For more than 30 years, HIV/AIDS has been part of the American landscape. We know what the red ribbon means. Many of us participate in events likes AIDS Walk. We probably know someone who is HIV positive or is fighting AIDS. We take its presence for granted. However, do we really know what to do when a friend or loved one discloses that they are HIV positive?
Consider the following suggestions when loved ones share their status with you:
Don’t ask how it happened. Frankly, it’s none of your business. It’s an intensely personal question, and he or she may not know either. At this point, it does not matter. Your friend or loved one needs your support.
Do listen. This is the hard part for us. We may feel the need to say a lot or ask a lot of questions. We may feel that if we’re not talking, then we’re not doing anything. That’s more about us being uncomfortable with their disclosure or feeling helpless. Your loved one may be overwhelmed with all the things related to the diagnosis (finding a doctor, filling out insurance forms, managing side effects of drugs, etc.). Simply listening gives him or her some relief from the information overload.
Don’t offer advice. Hearing about someone’s diagnosis, especially a loved one, can rock your world. It certainly rocks theirs. When we offer advice, we are neglecting the other person’s pain and fear. The time will come when your friend may need help in finding resources. But for now, just be present.
Do thank them. By disclosing his or her status, your friend placed a great deal of trust in you. Honor that trust by acknowledging the risk they took in sharing their status with you. Further honor that trust by keeping their status confidential unless they tell you otherwise.
Don’t forget about them. Continue to include your friend in social activities. That provides a distraction from any stress that is related to their diagnosis. Be OK if they say “no, thanks” a few times. However, if it becomes a pattern, gently share your concern with them.
Do take action. Learn about living with HIV/AIDS. Don’t expect your friend to be your teacher. We may think we know all there is about the disease, but there’s always more to learn and misconceptions still exist. Besides, your loved one has enough on his hands without having to educate you.