My son, Chris was born 10th May, 1972 and died at the age of 23 on 1st February, 1996. He was the first of my five children. I had loved and cherished him as a baby, laughed and protected him as a toddler, encouraged and taught him as a young boy, worried and fretted when he was a teenager, adored and respected him as a young man and agonized over him as he lay on his deathbed.
Chris died a horrible, terrible death from AIDS. If someone had asked 'if you were worrying about something in your child's life, what would it be?' I would have answered 'working too hard at school,' or 'driving out late at night.' I would never have answered AIDS. He had not had any blood transfusions, he had not been engaging in high-risk activities, it would have been the last thing to come to mind. I would never have worried about abuse either. Life, sometimes, has unpleasant surprises in store.
From the ages of 9 to 15 my child was abused by a man I cared for and trusted. That man died from AIDS in 1991, five years before my son died.
When I first learned that Chris was going to die, I was bitter and angry. . I felt such poisonous anger against the man who abused my son and infected him with AIDS. How could anyone do that to a poor innocent child. I hated this man with a passion until the fabric of my life was eaten away with the bitterness of my hatred.
Then God worked a miracle of forgiveness in my heart at the graduation of my son from high school. In the chapel where the graduation was held I could feel the presence of God so strongly. I glanced back at the man and could see the pain and regret in his face. He, too, was infected and the spectre of death sat close behind him. He would never see his three children graduate, nor would he walk his daughter down the aisle or see his grandchildren play. This was it for him, the last great milestone. I could not forgive him of my own will, but God worked that forgiveness in my heart for me and the anger melted away, the fabric of all that I am restored to me.
I watched that man die on March 18th, 1991. My son was with me, perhaps seeing his own death in that of the man who lay before him. We watched him go with sorrow and with forgiveness and knowing that a loving and forgiving God welcomed him into Heaven.
Then our battle began. I watched my wonderful son deteriorate until his strong limbs became thin sticks and his handsome, gentle face become a skeletal mask. For over six years I watched as the disease changed his life and finally ended it.
He was cared for and loved those last years of his life with a wonderful and great love. His dear friend, partner and companion, Sam made sure he never wanted for anything. Every wish, no matter how small or how great was fulfilled, every dream they could still attain, they did. I never worried about Chris's care because I knew that Sam was there to love and support him through everything. He cared for Chris even better than I could have cared for him myself.
In those last weeks the great ups and downs of sorrow ceased and I no longer battled against death, I gave up my son's life to God and came to peace with his passing.
At the end, Sam kept vigil while Chris's sister, Moani and I held him and loved him through those final hours. His sister's strength in that time was a reflection of the courage that he wore. When he died, and such a struggle was that death, I was relieved. I was glad that he no longer suffered and I was filled with thankfulness that I no longer had to keep the vigil by that suffering. In the quietness that followed, when the life had gone from his gentle eyes, I washed that dear face one more time, combed his hair and began once again the ritual that I would never do again.
I placed a kiss in the palm of his cold hand and said, "What is this?" He would no longer answer, "It's a kiss." In the silence, I paused. "What does it mean?" My heart ached to hear him say, just one more time, "It means you love me forever." "Can you ever wash it off, dear one?" I said, softly, as the hand grew colder and colder. And in the lonely, empty space where my child no longer lived, I knew that kiss was safe in his hand and he would never wash it off again. I closed his hand around the kiss and answered for him. "No, you can never wash it off, ever."
My hands that once held a tiny baby filled with hopes and dreams now hold a box that contains the ashes of that child and the ashes of the golden future that died with him.
Me? ... I look for the butterfly that used to make my heart ache with loveliness. I look for the stars that used to illuminate the blackest of nights. I look for joy in a world that is drab and without color. I have all the pieces of my life around me, and the desire to recover is the glue that will one day fasten them together. Now I look for two pieces that fit, so I can begin to weave my life together again.
If I go through the motions, perhaps Sorrow will realize she is only a visitor in my home, not a resident. If I go through the motions, perhaps Joy will come to my home again and stay. Perhaps I can take of the winter coat of misery and feel the sun again on my face. Perhaps I will look up in the darkness of my night and see the milky way burning brilliantly across the heavens.
And perhaps the emptiness in my heart, where a child once lived will be replaced by the memories of a young man who lived his life with courage and conviction, who never lost his sense of humour right through the last moment and would want to live in our hearts as more than the illness which claimed him.