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Not for Sale

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the medical center. He didn’t want his students to see him dying. His death was mercifully painless. After a few days, he lapsed into a coma and did not wake up.

Tim chose to be cremated and requested that his ashes be spread over the waters near Key West. There was no funeral, but there was a memorial service in the medical school library. Present were his four sisters, their families, several medical students, and a handful of faculty. I was proud to see my office staff standing in the back. Tim’s chairman had brief and kind words to say. All of Tim’s sisters had tears streaming down their faces. I spoke with one of them afterward. I introduced myself as someone who had worked a lot with Tim. She told me that until that day she had no idea of what Tim actually did or what his work involved. “He never talked about work,” she said, “and we just thought he was a regular doctor.”

“This is so strange,” I thought. I both wanted and didn’t want to be there. Death was overdue for Tim. I was relieved for him when he finally died. But the low turnout punctuated how ephemeral his memory would be. He had worked until two weeks before he died. He had made a significant contribution to teaching. I had rarely witnessed such a courageous facing of death. He never complained. Yet now that he was dead, what did it mean? It was as if he expected his peers and his students to learn from his example, but he would not intrude on our consciousness. We had to choose whether we would learn from his experience or continue in our ignorance. He tested us, and most of us failed.

Walking back to the office, I heard Anita mumble, “What a waste.” In the past she had used that expression as a put-down, upon learning that someone was gay. “How dare they deprive some needy woman of a husband or lover? How dare their attractiveness be wasted on other men?” I knew, this time, it was AIDS she was indicting, so I let the comment pass, unanswered.

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