Austin American Statesman
Monday October 16, 1989


By Cheryl Coggins Frink - American-Statesman Staff

The stones are just pretty. Not exotic, really. Just a few, polished slices of smoky quartz, a couple of chunks of moss agate, a crystal or two he's laid out on a paper towel in the kitchen of his tiny apartment.

Not all that much really, except these slivers of stone and the jewelry he is creating from them anchor Lee Edward Overbay to the here and now. And for Overbay, a man who has been fighting AIDS for two years, the here and now and what he does with them are just about all life is going to guarantee.

"I don't know if this helps me mentally or physically, -but the end result is the same. Any kind of project like this makes you feel useful," said Overbay, who worked in the bar business for 15 years before his diagnosis of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Overbay's bouts with tuberculosis, fatigue, and other AIDS-related conditions have made him unemployable.

"Part of this illness is the mental thing where you begin to feel useless. It's like playing a waiting game," Overbay said. "That's not healthy, and I'm not waiting."

Instead, he's making earrings and necklaces from the tiny stones and arrowheads his father found in the deserts of Southern California and Arizona when Overbay was a boy.

During the hours Overbay spends winding wire around the sentimental keepsakes, Overbay is no longer a sick, homebound, out-of-work 44-year-old AIDS patient. He is a functional, creative person, an artist with meaning and direction.

And that is exactly the purpose of the art projects tackled by many of the patients cared for by Rites of Passage, a home care service that caters to AIDS and other terminally ill patients.

"Creativity makes you alive. That's what life is all about," said Cindy Pickard, director of the agency, formerly known as AIDS Care and Assistance.

"It's my whole feeling that the end of life does not have to be a negative time," she said. "If people can look at the art of people who are dying and see something positive coming out of what is considered a negative, depressing time, it gives hope to all of us."

Pickard, who has worked for several years in Austin with terminally ill patients through Hospice Austin and her own agency, has long supported the idea that a person's final days are often his most creative.

"I think often that dying people see something we don't see, and they can express that in their art," she says. The watercolors, weavings, jewelry, and other artistic endeavors of the patients involved with her agency, as well as efforts by their friends, families, and other supporters, have motivated Pickard to pull together an ongoing exhibit of work for and by the AIDS patients.

The show, which opens today at Book People in Broadie Oaks Shopping Center, will display the work of the AIDS patients and their supporters. Sales from the show will benefit indigent patients who are under the care of Rites of Passage.

... Not everyone in the show has AIDS," Pickard says of the 10 contributors to the exhibit. "Many are just people who want to contribute to the show for one reason or another. They just want to support the agency."

While home care for many of the clients is covered by insurance, others, including several AIDS patients, are indigent, uninsured, and unable to pay the service, which costs a minimum of $8.50 an hour.

The AIDS artists have donated their works to the show, which also will showcase a video Pickard and several volunteers with Rites of Passage have put together telling the story of home care. That video, called Tell Everybody It's All About Love, is part of a community outreach program Pickard is undertaking to explain the positive aspects of home care for the AIDS patient. The education project is funded by a $15,000 Hogg Foundation grant.

Pickard began her non-profit agency a year and a half ago to care for AIDS patients who no longer benefit from being in the hospital, but who have trouble remaining at home because they need help with simple life skills. Care givers with the agency cook, clean, grocery shop, run errands, and provide company to the AIDS patients, who often are isolated and even helpless because of their weakened condition.

In the past 18 months, the agency has cared for more than 20 AIDS patients. The agency also has contracted with Hospice Austin to provide home care services to other terminally ill patients.

Like Overbay, Kent Mercer has decided to participate in the art show. He will donating two hand woven rugs because he has experienced what home care can mean to an AIDS patient.

Mercer's closest friend, Ned Peacock, died last year after a seven year struggle with AIDS. Peacock was cared for in his last months by Mary Worley, a care giver with Rites of Passage.

Mercer has used the loom Peacock left him to create rugs for the show. It is the same loom Peacock spent many of his last hours working as he made a variety of farewell gifts. "I think he was really making things for his family to have after he was gone. He was very close to them, and he wanted them to have something substantial," said Mercer, who is a librarian for a private company here.

© Copyright 2004, Rites of Passage, All Rights Reserved