It wasn't until the Hep C kicked in that we realized he was holding on to the tree of life by a very thin twig. Even then, he was thoroughly optimistic. After the initial shock of the diagnosis, I made schedules for him that were aimed at holding this killer at bay. I bought him a water cooler so he would have a steady stream of potable water to soothe his troubled liver and also a vast supply of expensive snake-oil vitamins replete with shitake mushrooms. He had acupuncture several times a week and I often cooked liver-friendly nourishing food and took it to him at his house in Echo Park. We were fighting back and that gave us a false sense of security. At least I thought so. He was pretty much able to live his normal life until June of last year, when his magnificent constitution finally buckled. And though his spirits and his courage remained high, his body began to fail him in many painful ways. By October, he had been in and out of the hospital emergency ward five times, and it became clear he could no longer live alone in his little Echo Park house with his many cats. He needed round-the-clock professional nursing care, and his physician recommended the Carl Bean Hospice. His sisters, Delilah and Michele, and I, along with several close friends, began the excruciatingly heartbreaking job of packing and sorting his possessions while he was hospitalized.
I hated putting him in Carl Bean. I tried to organize a schedule with his friends and bring him home where we could all look after him, but with the cornucopia of medicines, shots and supplies he now needed, proper care would not have been possible in my tiny household.
I thought he would hate Carl Bean and be frightened there. I was afraid he would lose all hope. But with his usual perseverance, he loved it. He redecorated his room with a few of his more bizarre possessions, sich as his "Teen-Age Jesus and the Jerks" poster, a green polyester Halloween wig, many photos of his cats, assorted thrift shop oil paintings, a CD player, a bookcase with books and the largest-screen TV he could fit into the room. He had his own blankets from home and a steady stream of friends and family, and though he just loved the food at Carl Bean, he was not shy about requesting us all to bring everything from Chinese takeout to sticky buns and Satsumas. His little refrigerator was always jampacked.
I think the staff at Carl Bean is the finest, most caring lot of people I have ever met. It his funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and staffed by angels. The facility itself occupies a marvelous old Craftsman house at the front, with a concrete-block, two-story hospital donated by Magic Johnson in the rear.
Months earlier, my son Grant and his fiancé had set December 22, 2001 as their wedding date, hired the caterers and invited many friends. Grant asked me to make the wedding cake. He had always been partial to Red Velvet cake and requested that I make one for the occasion. What this actually meant was eight recipes packed into three-tier pans. I had made four recipes earlier in the week and froze them and planned to do the other four Friday afternoon, the 21st.
I left work at noon and went home to make the cake, finishing about 3pm and then went directly to Carl Bean. Grant has asked Lance to be the best man at his wedding, and Lance and his sister, Michele, had put their heads together to plan the suit he would wear. It never occurred to us that this was not to be, that Lance would leave us at one in the morning, the day of his brother's wedding. Michele and Delilah and I were with him as he quietly slipped away from us, and life will never again be the same.
Michele and I stumbled back to my house at about 3am, got up at seven the next morning and made the most beautiful wedding cake the world has ever seen. We put it on a tray that had belonged to the bride's grandmother, and Michele drove it to the bride and groom's house, where the wedding was to take place. Lance would not have wanted them to postpone the ceremony, and it proceeded beautifully at eight o'clock that night. Grant had no other best man. His big brother Lance was there in spirit.
Now I am left with a big hole in my life, and I really feel sorry for myself. I have a good old cry about once or twice a day, and talk frequently to Lance's close friends, because they all feel pretty much the same. When my parents died, I grieved, but it was nothing like this. They had both lived full, long lives. Besides, parents aren't supposed to outlive their children. Even through Lance's long bout with illness, I still thought that I would drop this mortal husk and become stardust long before he would. Besides the pain of loss, there is also anger, and that surprises me. What do I have to be angry about? We kept him going for years longer than could be realistically expected. But now I know how Katharine Hepburn felt when Elizabeth Taylor told her that Sebastian got eaten up by Mediterranean beach bunnies. Pure rage and agony. I will be better, I know. After all, it has only been a little while. I see Michele, Delilah and Grant and his wife frequently. They are trying to ease their own pain and mine. We will succeed.
This article originally appeared in b>Santa Monica Pride '02.
Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family is a presentation of WETA and ITVS, and was made possible
by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service.