StoryCorps: Caught Between Their Dying Parents, Daughters Find Comfort In A Lie During the height of the AIDS epidemic, two sisters lost both their parents to the disease — a gay father who'd had to keep a secret life, and a mother who could never forgive him.

Caught Between Their Dying Parents, Daughters Find Comfort In A Lie

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time to check in with StoryCorps and their OutLoud initiative, recording conversations from the LGBTQ community. In the late 1980s, the AIDS epidemic was sweeping across the country. And in today's StoryCorps segment, we'll hear from one family that was hit hard by the disease twice. Roger Bessey was a gay man but lived most of his life in a straight marriage. In 1988, he was diagnosed with AIDS. Soon afterwards, his wife, Christine, was also diagnosed. Their marriage ended. Two of their daughters, Claudia Anton and Diana Keough, sat down at StoryCorps to remember losing both parents to AIDS.

DIANA KEOUGH: You know, we thought, at first, when we heard the words AIDS that it would have been prostitutes or that he had had a transfusion that we didn't know about. We didn't realize that he had been living a double life for 27 years.

CLAUDIA ANTON: Right.

KEOUGH: In the state of Wisconsin, at that time, there were 150 cases of AIDS. And I think 149 was Dad and 150 was Mom. I actually learned pretty quickly not to tell people about either one of them because we would have dinner parties and people would actually not eat or drink in our house. Tell me about your memories of Dad dying.

ANTON: I remember his heart was beating out of his chest. Like his heart wouldn't give up but the rest of his body was giving up.

KEOUGH: We actually called Mom, and we asked her if she would just speak to him for a minute, and she refused. So we actually pretended. And we told Dad that Mom had just called and she said that she had forgiven him. And he calmed down immediately, and he died.

ANTON: Like four hours later.

KEOUGH: Yeah, do you feel bad about lying?

ANTON: I've thought about that a lot.

KEOUGH: Yeah, I think we did the right thing and let him die in peace.

ANTON: Yeah.

KEOUGH: He died in 1990 and then mom died...

ANTON: '94.

KEOUGH: '94. That's right. When do you feel the saddest about Mom and Dad being gone?

ANTON: I get sad when people talk about going to see their parents or spending Christmas with their parents or - I still get a twinge of sadness on Mother's Day

KEOUGH: I think what makes me the most sad is that neither one of them had an opportunity to be loved or love or be happy.

ANTON: I know, but I also think it's the sign of the times, too, you know? The fact is that he couldn't be who he wanted to be back then.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Sisters Claudia Anton and Diana Keough in Atlanta, Ga. Their interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. Their conversation was recorded in partnership with the Recollectors, a storytelling project by and about people who have lost parents to AIDS. It's part of OutLoud, StoryCorps' initiative to collect LGBTQ stories across America. You can hear more on the StoryCorps podcast and at npr.org.

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