A mother explores her grief and finds strength in a group of women whose children have all been diagnosed with HIV.
In 1987, at the age of 31, Loebl’s son David told her that he was HIV-positive. The author, who immigrated to the United States after World War II, had only just begun to address her fears and accept her son’s homosexuality. Upon the diagnosis, however, she immediately put her questioning aside and devoted herself to David’s care. His exuberant young friends welcomed her as one of the rare supportive parents in their community, and Loebl found independence in her frequent trips from New York to visit David in San Francisco. But caring for an adult son is a delicate ordeal, and Loebl was wary of suffocating him. In a rich exploration of the competing priorities of motherhood, Loebl recalls the need to be strong for David while simultaneously hiding her own depression. Unable to reveal her pain to David or her family, Loebl joined a support group for mothers of children with AIDS, but her relationship to the group was tinged with ambivalence. The sad stories exhausted her, as did the frequent funerals that reminded her how deceptive were David’s verve and healthful good looks. But the author ultimately found comfort in the group, sharing hope and news of treatments. Ten years after the diagnosis, with no cure in sight, she reached out to the group to prepare emotionally for David’s death. With disarmingly direct, unsentimental prose, the author makes her grief palpable, as she quietly observes her son in moments of hysteria, pleading for her late into the night; in episodes of understated resilience as he forges ahead in relationships; in work and in his love of theatre and dance. Through her nuanced analysis of the psychology of others–from her son and husband to the kaleidoscope of women in her support group–the author reveals plenty of herself as well.
A testament to the restorative power of empathy and the unique gift of understanding that women can bring to each other.