There are few things in life more soothing, more comforting, than a hug from a loved one. For some, they’re even medicinal in a way. Research has shown that 8-10 meaningful touches are needed per day to maintain happiness and wholeness in spirit. For a brief moment, all worry and care and pain and suffering can be drowned out by the sound, the feeling, of another’s heartbeat against your own. What if this were the only effective medicine you had? And what if fear and ignorance denied you of it?
Lawrence Walton Young was born on July 1st, 1952 into a troubled home. He was the sixth of eight children. This man was my uncle. He was thrust into a life far less satisfying than he deserved. From youth, he was denied the love he needed by an abusive-turned-absent father. In 1959, when my Uncle Larry was seven years old, his parents separated for four years. From the ages of 7-11…very formative years for a young boy…Uncle Larry learned what it meant to experience a lack of love, and for the rest of his life would be driven to seek this love an acceptance from other sources. My father, Uncle Larry’s younger brother, told me that Larry was, “…smarter than all of us.” But even still, without guidance and nurturing, all Larry could think to do was to run in search of the love and acceptance he so desperately needed.
In 1970, at the age of 18, Uncle Larry joined the US Army. As a member of the infantry, he proved to be an excellent soldier. He was awarded a variety of recognitions, including being a sharpshooter. In January 1971, he was sent to
April, he was at Walter Reed Army Hospital in . He had earned two purple
hearts during his four months in country, the second one because of mortar fire
that tore through his left leg, damaging it so badly that he should have lost
it. But he didn’t…he healed. And though he was told he shouldn’t ever walk
right again, he did that too. Uncle Larry was a fighter. He received a medical
discharge and at 19 years old he was back to where he had been before, no longer
a part of the place where he had found some semblance of the acceptance that he
Having already experimented with drugs and alcohol prior to his joining the Army, Uncle Larry returned to these things with a newfound fervency. The horrors that his 18-year-old eyes had witnessed in
Vietnam only served to fuel his
desires for numbed emotions. Through his experimentation, he came across a drug
known as BAM. Popularized in the early 70s, this form of methamphetamine was
taken intravenously. Though Uncle Larry’s drug and alcohol use, and again, a
deep-seeded need for affection, inevitably led to promiscuity, it was
eventually determined by my uncle that the sharing of needles was what led to
his contraction of HIV in 1989. He was 36 years old. My father and my pastor
were in the room with him when he got the news. He was devastated. And through
all of his trials and struggles and addictions, my Uncle Larry was still a man.
I want you to know this: Habits do not always have to shape the individual. My
Uncle Larry went through the hard and terribly awkward task of calling and
informing all the women he had come in contact with of his unfortunate
diagnosis. I can only imagine that this was one of the most difficult things he
had to accomplish in his life, but nevertheless he did it.
Uncle Larry was diagnosed at a time when AIDS was emerging rapidly and little was known about how it worked or how to fight it. Paying for everything himself, my uncle tried expensive herbal teas, dietary changes, exercise, and of course AZT. However, his lack of knowledge about the ease of transmission and how badly it decimates the immune system ultimately allowed for Uncle Larry’s life choices post-diagnosis to counteract his attempts at fighting the disease. He continued in his alcohol and drug use, as well as his promiscuity, though he was far more careful in methods of prevention of the spread of the disease. I say this not to judge or condemn my uncle in any way, or to present him in a negative light, but rather to illustrate the power of addiction and the extreme loneliness and self-destruction that his situation led him into. Unless you have been diagnosed with this disease, one can only imagine that this man, whose actions sought only to bring him some sort of approval by someone, somewhere, these actions, this quest for belonging and emotional reprieve now condemned him to death.
Uncle Larry drank himself to a stroke in 1993, and he spent the majority of the remainder of his battle with AIDS in the VA Hospital in
During this time, a second stroke ravaged his body, further depleting his
immune system and driving him closer to his death. Far more devastating than
this, though, was the most times, though not always only, perceived rejection
he continued to feel from his family. People continued to be frightened of this
seemingly unstoppable virus, and even love for a brother could not overcome
this fear. My uncle’s siblings did not visit him nearly as often as they should
have, certainly not as often as he needed them to. And this continued absence
in his time of need is what, I feel, eventually led to his inability to fight
any longer. Beckley, West Virginia
My Uncle Larry passed on March 22nd, 1995. He was 42 years old. I was nine and had seen him only a handful of rememberable times, most in the hospital. His six year battle with AIDS ended with a military funeral. My father has one of his purple hearts and the flag from the ceremony. My Uncle Jerry has the other Purple Heart and the rest of Uncle Larry’s medals. And now, 22 years after my uncle’s diagnosis, we still have no publicly known cure for AIDS. But something that is known, has always been known, is that there is little that can destroy the bonds of love and family, and the human spirit. I exhort all who can hear me right now to remember that no matter what, love. Without boundaries, love. Without limitation, love. Without ceasing, without condition, without hesitation, love. And hug those you love as often as you can. Though your loved one may pass with a broken body, let them go with a whole and overflowing heart.