AIDS: A Mother's Story

By Peggy Dimmick as told to Catherine Lawton

Even though I loved my son, at times he hurt me so much that I felt like disowning him.

Social acceptance meant everything to me. I took my children to the socially-preferred church in town and encouraged them to make friends among the kids of prominent families. When they became teenagers, I suspected they were experimenting with drugs and sex, but none of the parents or religious leaders I knew talked about these things, and I assumed it was a phase the kids would outgrow.

So the day my son, Dick, age 20 and in college, called to tell me he was homosexual, I was shocked, but I thought, Another fad. He’ll get over it; we’ll find a solution.

“Go to someone and get cured,” I told him. I couldn’t even say the awful word. Homosexual. Surely it would go away. But I didn’t know the pervasiveness of it. It didn’t heal like a broken arm. And it didn’t go away.

Not knowing where to turn, I began searching out books on the subject, only to be overwhelmed by guilt. Many of what were considered the classic causes of homosexuality were present in our home life and family relationships. Thinking back over our life together, my heart filled with bitter regrets.

When Dick, my first child, was two and I was pregnant with his sister, my sailor husband died of polio, leaving me staggered by grief.

In all my emotional turmoil (a 19-year-old widow with two babies), I didn’t think to help little Dick through his private grief, never sitting down with him to explain why his daddy was gone. Dick was such a compliant, quiet child, and his baby sister was so cute that he was easily overlooked.

When one of my husband’s sailor friends began visiting and proposed, I said yes. Del and I were 20 when we got married.

My daughter never knew her father, and she and Del became very close. But a father-son relationship never developed between Del and Dick. In fact, whenever Del disciplined Dick, I cringed at his lack of sensitivity and tried to protect my son. One day, after Del had punished him quite severely, I ordered, “Don’t you touch him again,” and Del answered, “OK, I’ll leave him alone.” From then on he did just that, and a wall of tension arose between them.

Dick grew up resenting Del and never let him get close. But later it came out that what he longed for more than anything was his father’s affection.

As a young teen, Dick chose to leave my respectable church and join the youth group of a more vital, evangelistic church. He chose to attend a Christian college, where he liked school and was elected junior class president. But his inner struggles continued. He expressed that struggle in this prayer that I discovered in his papers years later:

Dear God, It’s really very hard right now...I feel as though I’ve just gone too far. And yet I know You’re just waiting for me to quit fighting. Mostly against You. Maybe someday I’ll truly realize that You do love me, and respond to that love with a life that is truly sold out to You. I want to love You, Jesus. Please help me. Please, Lord, let these words become real in my life.

—Love, Dick.

Dick became involved with a bad crowd. The school found out he was practicing homosexuality, and they kicked him out of college.

He went to Hollywood and became involved in the life of the streets. He later joined the gay scene in San Francisco, living a life of promiscuity.

Del was repulsed and, at first, I was too. But I didn’t want to be estranged completely from my son, so I let him bring his gay friends to visit. Thy had ambitions and ideas like anyone else, and I found it possible to like and accept them as people without condoning their lifestyle.

Occasionally, Dick would come home and set aside the trappings of that lifestyle, and it seemed he would come out of it. He would even attend church with us. Then, inevitably, a family argument would erupt and he would flee in anger back to the gay community. Even though I loved my son, at times he hurt me so much I felt like disowning him.

Meanwhile, Del and I began attending an evangelical church where we learned what Christianity really means, we experienced God personally. My attitude gradually changed from wanting to protect my son to becoming willing to let go of him and release him into God’s hands. At times I wondered if God heard my prayer. But I kept asking him to stay after Dick.

We sought help in the Christian community. We found “Love In Action,” a Christian ministry in San Rafael, CA [now in Memphis, TN] that ministers to the homosexual who wants help. They teach that homosexuality is a result of deeper sins of the heart that are in straight people as well, especially anger, rebellion, and lust. But Dick was not willing to allow those people to help him.

Finally, I prayed, “O God, do anything You have to do, but do it...even unto death.” But I didn’t really believe it would take that.

Then Dick got sick and the cause was diagnosed as a rare parasite to which he had no immunity. Then he was found to have AIDS.

Dick became too sick to care for himself, and Del and I brought him home. He was terribly tin. At first, we were tense and Dick resisted everything Del said, putting up his wall.

Though his weight plummeted from 175 to 80 pounds and he needed constant care, Dick would not let Del touch him. “Don’t you want your father to rub your back?” I’d ask. “No,” he’d reply.

Then one day that wall broke down. Dick passed out from the shock of the shower and Del picked him up off the floor and carried him to bed. After this act of love, Dick began to allow Del to help him.

Dick used to demand, “When is he leaving?” But he began to look out the window like a little child and ask, “When is he coming home?”

Gradually, I realized the hostility was gone. The two men had heart-to-heart talks about what they would do together when Dick got well. Sometimes Dick said, “Just hug me.”

Friends used to tell us, “Now don’t get too chummy or put your arm around these people. Don’t produce any emotion in them.” But what they want more than anything is to be loved. All those years, Dick actually longed for Del to reach out and hug him, but at the same time he put up a wall that made this impossible. At long last, that wall was crumbling.

Finally, Del took over Dick’s care completely. He spent three hours in the morning and three hours at the night cleaning Dick’s sores, bathing him, and giving him medicine.

Home Hospice was wonderful, the Lion’s Club sent a donation, Dick’s friends visited and helped him, the church choir came to sing for him. Best of all, God’s grace was there, giving peace in the midst of suffering and pain. And Dick found peace with God.

When Dick used to go to church he would hear the minister say, “If you have something in your heart toward someone, you must leave it at the Cross first,” and so he would never take Communion. I suspected it was because of his feelings toward his father.

But while Dick was dying of AIDS, our pastor came to our home to serve Communion to Dick, Del, and me. Together we celebrated Christ’s death for us and His wonderful gift of forgiveness.

The minister asked Dick if he was ready to go. “I’m not afraid of death. I really believe something better is coming,” he replied. Dick threw away his rock records and gay magazines. He witnessed to his friends.

We could have gone on caring for him 24 hours a day just to finally have this loving relationship between the three of us and the Lord. But after months of terrible suffering, just before his 33rd birthday, Dick died at home in Del’s arms. I believe he went directly to the arms of his Heavenly Father.

This article originally appeared in Herald of Holiness magazine (May, 1992). Used by permission of the author. Distributed by Love In Action, PO Box 753307, Memphis, TN 38175-3307: 901/542-0250