I was sixteen when my Uncle Greg left.
I say left because his passing was by choice...at least the exact day and time. He had been living with HIV quietly for about a year before it progressed to full blown AIDS.
He couldn't hide it from us any longer. And rather than have to deal with the telling us this news in a day and time when fear was rampant, he choose to take his life and let his words come to us in neatly handwritten sentiment put to heavy lavender card stock.
I still have my letter from him, in my box of things most near and dear to me. Now 21 years later, there is not one year that passes where I don't take out the letter, read the words I have memorized and miss him like it was yesterday.
I will miss being there.
I shared a special bond with my Uncle. The first niece within regular proximity, my Uncle Greg saw me through an awkward childhood, the first signs of puberty and the next stages of pending womanhood. He made me laugh. He found beauty in me I couldn't find. He believed I could do anything I dreamed. I could tell him anything. So I wondered why he couldn't tell me this. I wondered for years why he chose to carry such a burden with only his lover to comfort and care for him.
And I still wonder his life and all of ours might have been different had we known.
Today, we are hard pressed to find anyone who hasn't felt the loss of a loved one. Though statistics offer hope that education, support and resources are finally helping us manage the risks, lower the new cases and prolong the lives of those with HIV...we still have no cure and the numbers are still bleak. And the fight is so far from being over.