His rail thin body looked childlike under the sheets. At 35 his once muscular body could no longer stand without someone holding him up. AIDS was about to take his life.
The lessons I learned from my brother Tim that November were lost on me then. 25 years later, I see.
I didn’t know that learning how to pull back the plunger on a syringe to the precise centimeter or how to manage a morphine pump would be essential skills when the man I would marry three years later was on his death bed.
I didn’t know there was a name—Cheyne-Stokes—for Tim’s terrifying end of life labored breathing. I didn’t know that one day I would be able to sit with that same sound, taking relaxed deep breaths of my own.
I didn’t know neuroscience. That the part of the brain that is linked to my sense of smell is also linked to the part of my brain that stores memory. I didn’t know that the scent of giant white gardenias, the same as those at his memorial service, would forever feel like a 20 pound weight pressing on my chest.
I didn’t know my eulogy for Tim was one of so many that would follow, or that a decade after his death it would lead to a TEDx talk inspiring an auditorium of 500.
I didn’t know how grief could alter your most deeply held ways. After years of being the first in the office and the last to leave, I found myself not wanting to get out of bed until noon. I didn’t know how normal this was.
I didn’t know that the year after Tim died the “AIDS cocktail” would be introduced, and that people would begin to thrive and live with HIV/AIDS rather than suffer and slowly die from it. I didn’t know Dr. Gendelman, who joined the infectious disease team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center the year before Tim’s death, would—in 2019– announce a major breakthrough in the research toward a possible cure for HIV.
I didn’t know that for each of the next 25 years, my friends, family, and community would loyally and lovingly arrive on a cold Saturday night, donations for Nebraska AIDS Project (NAP) in hand, to ultimately raise tens of thousands of dollars for NAP in memory of Tim and in honor of all who have lived with or died from HIV/AIDS.
What I didn’t know then, that I do know now, is that one cannot know all of the lessons life is teaching us on our journey. That grief can live on and so can we. That our darkest hours and deepest heartbreaks can give light to our lives, and can break open our hearts for holding more hope and having more love than ever.
Thank you, Tim, for all you and our time together taught me.
What lessons have your hardest times taught you?
How have you been blessed by your past challenges?
What hope can you hold, despite any hardships today?