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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 15
Ask Michael: Friends gone, generation forgotten
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Ask Michael: Friends gone, generation forgotten

by Michael Raitt - SGN Contributing Writer

As I talk to various people, it occurred to me that the HIV/AIDS plague that ravished our community by taking so many of our loved ones also created a generation that has, for the most part, become invisible and forgotten. This is the generation of men and women who have lived through the epidemic and who have experienced great love and heart-wrenching, incalculable losses. These are men and women who, without hesitation, gave time and love and who now live their lives holding the memories of those they loved while dealing with their own feelings of loneliness and isolation.

This is important for two reasons. First, this generation of friends and family, from their late 30s onward, are the ones who suffered the staggering losses because from early 1980s to mid 1990s, when we were in our late teens and 20s, AIDS was much more deadly - it usually killed within months or a few short years. These are the men and women who lost dozens, if not hundreds, of friends. Appropriately so, at the time, energy was focused on those we loved who were sick and dying. Survivors quietly moved on with their lives and continue to carry the pain, hurt, and anger of the losses. Many still feel these emotions today.

Grief is not a linear process (though it is often outlined as such in books). You never go through it step-by-step and get over it in a month. Grief is complex, and it goes on for years. Although you may not be aware of it as much, those moments when you are reminded of someone you've lost and you get sad or shed a tear, you are still grieving. This is good. We don't ever want to forget! I know there is a cadre of women and men in our community who are still grieving. There are a number of people who hold the stories and the memories, but they have no one to talk to. They feel like few are interested and fewer even understand. Where is the support for those who have lost so much?

This brings up the second important reason to highlight this: in my opinion, there is a disconnect in the community between the 'generations.' There is a younger group of men and women who haven't experienced the devastation of AIDS because modern medicine has made HIV/AIDS much more of a manageable, chronic condition. I don't believe for a moment that it is about lack of caring. The younger generation just doesn't have the frame of reference that those of us in the forgotten generation have. This unintentional disconnect, though, creates a sense of isolation and not belonging. Some survivors fear connecting more because of the pain of more loss and they don't feel that anyone cares because no one takes an interest in what they've been through.

However, this chasm doesn't have to exist. We don't have to hold our losses silently. We need to be talk to one another about those we loved, what we went through, and how much we still miss them. We don't need to be afraid of opening old wounds. Sharing the heartache and the love is about keeping the legacy alive. We need to acknowledge that we've been through one of life's most challenging phases - and for many of us, we did it far too many times.

For the 'younger generation,' it's OK to ask. It's OK to take an interest and take a moment to hear about some wonderful people that you won't ever have the opportunity to know. It's important because the act of listening does so much. We all know how much we appreciate when someone just takes a few minutes to listen to us and care about what we went through. It does untold good! It's important because it brings people together and that makes the community more cohesive. It reflects an important quality of our community: caring!

I was talking socially to someone once and asked about a loved one. She told me that he had died. For a split second I thought, 'Oh shit, I'm going to make her feel bad,' but then I asked her what happened. She proceeded to tell me her story and tell me about him. I asked questions. We both shed a tear. At the end, she thanked me and said, 'No one ever asks. They always change the subject.'

Of course, I wish there wasn't any HIV/AIDS. However, compared to how it was in the 1980s and early 1990s, I am so happy and thankful for modern medicine. I am so happy that, for the most part, young men and women with HIV won't face what my friends faced.

Yet, because we are blessed with this, we also can't forget those we've lost and those who have lost so much! I think of my friends and boyfriends who have died every day! No one knows of them or how much I miss them. But if you asked, I'd be thankful and very appreciative that you cared! As a community, let us continue to love the ones we've lost and remember the ones who have lost so much.

Michael Raitt, MA LMHC, is a therapist and a contributing writer to the SGN. He writes a bi-monthly column in the SGN. If you would like to comment on this column, ask a question you'd like him to write about, or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at askingmichael@comcast.net.

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