Facing Life After Facing Death: Day 1 of 11

So You're Going to Live: Facing Life After Facing Death

By Rev. A. Stephen Pieters (also posted on The Body)

" ... free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death."
-Hebrews 2:15

Are you one of the many persons living with HIV who are undergoing a profound change in your condition and your life expectancy? Do you care for someone going through this? With the new "cocktail" therapies, many who once were "terminally ill" are now looking at the prospect of living a long and healthy life span. This is an answered prayer! It is hope realized for those who can afford, access, and tolerate the treatments.

But many people have mixed feelings about their new hope of living long and well with HIV. This is a surprise to many who experience it, and to those who love them.

There's an expectation that people in this situation should be relieved, grateful, and joyful. While many do feel this way, the reality for some who are suddenly facing life after facing death is a deep depression, profound anxiety, or simply fear.

If you're in this situation and feeling this way, you're not alone!

There are any number of persons living with HIV/AIDS who, believing their lifespan was about to be cut short, sold their life insurance, quit their jobs, went on disability, maxed out their credit cards, and made their "final arrangements." The prospect of turning all this around, and getting back into life can be quite overwhelming, and can have a strong emotional impact. Some people, in realizing they are going to survive, are amazed at how much they had grown to accept their imminent death.

Having faced the prospect of dying from AIDS, Kaposi's Sarcoma and lymphoma back in the early 1980's, I can relate to these feelings. My KS and lymphoma went into remission in 1985, and I started really getting well in 1986. (For more details on my story, see Column #1: "Why I Have Hope.")

In spite of the joy I felt, the prospect of recovering was pretty frightening!

I was pretty well prepared to die: after all, back then there were no treatments, and everyone I knew died from AIDS within a year or two. I made my final arrangements, traveled around the country saying goodbye to dear friends and family, and bought a few things I'd always wanted and never felt I could afford.

I remember actively letting go of life. I accepted my growing dependency on those who were doing my shopping, cooking, and housecleaning. I let go of career plans and ambitions. I even felt somewhat relieved that I would never have to face the challenges of aging. I certainly stopped worrying about investing in a retirement fund.

Then I got well. And while there were times I felt euphoric and blessed, there were many times when I felt overwhelmed and depressed about the huge changes that were happening in my life.

I became depressed by what getting well again would mean. I suddenly had to do my own shopping, cooking, and housekeeping again. I had to get my career jump-started after 4 years of unemployment. I went through "survivor's guilt",wondering why I was spared when so many others died. To top it off, some people were actually angry with me, as if they'd done all their anticipatory grief work for nothing!

It took a full year before I pulled out of the depression. It took me even longer to trust that I was going to live, that there wasn't a time bomb inside me ready to explode. Recently, with the promise of the new treatments, I've decided I can trust my wellness, and I've started a retirement fund!

About the MCC Church

Founded in 1968, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) has been at the vanguard of civil and human rights movements by addressing issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, economics, climate change,  aging, and global human rights. MCC was the first to perform same gender marriages and has been  on the forefront of the struggle towards marriage equality in the USA and other countries worldwide.

MCC recognizes a state of need around the world in the areas of human rights and justice including but not limited to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer community. As people of faith, MCC endeavors to build bridges that liberate and unite voices of sacred defiance. MCC leads from the margins and transforms.