Stories from the Heart of the Grove
This story was written by Ellen and Harry Shepherd, parents of the late Kathleen Gail Bowman, as part of a collection of stories about lives touched by AIDS named, “Stories from the Heart of the Grove”.
Kathleen Gail Bowman (originally Shepherd) was born March 16, 1956. She was the second daughter of what eventually became a family of five daughters and one son. She was a blue-eyed towhead with determination from her earliest years. She was lively and adventurous, outgoing and friendly.
Kathi married Joe Bowman in 1976 in the chapel at Fort Ord, where he was stationed with the Army. A year later they had a baby son, Jason.
Kathi’s marriage ended in divorce in 1988 and e and Jason returned to California from Kentucky where they had been for six or seven years. Kathi had a problem with alcohol, but when Jason went back to spend the summer with his father she entered a program in Santa Barbara and stayed in the Recovery House for months until she returned to working and living independently. Jason spent the summer with her in Santa Barbara.
She developed a relationship with a man and seemed to be seriously making a new beginning.
They took a trip to Tennessee, where he had family, and during the months there, he was hospitalized with a serious illness. AIDS was diagnosed and she was immediately tested and found to be HIV positive.
This was in 1994 and none of us knew much about the disease. We were close enough to San Francisco to have been aware of the impact AIDS was having on the gay men’s community, but we had no direct connection and were uncertain what to do. Kathi came to Sonoma to live with us until we could all figure out where we find help.
Kathi was not ill. She had a diagnosis that was frightening, but physically she was fine, it seemed. She went to a doctor in Santa Rosa and found a women’s group of HIV and AIDS patients. Harry and I went to a support group. The only real symptom Kathi had was depression.
Four years went by with just small changes. Kathi had jobs. She moved several times, eventually finding a place in Guerneville across from the Russian River. Often she spent weekends in Sonoma. Her eyesight declined to the point that she could not drive a car. She had had the use of my car in Sonoma, but she knew when it was time for her to give that up. Her depression increased, as did her drinking.
Her doctor had prescribed what was then the “cocktail” of drugs. When I would drive up to get her down for the weekend, she would bring a plastic sack with hundreds of pills to be taken throughout her day. Eventually, I think she found the regimen impossible to keep.
Her closest sister Diana and I worried about her ability to care for herself. FACE came to the rescue bringing groceries once a week and eventually sending people to clean her apartment and make sure she was mobile and able to care for herself. Her T cell count dropped drastically and she took on the look of an ill person. Her once beautiful hair and complexion slowly faded away. She insisted she was doing fine but agreed to go with us to a facility in South San Francisco that sheltered HIV and AIDs patients with addiction.
All her sisters, her father and I toured the building, spoke to the staff and Kathi spent some time with the doctor alone. That afternoon, in Sonoma, she sat with her sister Diana, in our garden and asked, “Do I have to go there?” Diana assured her it would be a good place. We took her home that evening.
She had a frightening night and called Diana to take her to the hospital. It was perhaps the third or fourth time we needed the emergency room. She was admitted to Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol on Saturday and ICU on Sunday. Diana and I stayed later than the rest of the family on Sunday, but we went home knowing she went to sleep after a day of visitors and many jokes and laughter.
A nurse called me at 8:30 Monday morning. Kathi had just died.
Her son was unable to get a flight from Kentucky until Wednesday. He and his fiancée stayed until she had been cremated and her ashes scattered at sea. Their wedding was to take place in a month. He had hoped his mother would be able to come to Louisville.
I found it difficult to mourn. I needed someplace to give me some peace. For a few years, we had lived in San Francisco and I vaguely remember something in the Chronicle about an AIDS Grove. One of my daughters lived near the park and after a call she took a walk. When I got a call from her saying, “This is such a beautiful place. You need to come and see it.”
I made a call to the office.
Our family came to the September Workday in 2000 and after the gardening and the circle we planted a tree. It was just about four feet tall and now reaches to the sky at least thirty feet. It is our memorial. Our special place to remember the lovely lady she once was and always will be in our hearts.
The sisters and brother and their children contributed to having Kathi’s name engraved in the Circle of Friends. The little piggy banks were emptied and we had enough. Dad, Harry decided he needed his name next to his daughter and two of the sisters surprised me by making sure my name was there on the unveiling.
Sixteen years have gone by and we have spent many, many hours in the Grove. We have met the most amazing people. All of them have stories to tell us. We feel a part of a very special place, a community of people who work together, laugh together, and occasionally cry together. A family.