Thursday, December 01, 2022

Cause of Death

In June some of you may recall my writing about an old friend from when I lived in Los Angeles, who I found out had died. I ended up calling his mother, only to be treated very coldly -- as if being concerned about her son were a personal affront. (If you think I'm being melodramatic, read for yourself HERE.) Well, being someone who just can't let things go, I ended up getting a copy of my friend's death certificate -- which answered some questions while raising disturbing others. 

Today is World AIDS Day, a day many of us reflect on those we've lost to the heinous disease that has claimed more than 40 million lives, as well as the millions we didn't know. (If you don't follow The AIDS Memorial over on Instagram, I highly recommend it. While it will routinely rip your heart apart, it's also comforting to hear from others who have been personally affected by HIV.) And it's also a day to remind myself that just because "the cocktail" came along in 1995 -- saving countless lives as a result -- it doesn't mean people aren't still dying of AIDS-related diseases ... which my investigative nature revealed is exactly what happened to my friend "John" in 2005: Lymphoma. (My friend Mike also succumbed to this cancer in 2006, while we were fortunate that another friend who has been living with HIV since the 1980s beat it a couple of years later.)

John's cause of death broke my heart because he had outlived the initial AIDS death count, only to die young anyway. I'm also left wondering if he only found out he was HIV positive when his cancer symptoms began. His death certificate seems to indicate yes, although perhaps the "8 MOS" listed by both diseases only refers to how long the doctor who was treating him at the end was in charge of his care? It appears he moved back to Orange County from West Hollywood when he fell ill. But it also left me reeling as I began re-evaluating his mother's response. His family is wealthy and lives in Laguna Beach, which is to say they're staunch Republicans. Is she ashamed or embarrassed of her son's cause of death? Is that why she refused to say anything more than a flip "He's DEAD!"? I can't say for certain. (Were they at least kind to him in his last months? Any thought otherwise enrages me.) But whatever her reasoning for behaving the way she did with me (again) broke my heart, because I can't bear to think of a mother losing her first-born but then having anything but old-fashioned grief over it. 

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