Remembrance of things past
Thursday, 04 May 2017
Author // Michael Yoder

I read an article online where the number of long-term survivors who choose to commit suicide is increasing. Besides the tragedy of this in and of itself, there is a deeper loss – the loss of the living library of people who remember the “dark days” of HIV.

Living in a small city, I know that there are only a few of us left who remember the people and events of our local past. People who are newly diagnosed and youth don’t remember the 1980s and early 90s where so many people left us. The days when there were no medications or the medications were killing people. The days where we attended funeral after funeral until we couldn’t bear it. The days when people with AIDS were filling wards in hospitals and Hospices didn’t know what to do with “AIDS” – that frightening illness that turned young healthy people into skeletons.

The stories of the people are another matter. Who remembers anyone so well from 30 years ago that we can document and retain them in a collective way? I know that my own recollections of people are a myriad of fleeting memories: bits and pieces of who they were.

Roy was the first one. There was a gay cafe we’d hold and on the piano he could only play “La Cucaracha” – and very badly. He also liked puns and was very handsome. Tommy was a man with whom I had one notably passionate night – an artist and a crazy person. Sherri was a prostitute who, even in Hospice, was turning tricks, but had the chance to reconnect with her family back East, mend her broken soul and realize her beauty. Ken wanted to make sure that people living with AIDS had a voice and connection with others: he was funny and diligent and listened to Louise Hay too much.
So many stories of so many lives and all of them drifting away…

We’re losing our mental librarians. Some from age, some from illness and some now from suicide. This loss means that there are fewer to record our past, and if we don’t record our past we risk losing knowing where we came from, except for a few writings and some theatre. These are parts of how we can recall the past, but not in an intimate way.

I believe that each community must keep the historians actively engaged in somehow recording what happened – at least in the way they remember it. That’s really all we have to go on, our memory of what and who was there.

I fear that if we don’t record our past, in each community, we’ll end up with a Hollywood version that misses the point: people from every walk of life were lost and their individual stories will disappear into a quilt or old photo album where no one can name them.

My grandmother used to write the names and years of pictures on the back of them. I now understand the wisdom of that. She kept a record of who the people were, in order that someone in the future would have a glimpse into the past and in some way connect to it.

In the HIV community we need that same connection.

Originally Published on

Michael Yoder currently works as a Peer Navigator and with POZitively Connected, a project of Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV AIDS Society. He has previously sat on the board of directors of the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS), and has been involved in the HIV/AIDS movement since 1987. He worked with CAS in development and writing of the One Foot Forward Series of self training modules for people living with HIV and other work. Michael is always available for writing work, workshop development/presentation as well as public speaking.

Michael Yoder is a contributing writer with “Canada’s Online HIV Magazine”. Check out Michael’s blog posts here

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