March 19, 2009
When my brother was little, we spent many days a week in the speech pathologists office. Growing bored, my mom let me take a sign language class while Patrick was learning his vowels. I learned to sign the Elton John song, The Circle of Life. I can still remember how to sign the chorus and still love that song. Well, yesterday was one of those days when I was reminded of the real life 'Circle of Life.'
Every year, we have a memorial service for the patients we lose that year. Yesterday, I stood in front of a somber crowd and read the names my patients who died in 2008. I read each of their names and pictured each of their faces. Some I knew only for a few months, others I grew to love. In some of their cases, I prayed for the mercy of death. In others, I grieved at how unpredicatable AIDS can be and how fast it can take a young life. At some of their deaths, I said thank you to God. At others, I said 'How could you?' As I was reading their names, a few family members were in the audience. One, a mother, dressed to the nines, came and smiled as I read the name of her 'baby boy'. She brought me a picture of him before AIDS stole his health. He was stunning, with a full face, not the gaunt looks of an AIDS patient. She reminded that these kids are just like you and I before this diagnosis. They have full lives with dreams and hopes.
Also in the crowd was a sweet man who, after 6 months, still starts bawling thinking about his partner. He has grown depressed and lonely, missing his love so much. I talked to him before the ceremony and asked him what W. would say to him right now. He laughed and said, "W. would say, stop crying and be a man." I assured him that he was being a man, despite those tears. Because sometimes being a man means getting out of the bed, taking a shower, and walking out of your house when you don't think you have the strength to open your eyes to a life without the person you love.
I know by faith where these sweet patients are now. But it still hurt like hell to think of what this disease did to them. I left the ceremony pretty raw with sadness. I came back to the office, and needing a pick-me-up, called the Gift of Grace. For those of you who haven't heard me talk about this place ad nauseum, it's a home for women with AIDS owned and run by Mother Teresa's Sisters. So, I called the nunlets and checked on the ladies there. I needed a reminder of the people who are living great lives with this disease. Sr. Drita told me to come right over, they were having a birthday party for S. I know S. well and love her. I was happy to bolt from work for some ice cream therapy. When I walked in and hugged her happy birthday, she said 'Keri, it IS a happy day because another year went by and I am ALIVE!" S. is truly celebrating the fact that she lived another year with AIDS. She got to see her 19-year-old go off to college and she got another year of comforting her 2-year-old's ear infections. Her birthday was not about cake and ice cream (though that did make me feel better!). It was about having another year with her children, about her daughter having another year of education before she becomes a mother to her little brother.
So while we first commemorated loss, we later celebrated life. The Circle of Life continues~~