AIDS may not seem like much of an issue – until someone you care about dies from it. Once that happens, in a small suburban town like mine, then suddenly the issue becomes critical, and the need for a true response seems immense.
Almost one year ago today I lost a close friend to AIDS. She left behind a teenage son, dealing not only with the loss of his mother, but with the embarrassment associated with her disease, and the fear of having been “infected” as well. My friend went to her grave far too quickly, leaving so many of us wondering how this could happen… Why this could happen…
Thinking, in brutal honesty, that it could have been me instead of her. Questioning the universe on the day of her funeral- Why wasn’t it me, instead of her? I’ve not led a perfect life. I’ve had unprotected sex in the past. At 40 years old, how many of us can say we haven’t, even one time? Yet I didn’t get sick, I didn’t recieve my “just rewards” but she, my dear friend, did.
There are so many issues when someone is diagnosed with HIV. Issues that affect that person, and issues that affect their families, friends, neighbors, coworkers… In rural America HIV can go undiagnosed for far too long. My friends case was just one unfortunate example. When she began to sick, doctors ignored her complaints. I suppose some thought she was a hypochondriac, or a chronic complainer. Something like that I imagine. When her sickness did not go away after 2 weeks, then 4 weeks, then 6 months, doctors performed tests of one sort or another. How long did they wait to perform an AIDS test? In small town America it must just seem next to impossible that it would be HIV- so they didn’t check that option, until far too late. She was full blown AIDS by that time, and passed away just a few short months after she was finally diagnosed.
My friend told people she had cancer. Those who thought she was dying of cancer were kind and compassionate. Later, when she revealed to some that she had AIDS and no more than a year to live, there were those people who treated her unkindly. People who said it was her own doing. People that blamed her for her own death.
There were issues with her son as well. In the beginning he was terrified that he had the disease. He feared for himself, and for his girlfriend, whom he had had a long time relationship with. He wanted to be able to talk to others about his pain, his suffering, but his mother feared people’s reactions toward him, and told him not to tell people what was really wrong with him.
Fear took over my friends life. Fear of death. Fear of other people’s reactions toward her, toward her child. Fear of what would happen to her son after she died. Fear for others that she had been with, aware of the possibility that she had spread the disease to those few people she had loved the most in her life- loved enough to be intimate with.
In little towns like yours and mine the response to AIDS needs to be the same as the response to any disease; cancer victims, heart patients, diabetics- love and compassion, kindness and understanding.
Education is crucial, when someone in your town has HIV. People need to know the facts, in order to overcome their fears. Ignorance is the enemy. Silence and secrecy is not the answer.