Coping with Terrible News: When a Loved One Tells You They are HIV Positive

Its probably somewhere up there in your worst nightmares. Someone you love coming to you to tell you some terrible news. You see the pattern, drinking lots of water, wringing their hands and not looking you in the eye. You know something is up. Something is definitely wrong, but how do YOU deal, how do you cope with something huge, like HIV? Its going to be very very important to your loved one that you say the right thing, that you support him or her. Here are some steps you can take if ever faced with this terrible news.

  1. Once he or she tells you take a big deep breath. Think of how hard it was for your loved one to say it. There is no script for us and everyone fears rejection for almost anything we do. So start with a breath.
  2. Hide your fears. Or at least temper them. Your loved one needs you right now. You can take time later to research and talk about your feelings in a journal, a support forum or one of your trusted friends. This time is about your loved one. He or she needs to know that your committed, that your not judging them and that your not blaming them for this.
  3. Your loved one was honest with you and that was really hard. So match your loved one with honesty. Think before you speak. I still remember what was said to me by some important people in my life when I disclosed my status. Anyone with HIV needs as much support and love around them as they can get. It’s a tough road, but its one that can be walked and it can be a long road now with all the wonderful things we know through science and alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massage. While silence is painful, not speaking the truth will be even more painful.
  4. Please. Please do not ask how your loved one got it. That is something that can be painful for a lot of HIV positive folk. It can be a shameful thing as many feel like they could have and should have prevented it. While that may be true, reliving those shames or painful thoughts isn’t needed. It doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t fix anything and most importantly it doesn’t make HIV go away.
  5. Ask if they’ve been to the doctor yet. If your loved one is telling you right after being diagnosed most likely they haven’t been to the specialist yet and time can be of the essence. If you think you can be of support offer to go with him or her to the doctor. That first visit can be so scary. Especially if your alone. Don’t be upset if they say no. Regardless of their answer I can’t imagine your offer not being appreciated.
  6. Hugs and any kind of physical contact can be so affirming. If you don’t know what to say, pat his or her hand. Give a hug. It shows that your not afraid to touch them still and with the old stigmas that is SO important! It means everything to still be seen as the same person you were before disclosing.
  7. Research. Help your loved one. Look up information on the internet, or in books. When it comes to HIV however, try to be aware of the date the information you’re looking at was written. New advances are coming up all the time and things that happened in the 80’s and 90’s, heck even in the early 00’s aren’t always applicable right now. Depending on your loved one this may or may not be appreciated. I know that I was so overwhelmed with all that I found and so much of the information I came across was old and very scary. If I had someone there to help me sort through it and act as a filter would have saved me so many tears and fears.
  8. Above all else be an ear. Hear what your loved one is going through and be open. If you are a particularly empathic person however, and it would pain you to hear of your loved ones trials it is ok request that they not share everything with you.

Make sure you get the support you need as well. Even though it is your friend or family that is going through the actual disease, you are affected too. Don’t deny yourself that. Don’t be a martyr either. Continue to take care of yourself.