World AIDS Day was December 1. Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon spoke with Hannah (not her real name), for whom HIV came home with an unfaithful spouse. She did not become infected but the virus had entered her life bringing feelings of betrayal, pain and anger. For a while she became estranged from God too, but it was through God she made the long journey back to peace of mind. This is her story.
It was the mid-1990s. Hannah and her husband were married for eight years and had three young children. Then came the devastating revelation he was having an affair; this caused a separation.
He tried to reconcile so she had to make a choice to take him back into the home. She resisted intimate contact insisting that he get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. That was how they found out he had contracted HIV from the woman with whom he was involved.
“It was traumatic, quite a shock for him,” Hannah related. He attempted suicide by drinking poison and was hospitalised. Meanwhile, Hannah was struggling with her own mixed emotions evoked by her husband’s HIV positive status.
“I was always a faithful wife and here it is he brought home something for me. I was doing everything I was supposed to do as a wife, mother…that was unfair to me,” she said. She worried about her husband dying and leaving her alone to raise their children; she entered marriage envisioning building a life in a loving relationship. She could not continue living with her husband.
Hannah’s relationship with God suffered as she questioned: “How could He allow this to happen to me? I had three children He sent. If God could do this to me, I didn’t think He was working for me. I became very bitter. When I walked away from God there was nothing else, my life was still a mess.”
The death of Hannah’s husband from the complications of AIDS in 1997 became a source of gossip in the church. She said people were ignorant about the disease and lacked concern and empathy. This caused her to walk away from the church. “People going to church need to be more compassionate.”
She felt isolated and that no one could understand what she was going through. Even as she cried every day, Hannah still had to find hope because she had her children to raise.
Eventually she returned to reading the Bible daily and found solace. Mark 11:23 was a verse close to her heart: “In truth I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be pulled up and thrown into the sea,’ with no doubt in his heart, but believing that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.”
HIV/AIDS is a disease shrouded in a lot of secrecy; persons infected face intense stigma and discrimination, and so do their relatives. Hannah said: “Although I was proven negative, I too was said to have HIV because I was with him. I was in a mood where I felt I could kill anybody who made negative comments; my personality started to change.”
She did not know to whom she could turn for help. She was stressed. Hannah began having counselling sessions with Merle Ali, of Rescue Mission, an outreach programme of the Evangel Temple, however she was not comfortable opening up about all she was thinking and feeling.
“She (Ali) knew about HIV but did not live with anyone who was HIV positive…dealing with it, dealing with issues.” It has taken a long time for Hannah to reconcile her emotions; sometimes an insensitive remark takes her back to “serious pain”. Yet she knows “forgiveness is key”.
Hannah has been battling cancer for more than a year. She said: “In the midst of my battle, I have grown immensely considering what I have dealt with in my past. God has been with me, the seed has been planted and planted well, taking me through.” In Him she has been fortified.
This does not mean pain and tears are gone, however, she receives the strength to face another day, “make a cup of tea, mingle with my children, still have a happy day, still have grace for the day”.
There are innermost thoughts she can only share with God, and encourages others to always keep the line of communication open. “Keep that blood line open; it is better than the phone line, there is no static, you getting direct contact anytime, anywhere.”
Ali told the Catholic News as a nurse she also has specific training and experience dealing with persons of different ages living with HIV. Ali had friends and coworkers who died from the complications of AIDS.
She told the Catholic News when she reconnected with “Hannah” she was surprised to hear of her battle with cancer and see her enormous inner strength demonstrated as a result of her faith in God. “Instead of being bitter and angry, I saw a woman who was prepared to meet her maker and to share her experiences openly and encourage others.”
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 2016 estimates for Trinidad and Tobago: 11,000 adults and children living with HIV; 3,800 females aged 15 and over living with HIV; 6,900 males ages 15 and over living with HIV. HIV prevalence rate 1.2 per cent in the 15 to 49 age group. The prevalence for females is estimated at 0.9 per cent and 1.5 per cent for males. (www.unaids.org/en/regionscountries/countries/trinidadandtobago)