Five years has passed since Dion C Wade, my partner, lost his courageous battle.
Today I reflect on how much has changed in my life since that day and how it is so radically different. I feel guilty about that, even though I know I shouldn’t. I think about the memorial service that we held for him one month later, on September 12. A ballroom dance studio was turned into a chic event space where family and friends gathered to share their love for him and their grief for the loss of him. I recall how the service started late because we waited and waited for one person (an ex-boyfriend) to arrive who never did; how we left behind platters of catered food that we were unable to eat because of that. I remember that we had a toast at the end of the service, and that the servers popped every bottle from three cases of champagne, and two and half cases of bubbly was wasted.
I remember that the room was filled with people who loved him, lost him, and were still reeling in the fact that he was gone, how we had to do a blitz set up of the space after the last dance class and how I couldn’t wear shoes because my legs had swollen up like tree trunks from a case of edema whose cause was never determined.
I was simultaneously emotionally raw and emotionally numb. I was running on adrenaline. I was angry. I was angry at him for not taking care of his health and for ultimately leaving us all behind to wonder why. I was angry at myself for all the things I said, did, should have said, and should have done. I hated the life I was living and I was in desperate need to escape it all. I was in control, but on the brink of completely losing control of life.
Today, I remember standing in that hot room delivering his eulogy and looking out at those who came to share in the moment, feeling an amazing sense of responsibility for him and his memory. I remember when he was still in the hospital and his brother asked me, “Why are you doing all of this?” And I responded, “Because if I don’t, who will?” And that is how I felt on that day five years ago. If I didn’t do what I did for him, who would have?
I still miss him.
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Eulogy Opening Comments
Hello. My name is Scott Pfeiffer. Thank you for being here to celebrate the life of Dion Wade. Please take a seat wherever you like.
This room is filled with so many people who loved and cared about Dion: Family, lifelong friends, work friends, new friends, Facebook friends, and maybe even some folks who just wandered in off the street. It’s so great to see you all here. I know for some, being here meant traveling a great distance. I chose this date without thinking that you would have to travel on September 11. Whoops! And for those of you who came in on a red eye … thank you. Find an ‘elbow buddy’ just in case you nod off.
I want to be sure that you all meet his parents and brother. This is Dion’s mother, Nancy Wade; his father, Bill Wade; and his brother, Travis Wade. Dion’s extended family is here, too: his cousin Nikki, her husband Mike, and their kids, Brendon and Dillon; his Aunt Jannie, Auntie Em, and Aunt Ola.
Another extended family of Dion’s is also in this room: his family and support system of friends from New York and beyond.
As far as what happens today, the most important thing is being here to celebrate Dion’s life. This is more of a “roast” than a memorial service. It’s what Dion wanted … laughter, fun, music, and stories. Everyone who wants to will have the chance to share thoughts, feelings, and stories about Dion.
I need to do a disclaimer for his immediate family. Be prepared to laugh, blush, cry, gasp, sigh, and take in what Dion’s “New York and beyond” family says about him. There are so many fun — and probably inappropriate — moments to share. This will be a great moment for you to learn about Dion because there is much to tell about the man who we loved; the boy who you raised.
So … I am going start this by sharing with you a story about Dion’s impact on my life.
We met at a bar (believe it or not) in the middle of a March snowstorm. We had both been making googoly eyes at each other all night and we finally talked outside at closing. I lived on 43rd and he lived on 46th and we walked the 20 blocks together back to our neighborhood. During that walk we talked about where we grew up, our family, how long we’ve been in New York, what we did for work, and things like that. The conversation flowed freely, we laughed, and at one point, I said something about how romantic the walk was and he just looked at me, did his little sexy smile, and said “Yeah. It is romantic.”
And then yadda, yadda, yadda, we had breakfast together the next day and talked even more. I phoned my cousin, Shannon, and told her I met this great guy and I think he’s major relationship material. It was like a bunch of butterflies in my heart when I thought of him.
A few days later, we went on our first ‘real’ date. I walked to his house and he was waiting downstairs. He always waited downstairs. I think we were together two years before he let me up to his apartment. As we walked, we asked each other where to go to dinner and we both responded, “I don’t know; where do you want to go?” I said, “There’s something you need to know about me. I don’t eat seafood or mushrooms.” He responded, “Me neither.”
I thought to myself, “This is it. This is the guy!”
