Having a brother with HIV: a family perspective

Having a brother with HIV: a family perspective

HIV Australia | Vol. 12 No. 1 | March 2014

Marilyn Edwards

MARILYN EDWARDS gives a heartfelt account of family support.

Dear brother,

You are the only boy in our family, the youngest of four and very much loved. Growing up with three strong sisters, you may not always have felt the love, but I trust that it definitely shows, now that we are all adults.

You chose a difficult path early on in life. I remember trying to persuade you as a teenage boy that our parents didn’t really need to know that you were gay.

This was thirty years ago – times were different and this was not a situation that our family had struck before. You were adamant, and so right.

As a family, we would have been much less of a close unit without the challenge that you gave us to accept that the huge variety in the world applied also to us.

Mum, in particular, became your strong supporter in whatever you took on, becoming more involved that your sisters ever knew with gay groups and activities, and establishing close relationships with your friends.

You worked in various roles, but it seemed that nothing gave you quite the satisfaction that you needed.

So you left for Australia and found a community of caring, supportive friends, and established yourself in social work and serious study.

As it is now, in those days it was always exciting to have you come home. It was a special event, and we crowded in on you, eager to be with you and enjoy your company and have you back as part of our family, keen to introduce you to your new nephews and nieces.

One return home was for a different reason. We knew that you had cared for two friends with HIV, and that you were very involved in HIV/AIDS education. You came home to tell us that you had been diagnosed HIV-positive.

This was about fifteen years ago, and you wanted to tell us and our parents. Another difficult task.

Dad was not one to say much, and was true to form at that time. Over the years he and I would talk occasionally, Dad wondering how you really were … Mum took it as the practical and loving mother that she was, committing herself anew to loving and caring for you, visiting often and sending socks.

From the beginning, we knew that there was serious medication involved, and that your health needed to be your top priority.

Every time you come home, do you notice the careful attention we give to your physique?

The inquiries designed to seem casual – have you had time for rowing, or the gym?

Like my sisters, I have photos of you in my head from recent visits, and each time I compare the latest with the previous pictures, and carefully analyse the comments about work and general busyness.

There is an undercurrent of concern that we all feel, but are reluctant to address too blatantly, in case it is not what you want, and because we are a pragmatic lot.

I do know that jokes between us now and then about the quantity of pills for daily consumption are precious to me, a sharing of your life, letting me see just a little of how it must be for you.

And to hear from you when tests are imminent, or just past, is to feel a closeness that must be what family is supposed to mean.

While not with us all the time, you are a part of all of us. There is a bittersweetness to our hugs when you go home, not too far away, but still too far to be part of our everyday lives.

As older sisters, ideally we would have you still where we can keep an eye on you, but that is not the way it is.

So we look forward to visits, we wonder how you are, we email, and we trust that you know how supremely important you are to us.

Take care of yourself till next time,

Your biggest sister.