So today was a very emotional day. Heading into this month has been a reflective time. Later this month I will reach an incredible milestone, one I never imagined I would ever see — I turn 50. The day before my birthday, I also mark the 25th year of being diagnosed living with HIV.
I have been drafting this really profound and touching message in my mind, which means I would finally type something up that isn’t as great as I would want it to be because what is in my head never seems to get down on paper or typed into the computer.
Then a day like today happens and just puts me in a place and mindset I didn’t expect. A friend’s funeral was today. I loved this lady. Donna was an incredible woman. Never treating me different after learning of my diagnosis, always so caring, loving and concerned.
We had a connection. Her daughter was born about a month before my son Adrian. After several incidents and life happenings she became a single parent with a single child like me. Both so very grateful of the gift of the child we had. Our children grew up together, went to school together until she found some happiness and moved away.
But in that time we were single mothers with only one child we had many deep conversations. I know everyone with more than one child loves every child, and no matter how many kids you have the thought of losing one of your children is traumatic.
However, I think this thought and fear is even worse for a single mother with only one child. I believed I was never going to have another chance and in 1996 I didn’t think it would have even been a possibility, even though it could have been a possibility. I know I could have had more children, but in 1996, you have to note, I was living to die. I was so grateful for Adrian, I wanted all of my love, focus and energy to be spent on him.
My focus was on loving and raising this precious gift I was honored to receive having just watched my husband die without dignity, fighting for life for three years. I knew how ugly the last years, stages of complications of AIDS and secondary infections could be and the toll on one’s body. I had just lived through them all. I know how painful, shameful and slow the process could be.
I didn’t have much hope back then to live a long life. I was hoping to make it until Adrian was in junior high or high school, yet battling with how I would chose to live out those last years. Having just survived and witnessed the last years of my husband Roger’s life, I didn’t want to watch my family watch me slowly die.
I know that isn’t my reality now, but it was my reality then in 1996. I had been living with HIV for over three years, but was still so ignorant about living with HIV. We lived in extreme poverty, didn’t have a computer or the internet, lived in silence because of the fear, shame and discrimination — completely different from today.
I was so worried about dying in Adrian’s teen years that I sent a letter to educate parents of his classmates so fearful of the ignorance and discrimination and how my sickness and death would impact him at this critical time in his life.
Since the moment I found out I was pregnant, my thoughts revolved around how to protect him emotionally, trying to build a strong and solid foundation of love for when this happened. Fearful for him having a day like my friend’s daughter Grace had today.
My concern was always creating a support system for him when he would become an orphan. Or grateful for my mom and sister knowing if/when that happened he would have them, even if I weren’t there. I started participating in sharing my stories, involved in boards and committees, intentionally taking me away for just a night at a time.
My thought process was showing Adrian that if I were gone someone would always be there to take care of him. I was leaving to help him in the long run. May not be practical or make sense now, but that is what it was then and was my reality.
Life, medications, treatment, science and education are all different now. Now my thoughts are working until I can retire. OMG, retiring is now in my thought processes. Sometimes it just feels crazy thinking back to those days.
Today, I watched Grace grieving for loss of her mom. My heart breaks for her. I know she has an amazing friend to provide that shoulder for comfort. She has a huge family that loves her and will be there for her. But it’s not her mom, she has so many years of needing her mom’s shoulder to cry on, her mom to help out when life gets too much, and her mom to be there just for that unconditional love.
My thoughts also went to that could have been Adrian, and so grateful it isn’t (wishing Grace wasn’t going through this either). I know every child needs their mom, hell I still live and need mine everyday and I am almost 50. Although our journeys were different, the similarities between my friend Donna and me made us bond.
Today brought up those feelings and stresses of the late ’90s to the forefront. Things have changed, thought processes have changed, like when I stopped living to die and started living to live. But those traumas and triggers can take me back quickly. Survivor’s guilt can hit at any moment. Life really sucks sometimes and it’s not fair no matter how hard we strive to make it happen or better.
Thankful to still be here, but very aware how that can be taken away at the blink of an eye.
This op-ed was originally published on Facebook and is reposted with permission.