A Candlelight vigil was recently held in Bellevue Park to commemorate those who have lived and are currently living with HIV/AIDS.
Among those present at the event were the family of the late Sault-born Stéphane Dosko, who after living 17 years with HIV died of complications due to AIDS in 2007 while only 39 years old.
At the vigil, Dosko's family shared his life story as well as presented a special quilt that was accompanied by a powerful letter that he wrote months before he passed away.
Dosko’s husband Steve Miller said that even though his partner suffered terribly, “he would never let himself be defined by AIDS.”
Dosko moved away from the Sault in his teens and when he was 20 he moved to Toronto and worked as a model.
During his first years in Toronto, Dosko contracted HIV but that didn’t stop him from continuing to live a full life and throughout the 1990s he continued on in the fashion industry as a stylist and agent for high-profile clients including Chatelaine, Vogue, Nike, Chanel, and Holt Renfrew.
Miller met Dosko in the late 1990s and he said that on their first date Dosko told him he was HIV positive.
“In my world, a relationship with someone who has AIDS wasn’t difficult,” said Miller.
The two enjoyed a full relationship and Miller makes sure to point out that he never contracted HIV/AIDS.
“I tell people about that a lot. Thank god the stereotype over AIDS is diminishing and it just shows that you just don’t get it that easily. We had a full life,” said Miller explaining that the fear of being physically near those with HIV/AIDS in years past was unwarranted.
Miller and Dosko were married in the late 1990s by a pastor who was sympathetic to gay rights and in 2007 the couple held a legally recognized ceremony.
As he struggled with his medical issues, Dosko found that the cocktail of medications he was required to take had “horrendous” side effects and instead prolonging his life he opted for a higher quality one.
A week before he passed away, the couple held a party and, “Stéphane being Stéphane”, he loved every minute of it.
“He always had so much, he was one of those personalities. People were just drawn to his infectious energy. He wouldn’t let himself get defined by AIDS. Despite the reality of his situation he was as positive as ever,” said Miller.
At the candlelight vigil, Dosko’s family brought a quilt his grandmother began and that Dosko added to before passing the blanket on to his great niece.
In April of 2007, months before he passed away, Dosko wrote a letter to his great niece that explained the significance of ‘The Quilt’:
My Dear Little Madison,
It is with great love that I give you the ‘The Quilt’. It is very important that you understand the meaning behind both sides of it. Every stitch was made with love and thoughts of you.
I spent many hours and months piecing together the historical handkerchiefs from your Great Grandmother La Flesh and the needle point of the charming young lady was produced by your Great Grandmother Powers.
Here is a romantic story behind the handkerchiefs:
During World War I and II, when your Great Great Grandfather La Flesh was stationed overseas, soldiers were not allowed to send written mail for fear of spies and trading secrets. The soldiers would mail home to their wives handkerchiefs to let them know where they were stationed and how well they were doing. Your Great Grandmother Powers gave me the handkerchiefs, which I cherished, and now in quilt form I pass them on to you as my gift.
The beautiful young lady that is in needlepoint is just as important as the handkerchiefs and here is why:
When your Great Grandmother Powers was a little girl she did not have the modern conveniences of today. There was no television, computers, Internet or iPods. As a proper young girl, you would sit with the family around the radio and fireplace and spend hours with your needlepoint. Your Great Great Grandmother La Flesh was a perfectionist and if Great Grandmother Powers did a poor stitch she would have to pull it out and painfully do it again and again. How tough for a young girl but how wonderful the result.
Some of the handkerchiefs are around 100-years-old and have been taken care of vey well. I truly hope you take care of this quilt so it will last another 80 years or more.
Your Great Uncle Stéphane has AIDS and I’m in my advance stages where I could pass on this year or hopefully I have more years left.
Because of my illness, I will not have the luxury of watching you grow into the beautiful young woman I know you are going to be.
With ‘The Quilt’ I hope you feel the love from your family history. We do not want to be forgotten.
Be happy and live life to it’s fullest.
Love and peace always,
Great Uncle Stéphane Dosko.
Stéphane Dosko passed away on December 9, 2007.