Three years ago, right before Worlds AIDS Day, I had the honor to write about a pastor in my hometown who was open about her HIV-positive status.
She had even been named “The HIV Minister.”
During the conversation, she told me about her life that included years of drug addiction.
It was only after her husband informed her that he had the disease that she was prompted to get tested.
Her husband eventually died, but in her opinion, he didn’t just die from the disease. He died from the stigma and shame of it.
That’s why she made it a point to put a face to it and humanize it.
I remember thinking how brave she was for putting herself out there in that way.
I knew it couldn’t have been an easy decision given her role in the church. It’s sometimes difficult to accept that religious leaders had lives before they were called by their higher power.
I struggled through the article.
I wanted it to not only shed light on the courageous woman, but also be informative about the disease, as well as the special service at her church. I also struggled through it because it hit so close to home.
When I was in middle school, I learned that a friend of the family was suffering with the disease.
I was young, but was old enough to understand that there wasn’t a cure and that it was life-threatening.
That night, my siblings and I were all huddled around the giant wood-grained console television that sat on the floor.
It was my first time watching "Titanic."
We were right at the part when the ship hit the iceberg and the tragedy ensued.
It felt like another tragedy occurred when my aunt, who was the bearer of bad news, told us what was going on. We struggled to make sense of what it meant.
As kids, we just knew the basics of what was published in our outdated health books. We asked questions about eating off the same silverware and plates. We just didn’t know all of the specifics on how it was transmitted.
I think I took it the hardest because of what that person meant to me. It was very clear that there was a possibility that this could be the last year, maybe even months, I would see them. Unfortunately, it was.
I’m embarrassed to write this, but as much as that person meant to me, they rarely ever cross my mind.
I think the last time I spoke (or thought) about them was over Fourth of July weekend during a conversation with two of my brothers.
But today on World AIDS Day, I want to remember.
I remember the curves of their face. I remember how they’d twist the ends of pillowcases. I never understood it, but I suppose it was soothing.
I remember their gapped smile.
I also remember how they’d wipe boogers on the wall.
It was something that my siblings and I joked about during their final days. I remember how my heart stopped when I met their identical twin for the first time.
I seriously thought I was going to faint.
Perhaps more than anything, I remember those last days almost waiting for the end.
I remember the pain of watching them suffer.
I remember the awkwardness and uncertainty of how to just be there for them, when it once came so natural.
I remember noticing how that person, who was typically a bigger person, could barely fit into their jeans that loosely sat around their waist. It definitely wasn’t easy.
I don’t know if they learned they had the aggressive disease too late, or if it was like the pastor said, the shame of it.
Either way, while I may not have remembered to think of them, I will always remember the cause of their death and that it is preventable.
And you should too.