by Ruby Comer
I’m a baby when it comes to pain. I’ll do anything to avoid it. That’s one of the reasons I never had a kid. But I have a lot of respect for Mama and all she goes through. Take, for example, Dian Wells Matlock.
In 1994, Dian lost her son, Jay Scott Horne, who was known as Scottie, only thirty-four, to AIDS. Many mothers have had to deal with this tragedy, but Dian has penned her pain and turned it into a fascinating read, Come Walk With Me To Glory. Her writing espouses her deep religious faith. She’s a Christian woman and proud of it. Usually when I’ve heard the word “Christian” it drums up negative associations like “narrow-minded,” “fundamentalist,” and “condemning.” However, being introduced to Dian at a party one evening, I found her warmhearted and refreshing.
We agree to meet at a Starbucks some time later.
Ruby Comer: Dian, you not only had to deal with Scottie’s illness, but at the same time, your husband, who wasn’t Scottie’s father, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Dian Wells Matlock: During the time I was taking Scottie to the doctor, I either took Mr. Wells [her then-husband] with me or had someone come in to stay with him when I was away from home. My life evolved into full-time care for both. I…loved…them…so…very much.
You are a saint, woman! I have to tell you, Scottie had an uncanny resemblance to Freddie Mercury. I was a die-hard Queen groupie! [I gently sip my steaming oolong tea.] How long did you care for Scottie?
It was about three years. I cared for him either from a distance or at my home. For about two years, I drove approximately five hours round-trip to Memphis, at least once a week, and kept his kitchen supplied, his apartment cleaned, and I did the laundry. During the last nine months he moved to our home. Without his patience and knowledge regarding his medications, we would have been in a difficult spot, as there were so many pills. Also, there was a port-a-cath inserted in his chest, which I was taught to use.
[I pick up her book and read.] “Pain, pain, pain. Unless you’ve seen your child suffer so, you cannot imagine what I suffered. He was so very sick….When one is a mother, being restrained by [necessary] boundaries from removing your child from pain can produce anxiety and stress that can end your life if you don’t know God very personally.” I hope I never have to know pain like that, Dian.
I hope so, too, Ruby. [She sips her grande decaf caramel latte.] The possessions Scottie left behind, I donated many personal items to raise money for a place in Memphis then called Aloysius Home [now called Friends For Life AIDS Resource Center]. The sale of those items brought in several hundred dollars, and we gladly gave all, plus more. They explained their mission to be that “they offered a home environment to AIDS patients who were too sick to live alone, but whose families would not help them.” How totally heartbreaking. How can man be so heartless to another, especially to one of his own family….
I never, never understood that either, Dian. [Pause. Pause.] How wonderful that you accepted Scottie for who he was, someone who happed to be gay and who had a deadly disease. Tell me about the prejudice you encountered. I know at one point in the book you spoke about how you conducted your own gravesite service since you didn’t want to be subjected to prejudice by hiring a clergyperson.
We lived beside a river in thousands of acres of forest land, surrounded by people who treated us as intrusive strangers, so we had no friends, except Greg, my
younger son, and Rodg [her current husband], who came there to thin-out the timbers—so that the younger trees could see the sun. There was fear, prejudice, and hypocrisy all around. Even the KKK was holding meetings not far from where we lived! That was my world, Ruby, except for our Mighty God, who kept His light of love over us during both day and night. I understand Him better than many, simply because I have spent so much time with Him.
It’s been nearly twenty years, do you think that stigma still exists today?
In some areas of the country it would be obvious that it is the same now as it was then. In other areas it would not exist at all because the folks are of such a liberal mindset that “anything goes.” Both are dangerous to humanity as one mindset is based on ignorance and prejudice, and the other on unstructured guidelines of disorder and lack of both civil and personal responsibility. Generally speaking, I would say that in rural areas people seem to have more “fear,” while in metropolitan areas, “self-interest” seems to rule the day. [She bites into her biscotti.]
None of us are qualified to “throw the first stone” in judgment, yet we are still “our brother’s keeper” in love. Help, don’t hurt. Love, don’t hate. The Word of God says that Jesus healed every single person who came to Him in faith. That’s the only way to see the healing we long for, especially when man has reached his limits.
You’ve refreshed my definition of Christianity, Dian! What advice would you give a parent who just found out about their child being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS?
I would want to assure them right away that AIDS is no longer considered a terminal disease, and that prayer and love can bring far more healing benefits than one might imagine. That was the only way I was able to bear such pain. Anything short of that is less than divine.
Do you have any other observations or bits of wisdom from your experience?
This may not need to be addressed, but…how the callousness or insensitivity of medical professionals could be improved. I remember the afternoon when a doctor came into the hospital room to give us the report from a test regarding lesions located inside Scottie’s mouth. With a slight shrug of the shoulder he off-handedly said to me, “Oh, he’s got K.S.,” then turned and walked from the room. I felt so angry that the doctor had failed to notice the humanness of the patient, nor considered that Scottie might fully understand the significance of that statement.
This is an exceptionally good point, Dian. Sometimes the medical profession can be totally robotic. Talk about bedside manner…. [My eyes dart upward and I raise my penciled arched eyebrows.] Have you lost anyone else to AIDS?
I have lost no one else in my family. But prior to Scottie’s diagnosis, from 1989–91, I suffered through his pain of losing twenty-six friends during a one-year period. One of those may have been his partner, John. I don’t know. He always told me that people were his “roommates.”
After Scottie’s death you spoke to youth church groups, educating them on HIV/AIDS and also to home health care employees on how to care for those with AIDS. On Christmas Day following Scottie’s death you visited an AIDS ward in a Memphis hospital.
I did that out of love, in the same way that I am always pleased when I am able to give to others. The love of God in my heart compels me. I also visited an AIDS patient in Savannah, Tennessee, on a regular basis during the second year after Scottie died. His favorite dessert was lemon icebox pie. [She tilts her head, smiles, recalling the memory.] I visited him until he passed away. Today I have an ongoing friendship with a young man who was also a patient at the same clinic Scottie visited for his care. He calls me his “spiritual mom” and we have talked our way through many difficult times, as well as many good conversations. At different times through the years I have befriended AIDS patients and been in phone contact even though we lived too far apart for personal visits.
[She wraps a hand around her cup, leans in, and tenderly lays her other hand on mine.] I hope that I am always willing to be available when someone crosses paths of life with me, either in pain or need. My heart goes out to them.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]