Memorial Comments from Tony Lewis

Donald was and always will be my beloved. I wish that I had it in my power to make things turn out differently for him. Don was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. He was willing to go out of his way to help other people.

As I thought about what I might say today, I’ve wondered how one begins to capture the essence of fourteen years in a few brief moments. The best I can do is share a few glimpses of our time together.

I met Don while I was doing homework for an American Sign Language class that I was taking at Ohlone College. We both attended the Christmas party of the San Jose Lambda Society for the Deaf in 1990. We had our first date a few weeks later on my birthday, which we also celebrated as our anniversary. The time we spent together over that Christmas break had a profound impact on my signing skills. Even though there were only two weeks left in that ASL class, I got an “A” when I had been expecting nothing better than a “C” before I met Don.

It was also because of Don that I began interpreting worship at our local church in Belmont. Don wanted to attend church with me and I was the only person in the congregation who knew any signs. The deaf people here can imagine what it must have been like to have a “C” student interpreting worship, but Don was incredibly patient with me and over the course of several months, I got to the point where I was doing a pretty decent job. Of course, Don never let me forget the worship service where I substituted the sign “technology” for “temptation” and in the process made the preacher sound like a Luddite.

Don became an active part of both congregations that we’ve joined during our relationship. When we were at Belmont, the choir director invited Don to join the choir at a choral festival to play a drum. We rehearsed with him and the timing of the beat was perfect, but during the performance at the festival, Don found his own rhythm.

Don loved to travel. During the past fourteen years, he traveled to over thirty states and to at least four foreign countries.

Don wanted to get a dog and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having a dog in the house. I finally agreed to let him get a “hearing dog” from the SPCA. I figured if we were going to have a dog, we should at least get one that someone else had trained. Dustin was probably the laziest service animal that ever graduated from the SPCA because Don never really pushed him to really do the work for which he was trained. He was just a well-trained pet that Don was allowed to take anywhere he went because Dustin was a “service animal.” When Don was in the hospital at the end, the goal of going home to see Dustin was what really kept him fighting.

Don knew where everything was in our house. I could spend half an hour searching for something becoming incredibly frustrated when I couldn’t find it. I’d tell Don what I had been hunting for and he’d tell me exactly where it was. Without Don around, I have to work a lot harder at remembering where I left something.

Don and I agreed to be foster parents. During the course of two years, we had six different children living with us at some time, staying from a couple of weeks up to almost two years. Foster kids arrive with a lot of issues, which often makes parenting difficult. Don was incredibly patient with the kids; it was an honor to watch them flourish in our home. After we had some problems with our foster care agency, we started the process of working with a new agency. Before that certification became final, I suggested to Don that we should consider getting out of the foster care business because of all the “red tape” and he agreed. In reality, I wasn’t sure that Don was well enough to take on the burden of more foster kids.

Don’s health started deteriorating two years ago. For a while I thought he was going to die without ever seeing a doctor. Arlene came over to our house and talked to him and he finally agreed to make an appointment. Once we saw a doctor we found out that his immune system was severely compromised. In the summer of 2003, he started taking a “cocktail” of drugs and his health started to improve.

But with improved health he returned to patterns of self-destructive behavior. Arlene and I tried to get him to recognize what he was doing, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t. A year ago, I could no longer be a passive participant and asked Don to move out. He stopped taking his medications and his health started to decline again. I wish that it had been within my power to change things in Don’s life. Now I pray that he will find more peace in death than he was able to find in life.

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