What is supposed to be the most exciting time in a young person’s life became my worst nightmare. As I packed my bags for my high school Senior trip to Walt Disney World, my mother called my younger sister and I into her bedroom because she had something important to tell us. After several deep sighs she somehow managed to explain to us that she had been diagnosed with AIDS and wasn’t sure how much longer she’d live. In an instant my world came to a screeching halt. I sobbed hysterically and searched my mind for words to somehow express the devastation my heart felt. The only word I could muster was “why”. I needed to know why my mother, why now, why AIDS.
After swearing my sister and me to secrecy, my mother tried her best to maintain some sort of normalcy in our lives. The following month I graduated and went off to college with aspirations of one day becoming an electrical engineer. My mother continued working and my sister excelled in her freshman year of high school. When I returned home from my first semester of college, I barely recognized my mother. She had lost a tremendous amount of weight and had lesions called Shingles all over her face and body. Despite her medical condition she continued to work and insisted that I return to college. She applied her personal mantra, “finish what you start” to every aspect of life. So in her mind I belonged in school, but in my heart I knew I belonged by her side. Instead of going back to college, I stayed home and cared for mother. As the days, weeks, and months passed, she grew weaker and was eventually hospitalized. On January 26, 1995, two days before her forty-fifth birthday, my mother’s life ended.
I’m sure there’s some truth to the saying “Time heals all wounds” but I give credit to the Creator of time for my healing. There was a point in my life the sadness my heart felt paralyzed me. I dreaded the holiday season because I knew January 26th (the anniversary of my mother’s passing) and 28th (her birthdate) weren’t far behind. Every year during that time the sorrow I felt overwhelmed me so much so that couldn’t I get out of bed for days. I found temporary relief in the consumption of large amounts of alcohol and marijuana and contemplated taking my life.
Thankfully, I didn’t take my life but I did give it away. After realizing that I couldn’t carry this substantial burden alone, I relinquished my life to a power higher than myself. Since then, I have devoted my life to Jesus, His message, and His plan for my life. I now honor my mother’s legacy by finishing the tasks I start and continuing to ask the same question I asked on that day in her bedroom, why.
Why are there 16 million women across the globe living with HIV/AIDS? Why are women of color adversely affected by this epidemic? Why do African American women account for twenty five percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the richest country in the world? Why do women represent seventy percent of the world’s poor? My list of “whys” fuels me forward in advocating on behalf of women like my mother who suffer from and fear negative stigma. My “whys” influence my desire to research the root causes of an epidemic that disproportionately affects women who look like me. Through my writings I explore the various “whys” that dwell in my heart and mind and in turn expose the “whys” of those who read them. Like an inquisitive five year old, I continue to ask “why” today in hopes that no woman will ever have to disclose an HIV/AIDS diagnosis to her children tomorrow.
*This blog entry is dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Gladys Belle Dean-Johnson……...