That date turned into several dates and soon it was clear that we were ‘together’. He was spending nights at my house and weekends at my house; I started introducing him to my friends. We would cook, go out, or just hang out. He would walk my dog, Victor. WHAT?! He would walk my dog?!
“This is it! This is the guy!”
Although … he would call Victor “The Giant White Rodent” and tell him that he was going to take him the glue factory. But he loved this dog and Victor loved him.
Dion was so stylish. I loved when he’d come over directly from work so I could see what outfit he wore. Always a sport coat and a pocket square. Always the third piece — those in retail should know what this means. And always some kind of cap. There was always Dion in his jaunty cap. I don’t know how many blue with white stripes shirts he owned, but it was a lot! He referred to his outfits as his “costumes.”
His personal style was impeccable. Talk about polish! You would never know that this guy cleaned his shower maybe every three months, ordered meals in most of the time when at home, and rarely cut his toenails. His “day off wardrobe” was very different; beat up t-shirts (some of which I think he had when he lived in Farmington), jeans (always a little tight to show off the package), and cowboy boots. You knew he was dressing for himself, but he was also dressing for others to say, “Mmmm …. Hot!”
Our first two years together were filled with dinners out, cocktails, hosting TONS of dinner parties and other celebrations, and picnics in Central Park with the gang. Dion was in charge of decorations and flower arrangements and I was in charge of cooking.
He loved to travel and loved everything about airports and air travel. He and Stephen flew on the Concorde before she was retired. He traveled to Russia, Greece, the UK, Italy, Germany, Chile, France, Costa Rica, and Mexico to name a few.
Each fall we would drive to Vermont to see the fall foliage. On the way, we would stop in Saratoga and stay at the Saratoga Inn. One time we sat in the bar and chatted up the bartender. After a few cocktails, Dion had her and the other couples in the bar in stitches – he owned the bar that night. He had the bartender invent this cocktail with banana liqueur, which we all drank and were all equally disgusted by. Dion had this way of pulling people into his realm. He could just smile and laugh and capture their attention. From there it was ‘anything goes’ but Dion knew how to be the life of the party.
He loved art and architecture and interior design. He put his talent to work designing window displays for Brooks Brothers. This creative outlet was enjoyable to him, especially because he got to work alongside his best friends, Thomas and Marie. This creative side was expressed in everything he did, from furnishing his apartment, to decorating for parties, arranging flowers, helping others decorate, and hanging pictures for those who just moved into new apartments.
His cousin Nikki and her then fiancé Mike came to town to get married. We decided to surprise them with a wedding dinner. We told them to come over for a quick bite to eat; you know pizza and a movie kind of thing. Well … they had no idea what was in store for them. We planned a fantastic dinner and Dion decorated the apartment and table to look just perfect – blue, sliver, and white was the theme. I made a three-layer cake and topped it with a little bride and groom. While I was frosting the cake, the doorman buzzed to tell us they were on their way up, but I had run out of frosting and the very bottom of the cake was light on frosting. I was freaking out, but Dion calmly had of a creative way out. He pulled some leaves off the greenery in the flower arrangements and laid them around the base of the cake. It was just perfect! The surprise was complete and we had such a wonderful evening. We used to talk about it a lot – how we pulled it off in an afternoon – and it always brought a smile to his face.
That brilliant white big smile. Personally, I feel that Dion loved his teeth. If he were a girl, his smile would be his tits. Huge, out there, and you can’t help but stare at them. I nicknamed him Chompers as a joke, but he hated that, so I switched to “Little Sweet D”. And to prove how little he was, he actually fit into these skivvies. But that’s another topic.
Off and on Dion was sick with something or another or had some other type of ailment. He sprained his ankle on a business trip once and a bellman bought him to the hospital and to the airport. The crutches he was given were for someone 5’10 or taller; he walked in them kind of like this …. It was hysterical to watch. He had pink eye once and had to wear an eye patch. Arg! He was a pirate. It was kinda sexy until you thought about why he had to wear it. Ewwww.
For his 40th birthday party, I rented a house in Mexico for a week. Along with several friends, we celebrated this milestone. We laughed, drank, ate great food, hung out at the beach, went to see ruins, had dinner in a cave where the music was so loud we could hardly hear each other talk, and took a day trip to Cozumel. It was such a fun celebration. Dion and I ended our trip in Cancun, just the two of us at a resort hotel. We found many shells on the beach and we sat by the pool while a storm came in. We spent the next day and half in the hotel room reading magazines, eating room service, and watching TV. It was lovely.
