Jon Henri-Damski, who has been referred to as the 'gay Studs Terkel,' was a columnist for GayLife, Gay Chicago Magazine, Windy City Times, Nightlines and OUTlines ( this paper's former incarnation ) . The trailblazing writer passed away nine years ago on this date. As a tribute to Damski, Windy City Times is proud to run an article he wrote that was originally printed in the June 25, 1997, issue of Nightlines.
We can all agree that if you are contending with a disease that is virtually terminal, like AIDS or cancer, it is good to be positive and to keep a positive attitude.
But sometimes friends and relatives use the BE POSITIVE mantra as a conversation stopper. They don't want to deal with what you are dealing with, which is being sick and dying, so when they say BE POSITIVE what they really mean is shut up and don't talk about it.
Don't talk about your latest counts, your last infusion, or your reaction to chemo and radiation.
Bobby Positive had the right idea and gave the best advice in his free booklets on health. As he might say, in order to give or receive care, both parties have to be a little carefree. Spend all your money before you get to heaven, because everybody in heaven is on welfare.
As both the subject of the disease and the conversation, you have to maintain your energy at all costs. If your lover, friends or relatives don't seem to get it, forget it!
You can't change them.
You have to learn, sometimes, to come home from lunch alone. Your friends are having a good time. They keep saying how good you look ( 'You don't look sick' ) and go on with their healthy involved conversation.
Meanwhile, you know you are sick. They can't see the virus or cancer that is eating inside you and sapping all your strength. You know you are sick because you feel sick. While you keep up your smile and your friends talk on interminably, you get this sinking feeling you are losing it. They are running laps around you.
I've learned to limit my outings to a couple of hours. Even in Seattle at cousin Shirley's house, I told her in advance that I'll be leaving in two hours no matter how good I look. I know from experience that if I overextend myself, I'll be in bed for two days.
People often want to help, but they don't know what to do or say. I have found it's best to be specific. Say things like, 'You know I can give a good back rub, if you need. I can come over tomorrow,' 'I could take you to the clinic in the morning,' or 'You know I am a nurse, so call me, even in the middle of the night. I just live a block away. I will come over.'
Don't ask, 'Do you need anything? Anything. Tell me if you NEED anything.'
We are not living in a socialist country. But most every sick person can get medical care, food and basics. NEED is not the worry.
When someone asks me that, I think they want me to fill out another damn form, like at the welfare office, the insurance office, or hospital.
We are living in a capitalist country where desires go on endlessly. Everyone, even the very sick, still have pet desires: to go shopping, go out for a meal, buy a CD or rent a new video.
What sick people need most, and usually can't get, is a little mad money. A lump of cash. Bob Bearden liked to keep a couple of hundred dollars near his bed. He might order a pizza, but be too sick to eat it. But it gave him a sense of control to order on the phone, force his way up to the door and pay the delivery boy.
Oprah always kept Bill Rizzo in mad money. He spent it on flashy short trips to Spain or L.A. Or cab rides to Carol's, where he would stay for 10 minutes and cab back home again.
Being sick is like being in a big depression. All your needs, pills and bills are just a stack of ugly reality.
What is most helpful is to have a little mad money and a chance to do something you don't NEED to do. Do something you will enjoy—even if it's buying a sex toy, which you know you will never use.
Charlotte Newfeld will be honored with the 9th Annual Jon-Henri—a memorial honoring beloved trail-blazing Chicago gay columnist Jon-Henri Damski, who died in 1997—on Nov. 1 at Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted, 6:30 p.m.
The creator of the event, Lori Cannon, herself a long-time community friend and activist, wanted to commemorate the life and work of Damski, a man who referred to himself as a 'queer thinker and gay writer.'
Contact Cannon at 773-271-5116.