Larry’s journey with HIV/AIDS began as the disease was being discovered. His story is a tribute to his strength and courage. Twenty-six years ago, HIV and AIDS were discovered and labeled a death sentence. Then the disease was called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). There was no treatment and doctors did not know how to deal with the disease. Larry saw many of his friends hospitalized; he remembers how people with this disease would go in to the hospital for help and never come out. On numerous occasions friends in the hospital were labeled contaminated and visitors were required to wear gloves and a mask before entering the room. Larry witnessed family and friends disowning loved ones who were infected: “My sick friends did not get the care they deserved – a bath, medicine or even a hand to hold. There was no treatment but at least I could help my friends bathe.”
Larry now has only two friends from those years. His partner of thirteen years died in 1983 from AIDS and in 1985 Larry himself discovered he was positive. In the twenty-four years that Larry has lived with the disease, opportunities arose for him to fight back on issues. He calls himself a low-level activist and has made an impact in a very direct way. In 1986, he worked at the State Capitol to help those who were HIV positive receive medical assistance. He initiated his own discrimination lawsuit for wrongful termination with his employer. The case settled out of court. Today he is raising awareness about how nursing home admission forms are often written in a way that is disrespectful and demeaning.
In living with HIV and AIDS for two decades, Larry has developed Type II diabetes and suffers from neurological damage. In 2007, Larry moved into a nursing home. During the eighteen months at the nursing home he experienced depression and found it difficult to even get his insulin checked. He recalls, “I had to check my own insulin at the nurse’s desk. Some days it was difficult to walk down the hall. When I got there they asked that I not prick my finger near the covered medicine cart.” However, the biggest challenge for Larry was to work at maintaining his principles and values as a Buddhist monk.
Larry realized for his own well being that he needed to leave the nursing home. However, there was one glitch. The state of Minnesota had him categorized in an elderly financial care program. Larry quickly began to use his activist skills and with the help of his daughter, serving as his attorney, and his HIV/AIDS case manager; he was reclassified and qualified for Community Alternatives for Disabled Individuals Waiver (CADI) with the state. He was now able to apply for foster care at Clare Housing. Within two weeks, Larry and his daughter were working with Clare Housing staff to find him a room in our foster care program.
Larry has been successfully living at Grace House II for nearly a year – “Living at Grace House, I have my own monastery to meditate and can just be. In Buddhism there is a phrase enzo, it means no beginning and no end. That is how it is for me here at Grace House. It is easy to live here; I am comfortable and able to enjoy my day.”
A typical day for Larry, after his early morning meditation, is to go to the kitchen and make breakfast for himself. He is usually, greeted by the daytime caregiver Sarah. They have their routine of making breakfast together and enjoying each other’s company before the other residents start their day. Larry enjoys spending his day painting and drawing in the garden or on the porch. “In the evening volunteer cooks come to make us dinner and I love helping them, mostly cleaning up. I can’t go to sleep until the kitchen is clean.”
Larry also enjoys cooking for the residents now and then and doesn’t mind helping out with household chores. For Larry, Clare Housing is a pleasant and positive experience, “I like that all of the residents respect one another, I enjoy my days and my room provides me with the tranquil space I need.”