Bil Browning

Have You Lost Someone to AIDS?

Filed By Bil Browning | June 07, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: HIV/AIDS, personal stories

Note from Bil: This post originally ran in late 2009 and spawned one of the most beautiful comment threads in Bilerico history. With last weekend's 30 year anniversary of the first CDC report of what would become known as AIDS, I thought I'd re-run this item to see if we could repeat the experience.

funeral.jpgI finally got around to reading The Advocate's take on Obama's presidency and LGBT rights this morning. While it's a good enough article chock-full of reasons why our community is angry at the Obama administration, the part about Larry Kramer and the passion of our activism really resonated with me.

One paragraph really made me wonder though...

Our progress is measured by the generation gaps that fracture the movement. There is a gap between the ACT UP cohort and the daughters and sons of Will & Grace (who, having escaped the worst of the plague, don't share their elders' righteous anger except when they try) -- and another between the Will & Grace generation and the Facebook generation (most of whom don't know a single person who has died of AIDS).

Do you know someone who died of AIDS? I'm not talking about your long-lost 2nd cousin twice removed that died when you were four, but a personal friend, close family member, partner, etc. Tell us your age and where you live too; I think where you live in the country will also have a large effect on the results. I'll be interested to see the responses.

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When you move around a lot you loose track of people. I've probably lost more people than I am aware of. Two Jimmys come to mind. One I had a relentless crush on, the other was a Marine who looked after me like I was his little brother. I met one Jimmy in the theater, the other was my next door neighbor in the Navy hospital in Balboa Park. I saw theater Jimmy when he came home from campus on weekends and holidays. He agreed to be my boyfriend on weekends. I can still feel the smooth texture of his curly brown hair. Marine Corps Jimmy had a quiet strength and compassion that made me feel like his kid brother even though I was older than he. The streets of heaven are indeed guarded by United State Marines. I miss my two Jimmys.

I was 15 and it was 1986. I was living in an Institution for adolescents with drug and alcohol issues. I had just spent an entire year on Level 1 with no privileges and was just placed on "association" with all males since I was a receptive partner to my roommate whom was considered to be inculpable because he was dominant and said he was straight. This means I lived in a little world and a great part of this world were the gay nurses whom I loved and whom protected me when they were on shift. A different story for a different day otherwise. The first gay male nurse just disappear with no words spoken about his absence but the tension in the male nurses who were gay was thick. By six months time these men, these substitute parents and protectors were all gone but one and I have no idea what happened to him. Each death that was whispered to me in hushed quiet words and my tears I shed in private choosing information over the avalanche of grief which falls to this day I let out in quiet sobs in a corner since my behavior striped me of a room to cry in. I am 40 this month. Close to the age of all my Nurses who loved and nurtured me when I was so messed up and self destructive. I am alive because of them and despite seeing the death of a generation their was a time I lived self destructively in a "it's going to happen to me anyway" attitude that seems to be the attitude of the younger generations. I escaped somehow and live with the sadness of loss and the joy of life. I wonder if I am the only one left alive who knew them as a gay person. I love them all.

Laurie Edwards | June 7, 2011 8:00 PM

My first husband, Kevin Francis Burke, died of AIDS in January of '95. I'm not going to say Kevin was the love of my life or anything like it, but he was my husband. Between the drugs and the tubs, he was the virus waiting to happen, and it did. He died very badly in a Phoenix nursing home run by a rather strict order of nuns, and I mourn him to this day. Such a handsome, clever, and charming man.

