World Aids Day: Living With Ghosts

To paraphrase Larry Kramer, we lost a lot of good young men to the flu back then. I lost my brother and those I had come to call family. And I know I’m not alone with that loss. 

World AIDS Day

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. And in many ways, it is a day of loss and remembrance. But it’s also more for me; it’s a day of life. 

When my brother received his AIDS diagnosis in 1989, he said he’d been given a clock. “Nothing changed, kiddo, except I know when I’m checking out.” He embraced that knowledge, allowing it to focus his brilliance, his genius, his insanity, his joy. It wasn’t always easy, but he always moved forward because, as he reminded me often, “what else can you do?”

Before I turned 21, I had attended a dozen or so funerals attributed to AIDS or ARC. By the time I was 25, I had a closet full of black dresses. It took me another 20 years before I could wear black, in any form, again. 

I witnessed the dangerously close and uncomfortably intimate face of AIDS bloom around me. I also saw, first hand, how people responded to that diagnosis, the words, the stigma. I watched families and partners turn and walk away when they were needed most. But, I also saw strangers step up and become family to those who had no one else. Tired hospice workers brought their kids on days off to play games with residents. Loved ones kept visiting long after their tears had dried. We moved forward however we could.

Today is a day of strong emotion for so many hearts, and mine joins the chorus. 

AIDS: Life after Loss

Someone recently commented on how well I had handled the trauma of that loss. The thing is, I don’t consider myself a survivor, and I don’t consider their death a traumatic loss anymore. I loved them. I love them. They are with me still, and I am better for the blessing of their laughter and love. 

We all get the same thing: a life. Some are long, some are short, but a life is all we get. Everything else is up to us. And I believe we’re supposed to be happy, to live vibrantly and passionately.

For me, that means not looking for those who have shuffled off this mortal coil where they once stood, but rather where they are now–in the beauty and brilliance that fills every moment of life. 

Life isn’t about how we die. Life is about how we live; how we love.

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