Despite my best intentions, I have spent the last three months becoming increasingly angry about Derek's situation. My anger is fueled as much by his condition as his family situation. No, I'm not angry at his family — I'm angry about why his family wasn't involved earlier in his care. Derek's health is failing fast and his doctors confirmed on Monday that he doesn't have much time left. This is no surprise to me, but it's a tremendous shock to his family who all feel as though this is so very sudden. It's not, as I've said before, since we've been dealing with his most critical health problems for the last two years (he's been dealing with general health problems for the last four years). From their perspective, though, it's very sudden since they've only been involved for the last month.
Each day that goes by sees a greater decline in his mental condition, expeditiously destroying who he is and taking him away from his environment and those around him. His physical health is rapidly declining as well.
Why am I angry? There are many reasons.
I'm angry about the disease itself.
It's a horrible thing to watch someone whose body is used against them, whose body provides the very ammunition the disease needs to win, whose body strengthens the disease by fighting it. It's upsetting to know that, in the last 15 years, I have watched three friends die from this disease and am about to see the fourth taken from me in the same devastating way. The physical decline is horrific, but the mental decline is even worse. You watch someone taken from you a piece at a time, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
I'm angry about the feeling of helplessness.
I've spent two years of my life taking care of him, ensuring he was safe and cared for, managing his health care, meeting with his doctors, taking care of his finances and employment, and being there for him so he always had someone to rely on — the worst thing in these circumstances is to feel like you have to face it alone. I sacrificed my own happiness and well-being in the process.
Despite all the sacrifices, though, and all the hard work, there was ultimately nothing I could do to save him. The best I could hope for was to manage the illness as best I could to ensure some level of quality in his life. Even now the futility of the situation continues to manifest itself. His body has given up the fight, no longer able to maintain even some level of health. His immune system is gone. And now his mind is being directly attacked from two directions. Again, his body is being used against him. How can you fight that?
I'm angry about the sadness.
I'm sad that Derek will be leaving soon. He's been a close friend, roommate, confidant and part of my family for the last eight years. There is a hole in my heart and my life that Derek once filled. He filled it with his wit, his charm, his sarcasm, his intelligence, his friendship, his caring, and his child-like discovery of who he was. There is nothing that can ever fill the void he leaves behind. There will be other friends like Derek, but there will never be another Derek.
I'm angry about what might have been for Derek.
Derek's only 37. He will not see 38. He will not enjoy more holidays with his family (made worse by the fact that he missed the holidays with them last year because he was hospitalized). He will not celebrate another birthday. He will not be able to enjoy more time with The Kids (made more angering since Derek loved them so much). He will not be there for his family as his parents grow older. He will not live through the birth of another niece or nephew. He will not find true love. He will not see himself successful in his career. He will not look forward to retirement. He will not celebrate his parents' anniversary again. He will not laugh at another joke, smile at the charm of another movie, cry about some emotionally hurtful event in his life, or remember how much his family loved him and were there for him at the end.
I'm angry about his family's loss.
Because Derek is gay, he didn't feel that he could tell his family everything that was happening. This is society's fault because it is society that has taught us all that being gay is morally wrong and unacceptable. How can a son confide in his own family when society is constantly telling him he's bad — bad because of who he is? He didn't choose to be gay; he was born that way, yet society tells him it's his fault and that he's an evil person because of it. So he spent two years being very sick without the support of his family.
And society tells us that having AIDS is a bad thing. When you're diagnosed with cancer, there is no stigma that causes people to fear you, to think that you did something wrong to deserve the disease you have. On the contrary, society pities you when you have cancer. But they revile you when you have AIDS. So Derek felt shame in sharing his disease with his family, in allowing them to help in his time of need, because he feared the rejection he might experience.
Because of both of these problems, his family lost precious time with him. They were left out of his need and only allowed to participate at the end. They lost time. They're losing their son. And society doesn't care.
I watch his family members struggle with the truth of it all, the suddenness (from their perspective) of his decline, the impending loss. I hear their regrets, their lamentations, their sorrow, their anger… and I understand where it all comes from.
I'm angry about feeling guilty.
I feel guilty about going on with life when Derek cannot. I feel guilty about not doing more even though there was nothing else I could have done. I feel guilty about not calling his family sooner even though I couldn't (I had to respect his wishes). I feel guilty about being angry just a few months ago, angry that I had sacrificed so much to take care of him over the last two years. I feel guilty about not being able to share The Kids' lives with Derek (since he was such a big part of their lives until two years ago when he was hospitalized). I feel guilty for my health and well-being.
I'm angry about society's indifference.
Being both gay and HIV-positive, Derek is one of the forgotten sons of America, one of those our society so readily labels an outcast and tosses aside so so much refuse, one of those who, according to society, somehow deserves this terrible fate. I'm angry that society is so blinded by their bigotry and hypocrisy that they wallow in the deaths of those who aren't like them. They will find themselves with the blood of millions on their hands and will wonder where it came from, blinded by their own hate and intolerance. They are directly responsible for the limited time Derek's family has had to spend time with him and care for him since it is they who forced Derek into the shadows.
And society is responsible for the survivors not being able to talk openly about their loss, having to hide it from most of those around them because it is AIDS and because of the stigma of that and of his homosexuality. He is an outcast of society, so his family and friends must suffer in silence, they must weep in the shadows, they must hide their loss.
If society responded to AIDS the way they do cancer, we would be spending far more money on it than we are. We would have better treatments, better options, better care, longer lives. But, instead, we have the stigma of a gay disease where those who have it deserved it, those who have it aren't worth saving. It's a shame, and it angers me.
I'm angry about being angry.
This is a time of loss, a time of caring for loved ones and helping each other through what is a terrible event in life. Yet I am angry, and that angers me more. I'm angry because our society doesn't care. Our society is so full of misguided religious fervor that tragedies like this are called "God's justice" and are overlooked, promptly becoming just another statistic in a report on some government officials desk. Those who are left behind continue to suffer because of society, but society doesn't care. I should be focused not on anger but on sorrow, on caring for Derek and his family.
Yes, I'm very angry. And I have every right to be.