Eddy Davis | June 8, 2011 1:49 AM

I fell in love with Carl while in college at the University of Maryland. He was diagnosed with ARC in 1985. He left school for a semester or two, but managed to come back. After I graduated from the HELL that was the University of Maryland (I was VERY out. More out than the 'children' on campus), I moved to NYC to follow my dream of becoming a Fashion Designer and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). I remember coming back to DC for a visit and had heard that Carl was in the hospital. When I arrived at his hospital room, I saw that he was bloated from all of the drugs they were giving him, but he still managed to tell me that I looked good. A month later, he passed away. I flew down to DC from NYC to attend his memorial service. Something extremely extraordinary happened near the end of the memorial serfice. A thunderstorm came out of nowhere during the service (which was on a bright sunny day). Everyone that was in attendance could feel Carl when the heavy rain came down on the auditorium where the memorial service was being held. In that moment, we all knew that it was Carl telling us how much he loved each one of us. It is a day that I will never forget.

I was 18 and in my sophomore in college. I went to my friend Rob (who I knew was gay) and told him my newest secret - I had just found out I was pregnant. He opened up to me, telling me that he had AIDS. I was the first person on campus he had told. He was very excited about the prospect of the baby, and we were mutually supportive of each other. After I left school to have my son, we lost track. I found out later he had died. It breaks my heart knowing he never got to meet the baby he was so excited about.

Gavin and I meet when were 28. We lived a block away from each other in Los Angeles. He was an amazing man - intelligent, funny, handsome - a fiery young Latino with a fantastic smile and a big wonderful family. Within 2 years we were living in San Diego, married and raising a curly blonde haired baby girl. He adored our family and was an good husband and father.

He went through years of chemotherapy for AIDS related KS, and ultimately it was the toxicity of the meds that did him in. Just before our little girl turned three, I came in the house after dropping her at preschool and he looked at me with that "sorry you have to put up with this" helpless smile. I gave him a kiss and told him to go lay down. When I came in a couple of hours later after picking up our daughter from preschool, he was gone. He was 34 years old. He knew with that smile.

We were able to be with him. He was able to die in his own home with his family. I am thankful for that. Mostly, I am forever thankful for the five years I had with him. He was a beautiful man in every sense of the word with a great spirit. That was 10 years ago. We have moved on with our lives, but he will always be a part of who we are.

Pardon me, but to ask a 50 year old gay man from Los Angeles if he's lost anyone from AIDS is like asking if I've ever been stuck in traffic.

Although 1981 brought the first mention this gay cancer or GRID, I heard nothing about till 1983 when a friend of mine who did not know I was gay mentioned a new gay cancer. I graduated from college in 1983. I grew up in southern Cal, went to college in Orange County and by 1985 was living in Los Angeles. I made many gay friends who all were scared of this thing that killed gay men (and haitians, remember). There used to be a joke. What's the hardest part about telling people you have AIDS? Trying to convince them you are Hatian. I attended the same New Years Party each year from 85 to 89. Many of the guys there I only saw once a year. It was still a thrill to go to an all gay party. There was a freedom. Youngsters today don't realize that even if you worked at Nordstrom, you had to be closeted. So every year this party was like a reunion. I can remember saying things like "Hey where is Danny" "Didin't you hear? He caught pneumonia and died". At 26. The next year..."hey where's Joey" "didn't you hear? Joey got a rare cancer. They amputated his leg, but he died 3 weeks later" At 23. "Where's Ben?" "Didn't you hear, he's real sick, maybe cancer, they don't know. He moved back to North Carolina to his grandma's" "But don't his folks live in Dallas" "Yeah that's right, but they won't take him". But even with all this happening, we couldn't bring ourselves to think it was "that". When I was 17, California was going thru everything depicted in "Milk". The Briggs initiative (prop 6) to ban gay teachers (and their supporters!). Harvey Milk was on TV all the time. He was funny, he was smart and he was right. He was my secret, secret, super secret hero. For some people, his assassination brought them angrily out of the closet. For me at 17, I went deeper. I was born in 1961, by the time I was 17, I'd seen Medgar Evers, JFK, RFK, MLK, and MILK shot dead for their beliefs. I already knew that progressive liberals were being shot,and I sure knew people hated Faggots. The brigg's Initiative had brought the topic into everyday conversation. Kids at school would say "my dad says they used beat the s%#t out of queers in the Navy" "my dad says they should all be killed". Deeper yet I went. Did I lose anyone? Among dear friends, only two. Men five, ten years older lost everyone. Among acqaintances, 3 different guys who cut my hair, favorite waiters, that guy from... my exboss... those guys that used to live over owners....hundreds. In the cities gay mens lost hundreds. far more than most WWII vets lost. I had power of atty over my dearest friend. His name was CRAIG HOWARD SEELEY. He was alive, he was beautiful, he was talented and he died in my arms

