Monthly Archives: June 2011

Celebrations are supposed to be…

Celebrations are supposed to be celebratory. But when these special days come around and are weighted with great memories from the past—memories that remind you of how much you have lost—things get complicated.

Birthdays for instance. Once a loved one dies, do they still have birthdays? The first year after Bill’s death, his birthday fell on Good Friday. So in addition to the complicated emotions that I felt about not being able to celebrate his birthday as we had for the 33 years that we had been together, the spiritual significance of the Easter weekend added even more weight.

Pride is another example. We always had big Pride parties in our home in the Toronto gaybourhood on Gay Pride Weekend. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll be able to return to that tradition but I sure don’t feel like it yet.

Let’s try our anniversary. Pow! From the beginning, we had chosen to use the day of our first romantic date to mark as our anniversary as a couple. Our thirty-third anniversary fell in the middle of the two weeks between Bill’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and his death. We acknowledged it, in a way, as he was slipping away. But we certainly had no grand fiesta with many guests as we had thrown preceding years.

Like I said, celebrations are supposed to be celebratory, but for some of us, well…

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August Farewell, my memoir of the two weeks between his cancer diagnosis and his death interspersed with vignettes from our thirty-three years together as a gay couple, is available through and other on-line book retailers.

More background on August Farewell can be found on my website including a short YouTude video at  





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Pansy Pride Pizza Party

Excerpt from August Farewell

It was a busy Pride the last weekend in June. Bill was tired during much of the month and in quite a bit of discomfort. Under normal circumstances, I would have suggested that we should cancel our Pride Party this year. I am sure he would have agreed without hesitation. But I don’t even raise the possibility. I want to go ahead with it. I have the unsettling suspicion that it might be Bill’s last. I want our friends to be able to see him one more time in a festive context. I know that I am pushing but I think it is worth it. I think that he and they will appreciate it if my premonitions bear out.

We usually had our Pride weekend open house party on the Saturday afternoon. That way it didn’t interfere with our attending the big parade on Sunday. It also meant that I could go out to one of the big dances on Saturday night without worrying that I had to avoid a hangover and be in good enough shape to host legions of party boys the next day.

We always had a theme with corresponding food. One of the years that we were in the condo at RadioCity, Bill made twenty quiches. Not-so-subtly, the parody was of course ‘real men don’t eat quiche’. Our unit at RadioCity was a small one bedroom. I think the official size was 557 sq. ft. That worked well enough for the two of us on our nights in the city. At that time, we were spending a lot of time at the Stratford house. But it was a bit cosy when you have thirty gay men over for brunch. We were on the 25th floor and our balcony looked down on the sound stage at the corner of Church St. and Wood St. so at least half of the guests could crowd out onto the balcony, eat, drink and listen to the entertainment down below. Another year, at RadioCity, we went Mexican. One of our neighbours owned a small Mexican restaurant a few blocks away and we had him cater it. We bought the cerveza.

This being our first Pride weekend in the new Verve condo, I was anxious to show it off to as many of our gay friends as possible. Plus, I really wanted them to have a chance to see Bill once more. So I invited lots of people. I distributed invitations to gay friends in the building and sent email versions far and wide including to some of our PV friends who I knew wouldn’t be able to make it but would enjoy being invited anyways. The invitations read “PANZY PRIDE PIZZA PARTY – You are invited to Bill and David’s Toronto Pride Open House for Gay Boys, Saturday June 27 2009  12noon to 3pm” and were adorned with a gay flag and a picture of a cluster of pansies, what Bill always referred to as “our national flower”. We had around fifty people show up this year. Again it was a sunny day so many of them congregated on the balcony which in this apartment looks directly down Wellesley St toward the hub of Pride activity at Church and Wellesley. Disco music bounced off the walls. We hired a cute young man to keep everyone supplied with drinks and the table replete with fresh warm pizza which I had arranged to be delivered in batches on a regular basis during the course of the party.

Bill sat regally in the big arm chair in the living room receiving obeisance from his friends and admirers, joking, admonishing and generally maintaining his reputation as the life of the party. Almost invariably though most of our guests came to me at some point before they left and asked the same question, “Is Bill okay? He doesn’t look well.” The detail of my response depended on whether they were close friends or more just acquaintances. At that point, at the end of June all of us were still over a month away from knowing the real answer to the question. 



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August Farewell is available from and other on-line book retailers.

For more information, including a short YouTube video about August Farewell, see my website at


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The HIV+ Announcement – August Farewell Excerpt

An Excerpt from August Farewell

We were always pretty candid with each other, certainly about the important things. If either Bill or I had a problem, whether it was physical, emotional, or spiritual, we let each other know what was going on.

There was one instance when I was determined to abrogate that transparency principle. On Maundy Thursday 1993, my doctor told me that I had tested positive for HIV. Sometime earlier, I had been careless about taking adequate precautions when looking after a friend of ours who was dying of AIDS. I was cleaning him at his apartment after a particularly messy session of bloody diarrhoea. I had a cut and I wasn’t wearing protective gloves. He was emotionally distraught and I thought that if I put on gloves, it would make him feel even more ostracised than he was already.

I had forgotten about the incident.

The angst that I now experienced on receiving the news that I was HIV-positive was multidimensional. Of all the implications, my biggest worry was how Bill would react. I knew that he loved me intensely and that he would be traumatised by the prospect of me suffering what in those days was still anticipated to be almost certainly an excruciating deterioration to death. I couldn’t stand the prospect of inflicting such pain on him. So I resolved not to tell him. We always practiced safe sex so I knew I posed no threat to him.

That evening we went to a Maundy Thursday worship service with a friend at a high Anglican parish. The music was exquisite. My internal turmoil was wrenching.

I was able to maintain my personal vow of silence for all of twenty-four hours. By Friday evening, I could no longer preserve this secrecy. It was too profound a deception. After dinner, I made coffee and as we sat down in the living room, I said that I had something to tell him. He looked at me with benign curiosity. I hesitated. Not that I was reconsidering my decision, but I wanted to relish for a moment longer this time in our lives when he would be in ignorant bliss.

“I’m HIV-positive.”


Then an anguished cry burst forth from the depths of his being. I hugged him as we both dissolved in tears.

I was back at work the Tuesday after the Easter holiday weekend. About midday, a delivery man walked into my office and handed me a long white box. I sat staring at it for several minutes and then slowly undid the ribbon and lifted the lid. A dozen red roses. The card read, I will always love you. Bill. To this day, that card and the dried rose petals sit on my desk.

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August Farewell can be purchased through and other on-line book retailers.

More information, including YouTube video on why I wrote August Farewell, on my website at



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I thought you were dead


Excerpt from August Farewell

As I open my eyes, I can see through the bedroom shades that it’s light outside. Oh jeez, how long did I sleep? Bill is in the same position he was when I came to bed last night.

I watch the sheets for the telltale rise and fall motion. I can’t detect any. His left arm is lying on top of the covers. I touch it gingerly. It’s stone cold. I pull my hand away and just lie there absorbing the implication.

        I get out of bed and walk around to his side. My eyes fill with tears. I kneel down beside the bed, wrap my arms around him, and start to bawl.

        What the fuck are you doing?” he screams. He’s wide awake and he’s livid.

        I jump back almost knocking the bedside table over. I stammer, “I thought you were gone. I thought you were dead. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

        He’s still yelling. “I was almost gone! I was on my way! And now I’m back! Damn you!”

        My grief of a moment ago morphs into despair, and the tenderness of yesterday’s good-byes seems like a distant dream.

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August Farewell can be purchased through and other on-line book retailers.

More information, including YouTube video on why I wrote August Farewell, on my website at


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Your prayerful presence is all that is needed.


Your prayerful presence is all that is needed. 

That was the helpful advice that I got today.

A dear friend died the other night of pancreatic cancer, which is the same form of cancer that killed my partner Bill.

Her husband is, understandably, in a fragile state having just lost his beloved wife of many years.

I worked with him and his wife for many years and feel deep affection for them. And there is the potent parallel of how our spouses died.

Since getting the news, I have been struggling to imagine how I could be of any help to him.

He already has lots of helping hands around him.

His family is staying with him. The university and church communities have rallied to provide emotional and practical support.

There are more qualified people than me to assist him with the arrangements for a memorial.

He doesn’t need me to bake a pie, not that I would be very good at that anyways.

Further, I am nervous about how emotionally stable I could be. I know that there’s nothing wrong with crying together. But, still, I don’t want to impose my on-going grief over the loss of Bill onto his fresh wound. Not right now.

Your prayerful presence is all that is needed.

Yes, that is wise advice. I can pray for the bereaved husband. That can be my gift to him at this time. And by grace, the gift will bless both him and me.

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Do I love him enough to say goodbye?

An Excerpt from August Farewell

“David, I don’t want you coming in here all the time and disturbing me. I want to go and I’m ready to go. I can feel that I am fading but every time you wake me you disrupt the process. Sorry if it sounds harsh but you’ve got to leave me alone so that I can slip away.” 

Do I love him enough to give him what he wants? 

“But what if you really need something?” I stutter. “Like water. Speaking of which you are due for another pain killer.” I get a fresh glass of water and give him one of the newly arrived Percocets. I’m stalling for time.

“I can ring the bell if I need you.”

“So, maybe this is it?”

“You know that I love you. We’ve had a wonderful life together. Thank you for everything that you have done to make it so great.”

“I love you too and I want you free of this pain. So I guess this is good bye my darling”

“Good bye my love.”

We hug. We kiss. I leave the room and close the door.

I go into the living room and pour myself a stiff mid-day scotch. 

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Why does Venice have to be so romantic?


One often hears, as I did from well-meaning friends after my partner Bill died, “you have many wonderful memories of your life together which will be a comfort to you.”

My friends are right. I do have many wonderful memories. And they are wrong, because those memories do not bring me comfort but rather remind me of how much I have lost in losing Bill.

There is a glass display cabinet in our living room filled with memorabilia. On the second shelf, is a small white ashtray, discretely emblazoned with a miniature gold replica of the four horses that adorn the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. The ashtray is something of an anomaly since neither Bill nor I smoked. But Bill absconded with it as a souvenir from a visit years ago to the café in the Excelsior Hotel on the Lido near Venice. (Please don’t tell the hotel management that I have it.)

Bill and I loved Venice and were there several times together.

I was back in Venice last fall on a trip that Bill and I had planned. But then, before we could go, he died. I still went, knowing that he would not have wanted me to cancel.

I spent days wandering around the narrow passage ways that meander through the city, drinking espressos in cafés that we used to frequent, going to La Fenice Opera (we were life-long opera fans), visiting the glass factories of Murano (Bill loved Murano chandeliers), and taking a vaporetto out to the Lido. I sat for a long time in the lobby of the Excelsior Hotel, very quiet now that the summer tourist season was over.

The only conversations that I had during the whole time in Venice were with Bill. Obviously not real dialogues but rather under-my-breath monologues addressed to him, recalling our times in the city, and cursing him, mildly, for not being there with me on this trip.

Venice, for me, is replete with memories of Bill. I treasure these memories beyond measure. Yet they do not bring me peace, but rather pain. It is as if I were holding a magnificent, bejeweled sceptre that, while stunningly beautiful, is simultaneously searingly hot.

(Appreciation to Les Floyd {} for the email conversations that we had this morning that prompted the writing of this blog.)

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August Farewell, a memoir about my thirty-three year relationship with Bill which ended with his sudden cancer death, and Searching for Gilead, a novel which also deals with love and loss, are available through,


For more information on August Farewell and Searching for Gilead check out my website at where you’ll find among other material a short YouTube video explaining why I wrote August Farewell

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Being There, But Not Really

It is something of an out-of-body experience when it happens.

That’s probably putting it too grandly and maybe even diminishing a powerful piece of imagery. 

I had two friends over for brunch today, something of a spontaneous last-minute invitation. We had a couple hours of good food (if I do say so myself), copious wine, and animated conversation. Much of what we talked about had to do with people that we knew in common and how friends come into one’s life for a time and then, through circumstances, drift away – sort of like the constant washing of waves up onto the beach which bring some grains of sand in for awhile and then take them away. Some grains do avoid being washed away for a long time.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that I saw myself in conversation, listening and contributing, appearing no doubt to my friends as if I were fully engaged. And yet, I was not there. Not there all the time. For long stretches, I would be somewhere else watching the three of us. The somewhere else gave me the vantage point to gaze at the fourth chair at the table – the chair that should have been occupied, but was empty. The chair that was now permanently empty. The chair with the name tag, Bill.

Perhaps that place that I go on such occasions, and it does happen with some frequency, is not an out-of-body place where I’m hovering above watching myself in somewhat faux-engagement, but rather a very inside-of-body place, where I’m observing not with eyes but with heart. 


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The Dead Duck Joke


On June 9th, Joyce Graff of the “The Powerful Patient Show” interviewed me about my 33 year relationship with Bill and about the two weeks between his diagnosis and death as described in August Farewell. 

The 50 minute interview can be listened to at: (if it doesn’t begin once you’ve clicked the “Listen” icon, you may need to trigger it by moving the diamond-shaped curser a touch.)

Joyce prompted me to retell the story from August Farewell where Bill held up the X-ray technician’s work in the emergency department on that fateful day of August 7, 2009 by insisting on telling her his newest joke – the one about the woman taking her dead duck to the vet.

It was a quintessential Bill moment – hilarity in the midst of crisis.

You want to hear the joke?

Two options: listen to this interview, or better yet, buy the book where you’ll find not only the joke but a lot more Billisms. 

And much more about our love, life, laughter, and loss.


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Photo Albums & the Eucharist – a common bond of love remembered

Today at our church, we had communion.

I did the children’s story. I had brought a photo album and talked to the children about how photos remind us of people who are no longer with us physically but who loved us dearly and whom we loved dearly.

I mentioned Bill and showed the kids a couple pictures of us together.

Then, I said that communion was like that – a tangible reminder for us about Jesus and how much he loves us. “Eat this bread and drink this wine in remembrance of me.” When we take communion, he wants us to remember him and his love for us.

Photo albums and the eucharist – reminders for us about the love in our life.



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