Eight months in the life of Robert Thomas

When I first met Robert in August of 1990, he was still relatively healthy and strong. He was 41. He had eight months left.

Robert, who had made a good living selling real estate, was a detail person. He settled his financial affairs, arranged a living will, and purchased a vault for himself at Rosehill Cemetery. He labeled the drawers of his dresser so that when he became too weak to care for himself, the volunteers would know not to put his socks in his underwear drawer. As his condition worsened he seemed to relish smaller and smaller things: a poem read to him by a friend; the smell of the air in spring, his last.

For some residents, Bonaventure House is their only home, and its community their only family. Robert was one of these. His closest living relative, a sister somewhere in the south whom he loved very much, never came to visit him. She has two kids. She was afraid. He never complained. She sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers when he died.


August 22, 1990
Robert attends a house meeting. Weekly house meetings are for residents and staff to deal with the daily business of running Bonaventure House, from washing dishes to living wills.


October 24, 1990
Robert reads in his room at Bonaventure House. Shown in the foreground is his medication drawer. Robert takes AZT as well as medication for Kaposi's Sarcoma, Lymphoma, and CMV Retinitis.


In mid-December 1990, Robert enters Ravenswood Hospital complaining of sore throat and swollen glands. It is eventually discovered that he has a tumor and begins radiation treatment and chemotherapy.



March 22, 1991
After a period of two months Robert has decided that the additional pain and weakness caused by the treatment is no longer worth what small benefit it may yield. He decides to end his treatment at Ravenswood Hospital and returns to Bonaventure House. Karen, a volunteer and friend, reads poetry to Robert.



March 28, 1991
Nearly blind, unable to bear the weight of clothing and too weak to move, Robert lies in his bed waiting for AIDS to release him.



April 4, 1991
Robert dies at Bonaventure House at the age of 42.



April 9, 1991
Robert's body is placed in a vault which he has selected, paid for, and previously visited in preparation for his death.