At bedtime, my daughters and I have a simple but essential routine. I kiss the girls, and give them an “Eskimo kiss” (we rub noses). I give them a “butterfly kiss” (we rub eyelashes). Then, I hug them while whispering in their ear, “I love you”. Very often I’ll include an extra phrase like, “I’m really proud of you” or “I’m so glad you’re my baby”. I love my daughters, and I’ve never been ashamed to show it.
When I was first diagnosed with HIV, my gut reaction was to count how many days, months or years I had left to live. I did not expect to see my daughters graduate from high school or college. I did not expect to walk them down the aisle in marriage. And, I did not expect to ever see my grandchildren. I was heartbroken for what I would miss, but more so for what pain I would cause them in being absent from their lives at such important milestones. I began to, late at night, slip into their bedrooms and watch them sleep, or lie down in bed next to them and just weep over my pain. My pain for their loss, and my own loss.
My wife and I kept my HIV diagnosis a secret from the girls for a year or two as we weren’t ready emotionally to tell them, and we didn’t think it was necessary for them to know. However, at the time I was taking hundreds of pills a month, and vomiting constantly from some of the medicines. My thirteen year old daughter was no fool. She knew I was sick. We made a decision that we needed to share my story, without the unnecessary details, with our two daughters.
We checked into the resort during some of the most beautiful weather in Arizona. Spring was in the air, crisp and fresh. The mountains were green. But I was too stressed to enjoy it–I was about to tell my two precious little daughters that I was HIV positive and that it was deadly. I was also going to tell them how I contracted it – all of this to a very innocent thirteen year old girl and a precious little nine year old girl. After wandering around the hotel and taking a few moments to get settled into our room, I decided to get to the reason why we had come to the resort.
I would rather have taken them swimming.
We sat down in the hotel room as a family and I told my daughters that I was extremely sick. I asked them if they had heard of HIV and AIDS. They both had a limited understanding of the disease. I explained to them that I was HIV positive, and what that meant. I told them that I did not have AIDS, but that one day I would. I discussed death. Then, I told them how I contracted the virus.
Two children dealt with sickness, sorrow, and death. And two children forgave.
I gave each one of us a necklace which I made from a silver chain with five silver beads. I asked my daughters, “Do you know what these five beads represent?” Kayla, our nine year old, answered quickly, “One bead represents each of us, and one bead represents God.” I told the girls and my wife that these necklaces that we wear represent the fact that we all have each other and a fifth person. God. We are not alone. There are five of us.
It’s been ten years since I was diagnosed, almost nine years since that weekend at the San Carlos Resort in Chandler, Arizona. My daughters are young adults now. Candice is 28 and a Physician Assistant in Radiation Oncology. She has served and will continue to serve overseas in missions’ projects involving HIV/AIDS. Kayla is 24 and the Founder and CEO of LIONHEART 1:17, a 501 c 3 focusing on the fight for children at risk. Together, the girls are embarking upon a major awareness campaign titled, “In The Midst Of Beauty”.
When I see them, we continue the bedtime ritual of Eskimo kisses and butterfly kisses. They are still my pride and joy. Despite the sickness, sorrow and prospect of death, they did learn to forgive, to love, and so much more.
I no longer worry about how many days, months or years I have left to live. I thoroughly trust God with the number of my days, and I now live them to the fullest. I expect to see my girls fulfill their life dreams. I expect to walk my daughters down the aisle in marriage to meet a man of God at the altar. I expect to see my grandchildren. I expect to grow old with my wife, the mother of these two young women of God.
I gave us each a necklace to remind us that God is with us. But the greatest reminder that God is with us is the forgiveness and unconditional love that my daughters extend with each nighttime ritual, with each butterfly kiss and whispered “I love you.”