A New Look at ‘Deathwatch while Laughing’

Since this was first published in June of 2016, my wife’s condition has changed dramatically, worse, always worse and I don’t understand anything she says except from context. Very occasionally, out of the blue she will come out with a short coherent phrase, like ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘not now’ – and that always comes as a shock.

I remember whe she actually could almost talk and even understand – and the difference between then and now becomes painful. And I remember those painful moments.

This is one.

And because I remember the moment, I will republish this post from June of 2016.


In the 1980s, when AIDs and the various ramifications was inevitably a death sentence, I volunteered as an AIDs Buddy which meant that I would spend time with someone with AIDS, time that was a respite for his family. It was sometimes boring, sometimes frustrating and sometimes interesting.

Once I was assigned to a household where the mother and daughter had accepted their son’s condition and the father and older brother were barely holding in their anger. I was, for them, a recurring symbol of what their son and brother was and a family shame that was known to the outside world.

As it happened, I was there in the house during the last few hours of the young man’s life and I sat at his bedside holding his hand, not for comfort as he was long past that, but to monitor his pulse so that I would be certain that the family was in the room when he died.

I felt almost like I was myself submerged in a scene like ‘Deathwatch’ by W. Eugene Smith. Sadness and frozen grief that surpasses all words.

Last Sunday our daughter, her husband and family came over, bringing lunch and we had a nice family dinner. By the time they left, both my wife and I were tired from the effort of being nice for so long, so we had a very light supper and went to bed – me to read and her to watch tv.

After a short while, my wife turned off the sound and asked me why they came over and brought lunch and everything. I said ‘They just wanted to see you.’

‘Do they think that I’m…’ and she couldn’t bring herself to say the word, just pointed down. I said nothing.

‘Am I going to die?’, she asked in a very small voice.

‘Honey,’ I said, ‘we are all going to die.’

She started crying, but very quietly. After a few moments I hugged her as gently as I could and said, ‘I will be with you all the time, and tell bad jokes and every second will see like an hour.’

She laughed in the middle of crying and after a little while longer, she was quiet and then turned the sound of the tv back on.


10 thoughts on “A New Look at ‘Deathwatch while Laughing’”

    1. I lost My brother from AIDS. He’s gone 23years. He was my best friend in the world. I miss Him every moment of everyday. I lived In a Florida and he lived in California. My trips got closer and closer together. I was Blessed to be able to spend so much time with him. I could Have taken him home but didn’t want to take him away from his friends.
      The sicker he got the harder it got!

  1. First of all, thank you for being there for people affected with Aids, probably when most people would have shunned them. Second, I have such mixed feelings about memories. I sometimes wish that I didn’t remember the beautiful, poignant memories of our past, because it’s too painful knowing that those feelings are gone forever.

    Try to take one day at a time and cherish your moments together. You are living your wedding vows, and I hope that gives you some comfort and peace.

  2. This has a bitter sweet tinge to it. She no longer thinks or speaks in these abstract terms. She is about now – or maybe tomorrow morning but her world is much smaller now.

    1. There’s just no getting around the sadness and fear that comes from living through this disease and watching the person who means everything to us slowly disappear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *