I’m recording this story on April 13, 2023 — 31 years to the day since my dear friend Terry died in my arms.
He had just turned 33. We had been friends since college, working at Disneyland together through our college years and for a few years after that, before he moved away. We reconnected in 1990 when he found me at Disneyland and told me he had AIDS. I told him I was there for him, with him, no matter what, committed to being a caregiver in whatever way he would need. And so I was, through the many doctor’s visits, transfusions, and hospitals over the next two years.
Until spring 1992, when it became clear that living with AIDS was moving slowly towards dying from AIDS. Yet, as we all know, it was so hard to give in to the reality and make the hard decision about whether to take him off the drugs. By this time, he was bedridden, blind, and suffering from dementia, yet still always Terry with a quick laugh, a smile that still lights up my life as I remember it.
During this time, we had developed the habit of lying in bed together, Terry wrapped in my arms, chatting quietly. Our chats usually started with his question: “Do you know where I was last night?” and my answer: “No, where?”, opening the door to yet another marvelous journey together into his imagination.
On this day, he said, “I went to a convention of angels. I couldn’t go to the Crystal Cathedral where the big ones were. I went to the Episcopal Church down the street. Even so, the angels were incredible!”
“And what happened,” I asked.
“Well, the whole idea was to teach me how to be an angel. They let me try on wings.”
“I bet you looked great. You have the legs for it.”
He giggled and replied, “Well, I felt great. But I don’t think I can learn to play the harp. Anyway, I asked them if I can come back and be your guardian angel.”
“And what did they say?”
“Yes, but there is a two-year apprentice program where we learn to be angels. After that, I will be able to come back and be your guardian angel.”
We lay there together for a while, talking about angels until he dozed off. I went out to where the rest of our little community of caregivers were chatting.
“I think Terry has let me know it’s time to let him go. He’s ready.”
Two weeks later, Terry passed peacefully in my arms, surrounded by friends. We all swore we felt his spirit touch each of us on our heads as he died.
Two years later, I felt his spirit so powerfully next to me, heard his laugh in my ear. I heard the echo of his laugh in mine, the light of his smile in mine as I smiled through my tears and finished doing my dishes.