Finding Respect and Dignity at End of Life
Stephen Ward died in April, 1995, at Bailey-Boushay House.
Stephen Ward did not want to come to Bailey-Boushay House in 1995. He knew that moving into residential care meant he was going to die and he was angry about dying young.
“He resisted,” says his brother Jeffrey Ward, “but it was also a relief to him and to our whole family to know he had the option to come.”
Jeffrey says the Ward family was haunted by the indignities older brother Gary suffered in New York when he died of HIV/AIDS in 1990.
“The contrast between how Gary was treated in New York City versus Stephen’s experience at BBH was night and day,” says Jeffrey.
In 1990 AIDS still terrified most people, including many medical workers. New York hospitals were overwhelmed with patients. Gary, who was a scholar, a community activist, and a successful translator of the Albert Camus novel, The Stranger, had one terrible experience after another.
“He was left in the hospital hallway on a gurney and ignored,” says Jeffrey, adding that when Gary died, hospital staff were just going to roll him out until his sister objected, insisting they take off his oxygen mask and remove his IVs.
Everyone in the family who visited Stephen at Bailey-Boushay felt the difference between Gary and Stephen’s treatment.
“From the very first day it was clear how well Stephen was treated and what a wonderful place it was,” says Jeffrey. “In the end, even Stephen knew it was the right place to come.”
So many things at Bailey-Boushay spoke to Stephen’s spirit and lifelong love of art. He was an aspiring artist long before he studied graphic arts at the Colorado Institute of Art. He was one of nine children raised by Carmen and Andy Ward in Denver. When their mother went back to work fulltime, young Stephen devised after-school art projects to entertain his younger siblings. He taught them everything from holiday decorating to tie-dyeing and decoupage.
“He would take common things and make something incredibly creative out of it,” says Jeffrey.
As an adult Stephen accepted himself, embraced his independence, and loved his life.
“I happened to be in the kitchen when Stephen told our parents he was gay,” says Jeffrey. “He was just right out there, saying: ‘Well, it’s no surprise, is it? I am who I am.’ And that’s the way he lived his life.”
Stephen turned 39 the month before he died and according to Jeffrey he “didn’t want to be 39 like Gary was, because 39 was too young!” Jeffrey adds it was easy to see Stephen was madly in love with his partner. His own grief was about not being able to continue a life with Duane.
Five years earlier, Jeffrey had asked his dying brother Gary if there was anything they could do for him. Gary, who had worked for human justice his whole life, told him: “Make a difference in the world.”
Those words and Stephen’s care inspired Jeffrey to join the board of directors of Bailey-Boushay in 2002, following a job transfer to Seattle.
“If there’s one thing I’m sure of,” Jeffrey says, “it’s that every single person who walks through these doors is treated the way my brother Gary always wanted and the way we all want to be treated: with dignity and respect for our humanity. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are, Bailey-Boushay is here for you. This is your community.”