Thirteen Years: Amazing Grace

AIDS was… an illness in stages, a very long flight of steps that led assuredly to death, but whose every step represented a unique apprenticeship. It was a disease that gave death time to live and its victims time to die, time to discover time, and in the end to discover life.

~ Hervé Guibert

Amazing Grace

Continued from… From Despair Right Back To Hope Again

Four days later, Annie started up her computer as she always did every afternoon when she returned home from her work. Minutes later, she was staring at an e-mail that had just been downloaded into her inbox. It was from Jeanne.

Mindy or Kevin, if you read this message, please immediately call your mom at her work and ask her to call me between 11 and 12 today. Please give her the message below (I have also sent it earlier, but it bounced back because of the wrong address I used in my confusion):

Isaac is very, very ill. Doctor Bailey has sent for Kathy and me. As you know, we are both in Pretoria doing different courses, but I tracked down her course leader and got the message to her. Kathy said that she doesn’t care what anyone says, but she’s flying back to Cape Town today.

I have just spoken to Isaac’s mom. Isaac has regained consciousness, but he’s very confused. He doesn’t know where he is.

Be strong, everyone. Love, Jeanne.

Tears streamed down Annie’s face. She picked up the phone to call her mother.

“Mommy, it’s me,” she said, and she started crying again.

“What’s wrong, Annie? Is it Isaac?” her mother asked, instinctively knowing why her daughter called.

“Yes,” Annie managed to say, “he’s very ill again. Apparently, he lost consciousness and regained it again, but he doesn’t know where he is.”

“I think we have to prepare for the worst,” Grace dared to speak out their fears.

“He’s tired, Mom,” Annie cried. “He has been fighting this for so long.”

“We have to let him go,” Grace said, speaking out Annie’s thoughts.

Annie called Kathy the next morning.

“Isaac is a bit better today,” Kathy informed Annie, “better in the sense that he is awake and reacts to what people say. It seems as if he is feeling stronger.”

“That’s wonderful news, Kathy!” Annie exclaimed, but this feeling was short-lived.

“Isaac is confined to his bed, Annie. He just lies on his back, only turning his head when someone speaks to him,” Kathy said.

Annie kept quiet, trying to absorb what she had been told.

“When he speaks, we cannot always hear what he says, because his speech isn’t coherent all the time,” Kathy continued.

“Is he on medication, Kathy?” Annie asked.

“Yes, he gets morphine every four hours,” Kathy answered, “and he drinks very little.”

Kathy sounded as concerned as Annie felt.

“He’s only lucid for short periods of time,” Kathy carried on.

“Not drinking doesn’t sound good,” Annie whispered.

“No, it’s not good. He has also lost control over his bodily functions. They clean him every two hours.”

Annie was quiet for a while before she spoke again.

“Does he know it, Kathy? That he has to be cleaned?” Annie asked. She knew how humiliated Isaac would be if he realized he had lost control over his bladder and more.

“No, I don’t think he realizes it,” Kathy set Annie’s mind at ease, “Annie, the doctors give him very little time. I sat with him all night and now Lauren is with him.”

Lauren was the colleague where Isaac had spent several weekends.

“I will sit with him again tonight,” Kathy continued.

“Kathy, how are you holding up?” Annie asked.

“I’m okay, Annie. And I will be better after a couple of hours of sleep,” Kathy answered.

“Will you please, when you know Isaac can hear you, tell him we love him very much and we are holding his hands, supporting him in what he has to do?” Annie asked with a sob in her voice.

“I will Annie,” Kathy said and Annie could hear she too was crying, “We all knew this would happen, but none of us wanted to accept it. It’s always too soon.”

“We have to let him go, Kathy. We have to,” Annie cried.

There was a short silence while both women tried to stop their tears.

“I will keep you informed, Annie,” Kathy said when she trusted her voice again, “and I will give him your message.”

“I’ll call you again tomorrow,” Annie promised.

She did, early the next morning. It was the first day of August, a Sunday.

“Isaac was awake quite a lot yesterday,” Kathy told Annie, “and lucid. He recognized everyone around his bed — his mother, Lauren, the doctors, the nurses, me. He also speaks a lot, but not all of it was clear.”

“Do you think he’s going to get better again?” Annie asked, knowing how strange it sounded to ask this, in the light of Isaac’s illness.

No, Annie. The doctors say he will get out of the hospital this time,” Kathy said sadly.

In his hospital bed in Cape Town, Isaac was not aware of his surroundings anymore. The frail figure didn’t reflect the sturdiness he once had. Looking at the blankets, one could barely see a person lying under it. The illness had left Isaac all skin and bone. The roundness of his face, as Annie had seen him five weeks earlier, was gone.

Early evening, his hands and feet slowly turned blue. The doctors explained it was because of the lack of oxygen. Isaac’s heart wasn’t strong enough anymore to pump the blood into all his limbs.

Isaac’s pulse started to fade. His heart beat slower and slower. Isaac was fighting his last fight. With his mother holding his one hand and Kathy holding the other, Isaac breathed for the last time.

Twenty minutes before midnight on the first day of August 1999, Isaac died.


The fourth day of August.

Isaac’s funeral service would take place in the St. James Church in Kenilworth. There would be no burial after the church service, as Isaac’s specific wish was to be cremated. He also wanted his ashes to be strewn out on Chapman’s Peak.

Just before the church service was about to start, two buses drove up in front of the church. Both buses were packed with people. One bus carried personnel from the military hospital, where both Isaac and Annie used to work and where Kathy and Jeanne were still working. The other bus carried personnel of the military unit that Isaac worked for until he couldn’t work anymore. In total, about two hundred people attended the church service.

The speeches in the church did justice to the unique person Isaac was.

Amazing Grace sounded in every corner of the church as each attendee sang the words with Isaac in their thoughts.

At the time of the funeral, in her office in the Netherlands, Annie took a moment to close her eyes. She said a prayer for Isaac, thanking God for the privilege of having been able to know him. Her prayer also included the wish that Isaac had found his peace.

Isaac’s mother, Kathy, Charlotte, Billy and Lauren, slowly walked down to the beach. In her hands, Isaac’s mother was carrying the urn with her son’s ashes.

Within a couple of days after the funeral service, Isaac’s body had been cremated. It was now just more than a month after his death. Some people, who were close to him up to the end, stood on the beach. Isaac’s wish was for his ashes to be strewn out on Chapman’s Peak, but because of the instability of the cliff-face and the mountain roadway being closed off to traffic, they had chosen this spot on the beach, as they knew how Isaac had loved to come here.

Isaac’s mother opened the urn. There was only silence between the people on the beach as the ashes were lifted by the wind and blown out to the sea, surrounded by the mountains Isaac had so loved.


Note: This series is a rework of a self-published book (2009), rewritten for this blog, and in loving memory of a dear friend who suffered from and passed because of AIDS. Keep in mind this story happens in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. Names of characters have been changed to protect their privacy.

© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Pixabay

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