Monday, May 5, 2008

May 5th - Painful Memories Spark Hopeful Future

I take to heart my commitment to use this space to keep you - my family, friends and supporters - informed about my motivations and inspirations to ride thousands of miles, soliciting your hard-earned dollars to put an end to AIDS. For that reason, I feel nudged – OK pushed – to write publicly today about something typically kept to myself.

Thirteen years ago today, May 5, my brother died of AIDS, in his sleep, in his home. By that time, it was a blessing. Bret was a handsome, energetic man with a loving soul. A gifted artist, he lived up to our vagabond upbringing with a global career as art director for magazines and coffee-table books that peaked even as AIDS took his life at the age of 35.

In the 4+ years he lived with an AIDS diagnosis, Bret went to hell and back and so did his family. It was excruciatingly painful for him to tell family and friends but he made a point of saying good-bye to everyone he could, in person, all around the world. And when his time hadn’t yet run out, Bret went out of his way to educate those he knew to be at risk, subjected his body to every available trial, continued to live independently and travel on the job.

Bret was proud to have avoided a hospital stay. His decline came quickly – unnoticed by most until only 6-8 weeks before his death which he desperately wanted to come in his own bed. The weeks leading up to May 5, 1995, were indeed bittersweet for the Granato family as we prepared for sister Tammie’s wedding (June 10) and the birth of brother Steven’s first child (June 9), but family came from everywhere. With extra help from Bret’s friends and wonderful volunteers from the Northwest AIDS Foundation and Chicken Soup Brigade (now merged as Lifelong AIDS Alliance) someone stayed with Bret every hour of the day and night as the virus attacked his brain, sending him into delusional moments and comatose hours.

I will choose to keep most of those memories private but will share the final poignant one that came sitting up in bed with Bret one afternoon. He was awake but not necessarily all there. Bret was counting on his older sister to carry out his wishes and I was feeling less than confident about our ability to continue caring for him at home. Out of desperation, I said aloud, “I wish you’d just tell me what to do” and I heard Bret say softly but quite clearly, “Get me outta here”. Early the next morning I got the call from our sister Becky that Bret had died.

Put in perspective, Bret couldn’t have asked for a better end to this terminal illness. When I think of the day Bret died, I’m now reminded less of my grief than the millions – yes, MILLIONS – of people dying of AIDS completely alone, after months and years of suffering, frequently coupled with stigma and often with poverty.

Your donation to the ARI Breakthrough Riders supports the kind of innovative science needed to end AIDS - improve treatments, remove roadblocks to enhance delivery, care for women and children, and find a cure. Now, thanks to your support, on May 5th my focus has turned from grief to the hope you bring to this journey.


Lori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lori said...

Hi there! I messed up on my original post. I am so sorry I did't call or email you yesterday! Did you know that it was my dad's birthday? You post was so nice. You are an awesome sister. I feel so blessed to have been part of your family and to have known Bret from way back when we were little! Him getting the chipmunck stuck in his pants pocket at the Bluebird meeting!! I do wish I would have been there more for you guys while he was ill and after his death. "Some people" just didn't understand!
Bret always had a special place in my heart and I am proud to have known him!

You take care my friend!!
Love you!

Tracy Daugherty said...

Hey Lori -
My goodness, in all the years I knew your dad, I never knew May 5 was his birthday. Now that's 2 fabulous people to miss on May 5 but wouldn't they be a party-pair in heaven!
You were every bit as much a sister to Bret as Tammie, Becky and I and your love & support are always with us - as ours with you -through the BEST and WORST of times.
SWASAK (sisters always)