When I heard Ro was sick, a friend and I visited her in the hospital. She never mentioned her diagnosis during that visit or in any prior conversations. She seemed fine in the Winter. But when I saw how suddenly thin she’d become by Spring, I knew. I don’t know how I knew. I just did.
My friend was suffering from AIDS.
Two months after that hospital visit, she was gone.
I’ve worn red ribbons before. Last year, I even performed a poem at a New Orleans HIV awareness event, but this was AIDS at my front door. This was a face, a friend, a mother like me– dead before the age of 40.
HIV/AIDS related illness is now the leading cause of death among Black women ages 25-34. New Orleans ranks 2nd and Baton Rouge 3rd in the nation for HIV case rates. Check the National HIV Surveillance report for details.
After leaving the funeral, I began thinking about how we care for those living with AIDS and their families. I wondered how would I have acted if I knew her diagnosis earlier? Yes, we were friends, but would those four little letters have made me afraid of the unknown?
How can we serve those who are suffering without making it worse? Certainly not all of us are wired or skilled to work with those in their last, frail days, but we can help people live with dignity.
December 1st is World AIDS Day.
Get tested, if you haven’t already and be safe and honest.
Visit New Orleans Task Force http://www.noaidstaskforce.org/
Black Women Health: http://www.blackwomenshealth.org/issues-and-resources/black-women-and-hiv-aids/
Kelly Harris is a poet and the founder of BrassyBrown.com