The first person I knew who died from AIDS died before there was even a name for the syndrome - he was Rev. Decklan Daley, an Irish priest who said Sunday Mass at my parish in Staten Island, arriving from his home in Greenwich Village (where he spent the week as a building superintendent) each Sunday on a motorcycle. I had some video of Father Decklan at the ordination of another friend from that parish, participating in the ordination rite with the laying of hands.

At the title insurance company I worked at in the late 1980's, we lost our office manager, a sweet and intelligent man named Jimmy Cerqueira, and one of our title report typists, a feisty woman named Gladys Crespo whose husband was a needle-using drug addict.

I also lost my younger brother Dennis, who had owned a pizzeria, served in the Navy, and then, following our father's career path, went into maintenance of way with the New York City Transit Authority, rising to the rank of General Superintendent (Dad woked hard and had become a Supervisor before retiring, but Dennis was smart, motivated, and rose to the top quickly), before he had to retire on disability. The subway tunnels were no place for a man whose T-cells were almost gone. Dennis moved to Florida, and my parents followed. I visited him from New York when I could, the last time being just as he started to be unable to tolerate food. Up until then, he kept himself in the best possible physical condition. In his last couple of years, he was being kept alive with weekly complete blood transfusions, and the brain cancer was being kept at bay with pinpoint radiation treatments. Dennis passed in May 1997, just a few days after his 41st birthday.

It was not until after my brother passed that I started my transition. He did not know I was trans. The closest I ever got was one late June in the early 1980's - it had to be the evening of the last Sunday in June. He asked me to go with him to the Village to get a glimpse of his life. I remember it was 2 AM, and the area was bathed in light with people all over the place as if it were the middle of the day. We had gotten some ice cream and were sitting on a curb when I noticed a drag queen walk by. I asked Dennis if he knew anyone like that - and his response made me think he thought I might be an "admirer." I realized he didn't get what I was trying to say, and so clammed up and didn't tell him about my inner "secret."

The last person I lost to AIDS was my brother-in-law Lou Micciulla - he passed a few months after my brother, and I also made sure he had a nice funeral mass.

Each of them has a special place in my heart, those who died too young, leaving lives partly unlived.

I met Kevin and his brother Kenny in a popular N. Halsted St bar called "Little Jim's" in Chicago. We became fast friends and Kevin and I became particularily close ..kinda like in the Bonnie Raitt song "Something To Talk About" where we didn't realize our feelings until a friend had mentioned that he heard Kevin and I were rather close. That was the AHA!!! moment ...I loved him like no other and the feelings were mutual. I'll never forget the New Years kiss between us at the very start of 1992 ..we were face locked continuously for I don't know how long ...but we sure had everyone's attention.
Later that year, Kevin called me and asked if i could bring him to the hospital because he was seeing double, didn't know why and nobody else was around who could drive. I don't remember the drive to his house ..such a blur but I got him to the U of C hospital and waited all night for him ..only to see him admitted for more tests. I went from the hospital to work and called him every chance I could get. When he was discharged he told me that he had HIV and worse, he was at the AIDS stage. Later on, Kevin told me that he had come to terms with his fate and accepted whatever was to come. (I didn't realize until too late that he meant "I'm outta'here!") Just before that time, I also tested positive and we were going to fight this together TPAN buddies and just be there for one another. In his final 30 days, I had a hard time reaching him ..and then I got a call from Kenny ..on January 10, 1993 ..and told me that Kevin had passed peacefully. My world turned upside down and I went on a rather self-destructive cycle for more than a year. His funeral was the most beautiful and energetic "homegoing" I'd ever witnessed ..but I remained crushed for a long time. I had to stop visiting his grave for a time because I'd be such an emotional mess afterward. After all this time, can you believe I still have tears streaming down my cheeks as I'm typing this?
Kevin Eric Lipsey died just shy of his 30th birthday. He is forever my angel who continues to look out for me. Yes, I feel that! I'll never stop loving you, Sugar!!!

