I’ll never forget the last time I saw my
uncle Patrick Slane. I had just returned from
a visit to Scranton, Pa. He was lying on the
couch, and the moans he was emitting were
chilling—he could barely breathe. After years
of suffering from HIV, it was finally catching
up to him, and from all indications, the end
was near. BY KEVIN CANESSA JR.
Days earlier, I found him aimlessly
walking around the house. He was
completely demented and had
no idea who he was, who I was or
where he was. When I returned
from Pennsylvania, things appeared
The television was on loudly. He
had his favorite drink, a chocolate
milkshake, sitting on the table. But
he was struggling to take in air. He
was going to die soon.
The next day, under his own
power, he walked down a flight of
stairs and was driven to the Jersey
City Medical Center, where he died
24 hours later.
He was once a vibrant power-plant worker but eventually
withered away to a 90-pound
former shell of himself. To shake
his hand was to shake the hand
of a skeleton. Some 25 years after
he first injected himself with
heroin, often with used needles,
the repercussions finally caught
up to him.
Dead at 41, Pat was the second
son my grandmother lost. In
1970, four years before I was
born, her son Thomas died. She
had no idea on that September
morning in 1995 that 10 years
later she’d lose yet another
son, my uncle Matty, also to
complications from HIV/AIDS.
Ironically, it was Thomas’ death
from ulcerative colitis that caused
Pat and Matty to abuse drugs.
Neither of them dealt with Thomas’
death well. One drug eventually
led to another, and another, and
another—until finally the drug of
choice was heroin.
Of course, back in the ’70s and
early ’80s, no one could have known
that drug abuse, a horror in itself,
would lead to the even greater
horror of HIV/AIDS.
But it did—and Pat paid the
ultimate price, as have so many