When we came home, it was time for him to address the growths that were getting bigger on his arm and side. He found out that it was Kaposi Sarcoma and started chemotherapy treatments. This is when our relationship started to hit a bumpy stage. Dion was not one to over-share information but I am one who wants to know what is going on, what the doctors said, what’s next, how’re you feeling, when’s your next appointment, etc. He didn’t share details and I wanted them. That made me a nag in his eyes and it made him a brick wall in my eyes.
For both of us resentments grew until being home together was near torture. Although I argued that this was “the ‘worse’ in ‘for better or worse’”, it was clear that this was something we could not overcome. We broke up in September of 2008. In October of 2008, instead of celebrating my 40th birthday (dinner with the boys aside), I moved into a new apartment.
There were a few rough months there. We didn’t talk to each other often and I resented that he was spending so much time with the friends I introduced him to. When we did talk, we would mention ever so briefly that we missed being together, but never talked about reconciliation. He came over to the new apartment for dinner and movies a few times. I missed him and I missed us; the GOOD us, the FUN us, the loving us.
On March 11, he called to tell me he was in St. Vincent’s hospital with a case of pneumonia and that Thomas called 911 to get him there. From that day forward I was at the hospital every day; sometimes going on my lunch break and then again after work. It seemed like his room was always filled with guests. At one point, I think there were 8 of us behind the curtain laughing and talking. On March 19, the hospital called me to tell me they had to sedate Dion and put him on the ventilator.
What?! What does this mean?! OMG. I had no idea how to process that.
The vigil during his sedation was hard and emotional. Talking to him and telling him to fight and be strong, rubbing lotion on his hands and feet and stretching his arms and legs. It was a foreign and scary process to go through and I was charting new territory for myself and for him. I learned a lot in those months … mainly how to decipher Doctor Speak into regular English (no offense to Dr. Bungay and Dr. Rashmani!).
I began a new life routine that revolved completely around Dion. I would wake, feed and walk the dog, get ready for work, go to work; talk with the hospital about procedures, medications, next steps; go to the hospital at lunch if I had no afternoon meetings; talk with the hospital about procedures, medications, next steps; go to the hospital after work, talk with the hospital about procedures, medications, next steps; come home, feed and walk the dog, eat dinner, and go to bed. Then do it all again the next day. I was also in constant contact with friends and family, sending text messages, calling, sending emails.
Finally, a friend told me about the CaringBridge website, which helped provide better and consistent communication; and save my sanity. These updates and the guest books postings were wonderful to write and to read.
Shannon and I went to read them to Dion while he was sedated. I had underestimated how difficult it would be. I think I got four words out before I was crying with Shannon. We composed ourselves, held hands, and started reading the pages. Those days of uncertainty were challenging, especially when it came to trying to figure out how to get control of his finances. Does anyone here work for Bank of America? Ok, well, don’t tell anyone, but I had to forge two rent checks for him. Yikes.
When he started to come out of sedation it was like a miracle. I could not believe it. He was regaining his personality, his smile, his bright eyes. Since he had the trach, he could not talk. He communicated by forming silent words. I cannot read lips. Shannon is much better at it and did a great job translating what he was trying to say. One time she was convinced he was saying ‘thirsty, thirsty’; I was convinced he was saying ‘help me, help me’. He confirmed later that he was saying he was ‘thirsty’. My lip reading was so bad that once he tried so hard to tell me something and I kept saying, “I don’t get it. I don’t see it. What are you saying?” He finally got so frustrated that I wasn’t able to understand him that he mouthed what I was able to make out exactly: “Go home”. So I did. The only other time it was clear was when I told him how long he’d been in the hospital. He mouthed “Fuck!”
Then he moved to writing in a notebook. One night he wrote the sweetest note. I have it pinned to the corkboard above my desk at home. He wrote: “I love you. With all my heart and soul. You make me want to live on.” And then he wrote, “Bring me my computer.”
One night I walked into the room and he actually said, “Hi!” I nearly fell out. He could talk! It was a completely different world then. Talking and laughing and telling stories. And his progress just kept going. Every day he showed signs of improvement.
It was planned that he would come to my house for his recovery and be there as long as it took him to be independent. As we waiting for his release, an orderly brought his lunch and said, “Ok Mr. Wade, tonight for dinner, your choices are ….” Dion interrupted her and said very strongly, “Oh no! I am not having dinner here tonight. I am being released!”
