to stay.

Anonymous said... me, Im thankful. Its in my prayers everyday!!

deonte' k said...

Man, this story brought tears to my eyes man. that was soo messed up man. I'm glad he was buried with some dignity as well man. It's a shame how some people are in this world!!!!!!!!

KB said...

thank you for sharing this with us-i was so moved by this and i will never forget it.

Moanerplicity said...

I read this with tears blurring my visions. Anyone who knows me or anything about my work knows that AIDS plays an important part of the stories I tell. I do so to honor those I've lost and to give them back their dignity. I want them to NEVER be forgotten. I want others know that they MATTERED.

Reading this brought Vernon alive for me. Thank you. I firmly believe that if we speak of those who've passed on, when we introduce them and the content of their spirits to others, a part of them remains forever ALIVE.

Yes, in some ways, the times have changed, yet the disease still exists & new people are acquiring it everyday, so writing about it is imperative to perhaps help save more lives.

Hopefully, you've played a part in doing that with Vernon's story.

One Love.

Frederick Smith said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I was really moved.

WhozHe said...

Amazing, we have come along way indeed. I plan to share this story with some newly diagnosed friends of mines. I don't think they quite get how far we've come. Thanks for the story.

Monsieur Lloyd said...

thank you for sharing this story, my heart was so full at the completion of my reading.