Director Spotlight – Gary Bellomy, Fundraising Committee Chair
I am a long-time activist in the Dallas community. Community involvement is my passion. I support myself in restaurant management, and being a manager in the hospitality industry requires long hours. This often collides with the time needed to dedicate to my volunteer pursuits. As a result, my true passion has taken a backseat to the demands. I am now in a position where I am able to balance both of these endeavors. Over the past two years I have become very interested in the issues facing the adults in the LGBTQ community as we age. As a gay man, I have both witnessed and participated in the struggle around our accomplishments and our losses. Our aging is a frontier we are only now addressing. It’s an exciting time to be involved. The board’s Executive Director, Sharyn Fein, became aware of my efforts in this realm and asked me to join in the efforts of Ed-U-Care, Inc.
Since I came on board, my interests have expanded. I saw my role as helping to grow the Bridge Building Network, the outreach of this organization to older gay, lesbian, bi, and trans folk. I am now beginning to realize that the entire scope of this entity is all issues that resonate strongly with my goals for the future and my entire life experience.
The tasks of a caregiver have nearly always been part of my reality since becoming an adult. Much of it resulted from my activism or was a catalyst for it. I was pulled from my boyhood by the military draft in place during the Vietnam years. I was not quite young enough to escape that lottery which forced me to decide my core values about war. I chose to resist the draft. This was very different from dodging the issue by running or using my race and class privileges of college or medical deferments. I was given a felony conviction and a very real understanding of the fact that it was a poor man’s war. I was mandated to perform humanitarian service for the next five years. I fulfilled the requirement by being first an orderly in a poorly staffed nursing home and then as a counselor in a private school for emotionally disturbed children. This institution made it possible for affluent parents to unburden themselves of the difficulties of dealing with problematic children. Both of these environments required expanding my ability to be an effective and compassionate worker. The nursing home was designed for the elderly in the final stages of this life. Just down the road of this small college town was the facility for less advanced geriatric patients. Incontinence, dementia and death were my daily reality and served important life lessons.
In my own way, I served my time and became a veteran of that war. When my probation ended, I moved to San Francisco. I met a man and spent the next ten years involved with him. During most of that time we lived in the City like most other gay men. We enjoyed a freedom and a culture that was long familiar with LGBTQ individuals. Most of us were uninvolved with politics. We assumed the gains being made by others would continue. At the beginning of the AIDS darkness, most continued to be complacent. My partner and I decided to move back to Dallas to be closer to both our aging mothers. Within a year of that move, he was diagnosed with HIV and died the following year. Once he became ill there were no drugs to treat him. He was given chemotherapy. That did nothing to stop the virulent onslaught of the virus. I was his caregiver and a wreck of a provider.
That was my wake up call. When he died I was devastated. Two things happened which salvaged my life: First, there was a woman at Oak Lawn Counseling Center who conducted a grief support group for the volunteers. It provided a pathway I could not see on my own. Secondly, I realized that I had to again fight. I served on the board of the organization that was sounding the loudest alarm about the Darkness which in time was known as DGLA. I co-founded the Dallas chapter of ACTUP (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) with another board member who later perished.
Caregiving was always needed. I helped a lot at times – I stopped helping or even calling other times. I became numb. Compassion Fatigue Syndrome was how I rolled. I think it actually served me well. Often times, I was the person sitting with a near stranger that would have died alone. Other times, I was calling up contacts in the funeral industry to beg them to bury the forgotten without charge. I think having to feel what those nightmare scenarios involved would have been impossible.
The twenty-odd years since that storm has provided me with opportunities to further flesh out the role of caregiver. The generation of relations that preceded me has sailed away upon the Elvin ship to never return. I have four siblings. My younger sister and I were tasked with making the very grown-up decisions around my mother decline and demise. It was both difficult and touching. I feel it brought me full circle in the dance of our humanity.
In summary, the mission to help professionals and individuals deal with the challenges in caregiving is one I am equipped to help facilitate. I also feel this is the right place in my life to learn those final lessons that will comfort my eventual departure.