On Monday, February 20, 1995, Raymond passed away. One week shy of his 40th birthday.
I don’t remember exactly when he was diagnosed with AIDS nor how the disease consumed his body, but I do remember the exceptional person he was. And that is what this post is about, memories of my brother. I decided to write about Raymond because I realized today marks 20 years since his passing.
Raymond was beautiful inside and out and perhaps the most generous person I have known. He was gentle and kind – not once, did I hear him speak ill of anyone. And since he was part of my large; and at times, rambunctious family, he had a sense of humor as well. Evidently, he was also patient because he didn’t mind hanging out with me.
We would often cruise to Redondo Beach. First in his VW Bug then later in his red convertible MG Spider. When I was in 8th grade, he took my friend and me for one of these drives. We came upon a hitch-hiker on the way. My friend and I dared Raymond to pick him up…and lo and behold, he did! The poor bloke had to sit in the backseat with my friend. He was probably more afraid of us than we were of him because we bombarded him with questions, “who are you, where are you from, where are you going…and why the heck would you accept rides from strangers?”. Anyway, I learned a lesson. Don’t dare Raymond.
Another memory I have is when Raymond tried to convince my mother into letting me go to the senior prom. I was a sophomore and a senior boy had asked me to be his date. My mother was very strict and boys were definitely out of the question – especially one who was two years older! But Raymond told me he would try because he wanted me to go and the boy was a real “looker”. Raymond sent me to my room so he could talk with my mom – there he was, sitting with her at the dining room table, explaining how the prom was a fun tradition in high school, etc. It was a valiant effort. But the answer was still NO. sigh.
My parents were not the type of parents who would sit down and have open conversations about random things. But even though my mother didn’t talk much, friends always felt welcome in our house. I remember Raymond’s gay and lesbian friends coming over and boy, they came in all shapes, sizes, and personalities! Didn’t matter though – my mother welcomed them like she welcomed all our friends. No special treatment. Everyone was the same. I know Raymond appreciated this. He and my mother had a special bond.
The time came when Raymond became too ill so he had to move to the Serra Project Home in Long Beach, a hospice for AIDS patients. The disease may have taken his physical beauty but he remained positive and caring. When we would visit him, he would ask how we were and what was new – never complaining about his problems, pains or burden. My family made a conscious effort, although unspoken, to be with him everyday, even for a little bit. However, that Sunday, for some reason, no one was able to visit. He died early the next morning – I believe in my heart that him being alone was actually a good thing because it allowed him to finally be selfish and let go. You see, Raymond was the kind of person to hold on to life as long as possible to spare us the grief. He died with dignity.
Sadly, Raymond also suffered from mental illness – paranoid schizophrenia, to be exact. I’ll save this for another post as it deserves more than a few lines. His body and mind are now healed and he resides in the mansion God has prepared for him (John 14:2).
I think about him often and I feel blessed and proud to have called him my brother. His picture makes me smile.