When I moved to Pittsburgh, PA, almost twenty years ago now and met the woman who would become my beloved, she had a very good friend. Chuck was a sweet man, a fun and funny man, and she had untold good times with him. I only met him a couple of times, sadly. I wish there had been more time. He died shortly after I moved there.

Recently we were cleaning the house and came across a still-wrapped Christmas present that she had gotten for him just before he died. We'd moved it twice. We dusted it off and put it back - it's not ours to open.

I'm 42, my lady is 52. We've been fortunate in losing so few close to us to AIDS. But it worries me so, the men and women today who have no idea what AIDS really means. What Chuck worried about for most of the time just before he died was what in the world would happen to his cats - he'd lost everything and everyone else that he felt he had. AIDS had stolen everything from him.

The people today who think "if I get it, I'll just take medication" - well, they don't really understand. I hope they never have to. To cry, so many years later, out of grief and rage at the injustice that was done to the men and women dying of a disease that could have and should have been so much more limited, if only someone, anyone, had looked at it as a real problem - well.

I hope that never, ever happens again.

Long Beach, California. I lived off of Euclid and 2nd Street. I lived there between 1984 thru 1989. 2nd Street back then, was what was FUN/great/personnel about the gay community and what was also so visibly tragic/horrifying happening in the gay community at the time.

Ask anyone back in the day about "Bixby Park".

Small business owners, regular patrons were all getting sick and then dying. I remember the "women's bookstore" code/for lesbian bookstore, had jars for donations for the locals medical costs.

Lesbians witnessed their friends dying... and it was devastating.
There were potlucks, raffles, later marches, home care, anything to help... and then the eventual get together.

I witnessed practically an entire community die of AIDS over 5years... It was gay genocide. It shoved me deeper in the closet for a decade.

OH!! And in 1992 when I went to my 10th High School Reunion an hour and a half from Long Beach, California... 6of my HS Classmates, at 28yrs of age were gone from AIDS. But everyone still needed to "whisper" about it, because we needed to respect the dead.

4get them when they were alive, no one cared back then.

Growing up I didn’t understand how different my parent were. Yes, they were fun-loving, adventurous and crazy but they were also sick a lot. When I learned to shave I was taught to NEVER share a razor with someone else. And if either of them was ever bleeding my sister and I were banished to the other room. As I grew older I began to understand that something was up. My dad was bisexual and was diagnosed with HIV in 1989. He was told that he would be lucky to live for six months. He made it until 2003, dying 3 days before my 18th birthday. He was lucky; many faces I remember from my childhood didn’t live long enough to see me become a teenager. My mom still lives with HIV to this day and works hard to take care of herself so her grandchildren will know her for years to come.

It’s very true that my generation doesn’t appreciate how serious AIDS is. I am now 26, gay and I live in Utah. Although it’s amazing and wonderful that none of my gay friends have been touched by this disease, it’s also terrifying how apathetic they are. We are no longer educated. We are no longer responsible for our sex lives. We are setting ourselves up to make the same mistakes that were made 20 years ago.

My dad lit up any room he entered. He could be best friends with anyone after knowing them for a few short minutes. He was funny, charming and truly cared about people. His funeral was so packed that those who didn’t get there early had to stand outside in the hall. We were never religious but many who attended were. A Mormon lady from down the street was one of the speakers. She told everyone that she didn’t care what any of them believed, her Heavenly Father knew that John Herren was a good man that took care of his family and he would have a place for him in heaven.

He was my hero. I miss you, dad.