‘SCARRED NOT BROKEN’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY LORI BUTIERRIES
HIV, MY UNCLE & ME
A MAN (AND A MOMENT) GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN I barely remember my Uncle Dennis.
When he passed away in the early '90s at the height of the AIDS epidemic, I was a young child. Not only that, but his death didn't feel like it was a topic that I could ask about or bring up in casual conversation with anyone, ever.
There is so much mystery surrounding my Uncle's illness that even today, in 2021, I still don't know the chain of events regarding how my Uncle contracted HIV or how the last days of his life played out.
Sure, I have vague memories of my Dad, my Uncle Dennis' fraternal twin brother, driving my Mom, siblings, and me from Illinois to Wisconsin to visit our Uncle regularly to take care of him once he got sick. But my siblings and I were always sent off to entertain ourselves once we arrived at my Uncle's house, so the significance of those visits never really hit home until it was too late to appreciate them.
The last time I saw my Uncle Dennis alive was when my Dad brought the whole family to the hospital to see him when he got admitted. One by one, my siblings and I took turns going into my Uncle's hospital room to say hello. At the time, at least as I recall events, I didn't know it was really for us to say goodbye.
I was completely oblivious to what was happening. In my childish ignorance, I remember looking at my Uncle's skeletal face and bony body and thinking to myself, "I hope that he will get better soon." The seriousness of my Uncle's condition finally sunk in when I found myself sitting in my Sunday best surrounded by grieving family members at his funeral service soon after that last visit. My Uncle's death felt surreal.
“My heart still clenches with pain when I think about Mr. Dave and all the unspoken hostility he endured at that moment that day.”
Likewise, the angry faces in the surrounding pews share an equally blurry and dreamlike quality in my mind's eye too. Still, I remember all that anger being directed at my Uncle Dennis' partner, Mr. Dave, when he got up to perform some non-Catholic song, ritual, ceremony, etc., in remembrance of my Uncle.
After Mr. Dave brokenly uttered the last sound to his chant, the silence filling the room was deafening. My heart still clenches with pain when I think about Mr. Dave and all the unspoken hostility he endured at that moment that day.
I also distinctly remember feeling relieved when my siblings, cousins, and I were instructed to "go play somewhere" once the service finally ended. All that sadness felt too overwhelming and hard to process at the time. So, I allowed myself to escape from what was happening around me mentally - which is a coping technique I continue to use today whenever life's troubles get to be too much to bear. 105 AWARENOW / THE OUTSIDE EDITION