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Rosie’s Place
Offering Women Shelter and Hope
by Andrea Cleghorn

From Chapter 4: Open House (continued)

Over the next few months, Frannie continued to slip away with a condition that caused her brain to deteriorate. There was no treatment, no prophylactic or symptomatic management. She went back and forth to Boston City Hospital. She eventually lost the ability to speak, though she could still understand people. Her son spent a lot of time at the house. “It must have been excruciating,” Molly says. “Frannie hadn’t told me definitely she wanted to stop the course of treatment, but she had indicated that. We took her to the emergency room, and she was able to let them know she wanted to stop everything except pain management.
“Frannie was one of the first women who came to Rosie’s with HIV and the first one to die at the house. I was in the room with her when she died, sharing the most intimate piece of a person’s life. It was as if Frannie needed permission to let go, and the message the women in the house sent to her was: You can leave—we’re really going to miss you, but we’ll be okay. So we came full circle; she gave me the incredible gift of closure.”
The night that Frannie died, three of the women in the house never went to bed. She died surrounded by these women in the house where she wanted to be. With the pain controlled by morphine, she was comfortable, and her seizures were kept under control. As the women talk about Frannie now, there is a lot of laughing along with the crying.
“We [staff] were being watched,” Molly observes. “Were we being respectful? Loving? Were we being supportive, allowing Frannie to die with dignity? There was a huge sense of relief among the women that her death was handled the way she wanted it. That’s the comforting part. But the women were also watching their sister die with the very thing that would kill them.”
There was a family funeral service. For Molly, the most heartbreaking part of the funeral was the presence of Frannie’s son. “He asked Frannie’s housemates if they were going to be okay.”
The women at the house followed the funeral with a memorial service of their own, which they held on the third-floor porch. They talked about Frannie, did readings, and released helium balloons that contained their own messages that might be discovered much later or far away. “This is an incredible family,” Molly says. “The women are an inspiration and they don’t even know it.”

All excerpts from Rosie’s Place,
Copyright 1997 by Andrea Cleghorn

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