When I was eight years old, I rode on one of Mexico’s passenger trains from Mexicali to Guadalajara with my uncle, David. All summer, we visited towns and family throughout the country, learning more and more about our heritage and each other. At the time, I had only heard of him through the occasional family story, so I was unaware of my uncle’s estrangement from our family. I’m not sure what the circumstances were that allowed us to travel together, but I’m grateful for them. I was able to spend a summer on an unforgettable adventure with an uncle that I wouldn’t see again.
It turns out he had been HIV-positive for nearly a decade. He died of AIDS complications a few years after our trip.
Now 22 years later, I decided to look into the challenges people face as they age with HIV. Partly, I was motivated by a desire to honor my uncle - and his community - who would have been a senior living with HIV had he survived.
As I reported, I realized just how little I knew or thought about the mental health of seniors in general, not just those who are HIV-positive. I grew up with my grandmothers, so I knew about some of the things that come with aging: deteriorating health, physical ailments, losing a spouse. I remember making it a point to stop by elderly neighbors’ homes after school, but I never thought about what they might be experiencing, what they might not be talking about, or how they might be hurting inside. And, because I grew up in a community that shunned LGBT individuals, I never gave much thought to the unique impact of aging on that community.
As I reported this story, Joe Childress, Scott Haitsuka, the men from the support group at Open House SF, and Dr. Arbore at the Institute on Aging taught me what they could about what many of us aren’t considering when it comes to aging with HIV. I’m grateful for their time, honesty, and desire to help others. I heard first-hand accounts of what it was like to lose nearly everyone that supported and loved them; To live through an epidemic when other people didn’t. My story only scratched the surface of all there is to learn about HIV-positive seniors in our community and what we can do to help them.