What It Was Like Losing A Loved One To The AIDS Virus

by Nicole Swanepoel

One in every 10 South Africans lives with HIV.

Although this statistic is alarming, it has become an accepted reality for South Africans, such as myself.

From a young age, we have been made aware of this harsh reality.

It is common practice for schools to incorporate the awareness in academic curriculums.

However, it's one thing to about it from a textbook than to lose someone you love to the virus. I learned about the latter at the age of 12 when my family lost one of its own.

Her name was Joyce, she had been living with our family since before I was born.

She was our nanny; looked after my sisters and myself, cooked, cleaned and lived with us. She was my second mother and my mother's best friend.

She taught me some basic Sotho (a native language in South Africa), and she taught me our country's national anthem soon after South Africa escaped the stifling apartheid regime.

She would scold me as my mother had done and she would look after me with just as much tenderness and love as my mother had done.

She walked me to the bus stop every single morning, and she would fetch me from the same stop every afternoon. I would sit with her in her flat at the bottom of the garden, watching soapies and eating pap and wors.

I remember getting so mad at her whenever she asked me to give her some space.

I also remember the times I was in tears when she would scold me for my untidy bedroom or leaving my dishes in the TV room. But, I loved her unconditionally.

She was as part of my family as I was.

I called her Nana.

I will never forget the one morning when I decided to run away from home. I was 5 years old and I packed a pair of knickers and my toothbrush into my Mickey Mouse backpack.

I hopped on my bicycle, and as I started to peddle my way up our long driveway, it dawned upon me that I had nowhere to go.

I panicked, turned my bicycle around, hid it around the corner and I crept up to Joyce's flat in tears.

She opened the door, still half asleep and her hair a mess, she looked at me and started giggling.

She let me hideout in her modest abode until I got over feeling sorry for myself, and scampered back inside the main house with my tail between my legs, only to figure out that my family hadn't even noticed that I was missing.

Joyce and I continued to share many more arguments and loving memories for the next seven years.

By this time, I had just turned 12, and Joyce had successfully taught our family's parrot an array of swear words.

She would giggle each time the bird said inappropriate things when guests were visiting.

I started spending less time in her flat after school and spending more time with my friends at the mall. I didn't realize that she was losing so much weight and that she was constantly going to the doctor.

Eventually, my mom sat me down and explained that Joyce was very ill with a terrible virus called HIV.

Little did I know that by this stage, it was full blown AIDS.

Joyce was back home, she was visiting her family and receiving treatment from her doctor, so I didn't have the chance to even storm into her room and fight with her for not looking after herself.

I was so mad. And then, a few days passed and we received the news that Joyce had passed away. She fell ill with TB, and her immune system couldn't fight off the illness.

I cried myself to sleep for months after that.

I had lost my second mother, and I didn't even get the chance to say goodbye to her.

My life was turned upside down.

I was the first of my friends who had lost someone to AIDS. I remember being embarrassed to tell people that the other woman who raised me died from a terrifying virus.

I will never forget my second mother, my nana, the woman who walked me to and from the bus stop every day, the person I would run to when my parent's were angry with me, the bossy lady who put the family in their place. She was our loving Joyce, who taught me the new South African national anthem before I could read.

I will never ever forget her wicked sense of humor teaching the parrot distasteful language.