AwareNow: Issue 18: The Outside Edition

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Page 106

“It's like my Uncle vanished from the hearts and minds of everyone that used to know him.”

I think that everyone else must have done something similar to what I did to deal with my Uncle's loss. Because other than the handful of times my Dad has brought my Uncle Dennis' name up over the years, I have never heard his name mentioned by anyone else ever again, without initiation.

It would be easy to doubt my Uncle's existence entirely if it wasn't for the few happy but fragmented & disjointed memories that I've retained of our sporadic interactions during my childhood. Like when my Uncle used to let me brush his hair and decorate it with barrettes and bowties when he babysat my siblings and me. Or if it wasn't for the one underexposed & water-damaged photo of my Uncle that I stole from my parent's cardboard box of old pictures buried in the back of their closet when I got older.

It's like my Uncle vanished from the hearts and minds of everyone that used to know him. I KNOW that's probably not true, but it feels that way, and I can't help but wonder why?

Is the memory of my Uncle too painful to discuss? Or are the circumstances regarding my Uncle's death considered shameful? I don't know. It was a different time back then.

As in, the world wasn't as accepting of the LGBTQ + community or lifestyle as it is now, especially when HIV/AIDS became the number one cause of death among men between the ages 25-44 yrs. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1996) and was also considered a "gay plague" (Fitzsimons, 2018).

Whatever the reasons, I'm not here to judge. Life is ever-changing, and I'd like to think that people are too. Very few things in life are set in stone.

So, during National HIV Awareness Month, I'd like to do my part to try to win some hearts and minds by continuing to humanize the victims of this terrible virus by sharing my Uncle's name and story. In addition to that, I pray that it will remind people how far society has come regarding accepting and interacting with those infected with HIV.

I know that I barely remember my Uncle Dennis, but I also know that I loved him. That feeling has never subsided, even after all these years. Nor is my love conditional. I don't care that my Uncle was gay or that he died from AIDS. I'm just sad that he's gone, but I hope his memory will always live on in my words. ∎ LORI BUTIERRIES

Author, Navy Veteran & Mother of 2 with Special Needs Lori Butierries is a full-time caregiver to two children with special needs, one child being terminally ill and physically disabled. Lori uses her life experiences and the medical knowledge she gained while serving as a Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy to help others facing similar hardships. Lori focuses primarily on advocating for and educating others about the special needs, mental health, and veterans communities. Her long-term goal is to reduce the stigma associated with disability by talking about it with people of all ages, thus minimizing the fear and the mystery attributed to the unknown in this regard.