When we got outside and into the cab, Dion said, “Fresh air. I haven’t smelled fresh air in so long.” Then started crying. He was so happy to be out of the hospital. Then he said, “Everything is moving so fast. The cars, the people, the noise.” It was as if he was experiencing New York for the first time again.
His recovery was going very well. His physical therapist, Michelle, was a godsend and he loved the time that he had with her. Afterward, he would say that she worked him really hard, but he loved her voice and her approach. She was kind, gentle, and genuinely cared about his condition and his improvement. The night before she would come, he would get all prepared and say “Michelle is coming tomorrow!” with a big smile. It was a bright spot in his day.
I was laid off from work one week after his release. What a blessing in disguise! He was at my house – what we started calling our house – for 6 weeks and I was there with him 24 / 7. It was the most fantastic 6 weeks of my life.
We talked about our relationship and why we let it fall apart and reached new heights of communication. We went for walks to Riverside Park to sit on a park bench and watch the world go by, we had a picnic with Thomas one Sunday afternoon, we went to the movies, we went to dinner. He went to lunch on his own, he went shopping on his own. We went to his old apartment to get more clothes and bring some of his things to help make my place his.
Mainly we talked about fears, about wants, and needs, about each other, about how we truly loved each other. One day he came home after a doctor’s appointment with a little gift box and a card. Inside the box was this beautiful orange glass bowl. The card reads …
There was true beauty like that in every moment we spent together. Then, he had his downturn. It was fast, and quick, and unreal, and unexpected. Before I called 911, Dion had to get dressed. He was very specific about what he wanted to wear. He wanted his lightweight blue shirt (and he buttoned it up and rolled up the sleeves), his orange paid shorts and a brown belt (not that brown belt the other brown belt), white booty sox, and his tennis shoes. That was his ER costume. In the room in which we were placed, he looked down at his nails and said, “I should have cut my nails.” Then later, “I should have shaved.” And then later, “I wish I took a shower.”
While we sat in the ER room for 15 hours, it became clear that Dion’s body was not responding to the treatments he was being given. The doctor pulled me aside and in hushed tones told me that the KS had continued to grow and was now filling his lungs along with several different bacteria. It was critical, he said, to sedate Dion and put him back on a ventilator. My fear turned into reality. I knew this was something that Dion would not survive. He was tired and weak.
We had – what I can only call — the most amazing and frank discussion I have ever had. We talked about what could happen in real terms, not skirting the issue at all. I told him that that it is clear that he may not make it through this. He said to me, “Ok. I understand. Either way, I’m not scared.” He was so strong and accepting of what was about to happen to him. I was so proud of him. We talked about what he wanted to have happen to him if he died (resuscitation, cremation, this celebration). He had a few specific things of his that he wanted to ensure others received.
His approach to this conversation really put me at peace. It was clear he was ready to go. I had the honor and privilege to thank him for what he meant to me, to tell him I love him more than I could really express, and to say goodbye. He also thanked me for everything that I had done for him and we held hands. When the doctor’s came in, I gave him a kiss on his forehead and said goodbye again. As I was leaving the room, I turned around and he was sitting upright in bed, looked at me, said “thank you” and then “goodbye” and waved a little sweet wave.
That was the last time I saw him alert. I would not trade that Monday for anything in the world. It is a day I will never forget.
But … the point is this. He was ready. He was prepared. And he was not scared. He was very specific about today, too. He said, “I don’t want some priest I don’t know talking about me and I don’t want everyone crying in pews.” He wants us to celebrate his life with smiles, laughter, music and love and stories. It is my hope that today we can accomplish that for him.
For me Dion was smiles, laughter, music, and love. I miss him, and I know I will miss him forever. But … I know he is here with us. He is watching us, critiquing the decorations I am sure, and loving the fact that we are all here for him.
Dion Wade was so much more than the last seven months. He was a lifetime of experiences shared with all of us. From his childhood in Farmington, to his other adventures in cities he lived and countries he visited, to his life here in New York — a city he loved with great passion.
He was a fully realized man, whose talents were great, faults were few, and friends were many.
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Click here to see a slide show that was shown at Dion’s Celebration of His Life that was loving put together and includes a song sung by Dion’s friend and my cousin Shannon Darin and Dion’s friend Patrick Barnes.