Howard "Buddy" Gaguski was a Dr. Seuss fanatic. He loved old-line Episcopalian hymns and silk smoking jackets. He kept ,, order at Chase-Brexton Health Services, where he worked as a nurse tending to HIV patients, and at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Bel Air, where he was the parish organist. He was a sympathetic healer, the kind of nurse who kept a stash of candy for patients and colleagues.
When he died of AIDS last December at 45, Gaguski left behind his devoted Yorkshire dog, Max, and many loving friends. He also left behind a quilt handmade for him by his co-worker Rob Coughlin. Coughlin, a staff counselor at Chase-Brexton, gave the quilt to his friend for Christmas just before he was hospitalized for his first serious AIDS-related illness.
Yesterday, Gaguski's colleagues gathered in a small room at the Mount Vernon health clinic to sign their names on the quilt, which he carried with him from hospital to hospice during his final year. This weekend, it will travel to Washington to become part of the national AIDS Memorial Quilt, which will be displayed in its entirety on the mall next October.
Gaguski's quilt is a handsome patchwork log-cabin design. The red gingham fabric is from the curtains of one of Coughlin's friends, the Delft-like cotton from the sundress of a child. The white muslin comes from a bolt that belonged to a Sikh friend. The lining is Coughlin's old wool blanket.
The purplish marks in the middle are from the cranberry juice Gaguski spilled on it one day. In one corner, there's a faint blood stain from the time one of his tubes came out. Some of the nurse's decorative and inspirational buttons are pinned to the fabric. And there's his Chase-Brexton ID card.
As Gaguski's friends filed in to sign his quilt, they read what others had written and frowned with the effort of trying to determine exactly what to say in indelible magic marker.
Rob Coughlin knew he wanted to speak for Gaguski's beloved dog Max:
Dad, For all the long walks, special talks, table scraps and special pats. I miss you, Your puppy Max.
Theresa Anderson, front-office receptionist, wanted to share Dr. Seuss one more time: Sam I am, Green Egg & Ham, Theresa.
Nurse practitioner Catherine Carroll wrote: Bud, Thanks for your great friendship. I will NEVER forget you. NOTHING was ever too much. I love you, Cathy Carroll.
BTC "Buddy's patients really, really liked him," Carroll said. "They knew he wore their shoes. That makes a whole lot of difference."
On the weekend of Oct. 11, thousands of Americans will gather in Washington to pay tribute to the beauty of the lives lost to AIDS. About 45,000 quilt panels will stretch more than a mile from 3rd to 15th streets on the mall, according to the NAMES project organizers. They will serve as poignant reminders of the anger, hope and tenderness that have accompanied the AIDS epidemic.
Rob Coughlin met Buddy Gaguski when he started working at Chase-Brexton several years ago. Coughlin's younger brother was HIV positive, and the counselor was eager to help others suffering from the disease. Coughlin, 45, quickly discovered that the world of HIV is braided with close friendships, friendships intensified through the common bond of pain.
He became part of a small, dedicated group that helped keep Buddy Gaguski living independently as long as possible. Because his training was in teaching and mental health, Coughlin learned the devastating details of terminal illness for the first time as he took care of his friend. He forced himself to confront the menacing tangle of intravenous tubes and needles.
"I'm not afraid to do this stuff anymore," he said. "Buddy showed me how to get over it."
Along the way, the two friends also talked about the quilt, the quilt that Gaguski wrapped around him whenever Coughlin drove him to the hospital.
"Buddy kept saying, 'Make sure you get the quilt when I die!' because there were quite a few people who had asked for it.
"I said, 'Why not let someone else have it? What am I going to do with it, Buddy?'
"He said, 'Why don't you send it off and put it in the Big Quilt?'"
In the six months since Gaguski died, the quilt has mostly stayed folded on the sofa in Coughlin's living room.
"I've slept with it a few times and thought 'I shouldn't be doing this,'" he said. "But, after all, it's still a nice quilt. And it's hard for me to let it go. It's like the last thing, like really letting go."
On Sunday, Coughlin will take Gaguski's quilt on the train to Washington and personally deliver it to the officials at a dedication ceremony for local panels of the memorial quilt. Then Gaguski's quilt will be stitched into other panels, which will join other panels, then others, until it eventually spreads out to form one of this nation's most personal expressions of undying love.
Adding to the quilt
Panels for the NAMES project AIDS memorial quilt can be submitted at a dedication ceremony scheduled for 3 p.m. June 2 in Washington.
Those with panels should arrive an hour earlier to fill out the necessary paperwork. The ceremony is at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, 1740 Massachusetts Ave N.W. For details, call the Names Project National Capital Area, (202) 296-2637.
Pub Date: 5/30/96