For boys growing up in single-parent household, it's way too common to deal with a deadbeat dad, face serious financial struggles and have awkward conversations about sex with my mother. But one thing I did not count on, was watching this strong, fun-loving, and full of life human being lose her battle to AIDS at the ripe age of 41. My mother, Terri Lynn Mosby died on December 1, 2000 -- ironically the same day that entire world recognizes World AIDS Day.
When I was asked to share my thoughts about how my mother's death affected me, I was initially excited because this was an amazing opportunity, but I'll be honest, it's been challenging. For the past month, I have had to rehash that dark period of my life. And even though it's been a decade since my mother's passing, those wounds are still very fresh. And I found myself replaying incidents in my head, frame by frame, like they had just happened yesterday and I realized that I would have liked to have kept some these memories buried.
I believe my mother was diagnosed during the summer of 1987, but I am not for sure. I just remember being eleven years old, getting the news and hysterically crying while my male cousins laughed at me. And what's funny is that I didn't quite understand what HIV even was, I just knew it wasn't good news.
After learning my mother had HIV, I wasn't afraid to hug and kiss her, but back then and still now, there was A LOT of stigma, denial and judgment about how people contracted the disease. So over the years, we didn't talk about my mother's condition with other family members. I didn't tell anyone about my mother having HIV when I was in middle or high school. The first time I ever disclosed my mother's status to someone was when I went to college and most people were accepting of it and wanted to help me.
The year my mother passed, I had didn't know that she was getting sick, because her routine had basically stayed the same. Almost every month, she would travel from the south suburbs of Chicago all the way to Iowa State University, where I was a senior. She even had a job. But as the fall came, she started coming to visit me less and less and by that Thanksgiving, grandmother called me and said, "It would probably be a good idea for you to come home for the holiday because your mother is not doing well."
I was shocked.
When I arrived to my mother's bedside, I could see what my grandmother was talking about. My mother was almost unrecognizable and was bedridden because she was in such tremendous pain. She kept saying she felt like she was being poked by needles. Her once beautiful voice was now made up mere fragments of garbled words. And as the days progressed, she only got worse.
I was shocked and filled with SO MUCH rage, because as we attempted to celebrate what we were "thankful for" and gorged on turkey and sweet potatoes, my mother -- my backbone -- laid in her deathbed. Nothing other than God, can prepare you for this utterly devastating moment.
The following afternoon, we decided to take my mother to the hospital because she was doing so bad. As I carried my moaning mother down a flight of stairs, my three-year old son just watched in terror (I still haven't mustered up the strength to ask him, if he remembered that horrible Black Friday.)
I spent the next several nights with mother as she fought trying hold on. On the last day I saw my mother alive, I talked to her about how much I loved her, how much it meant that she was around to see my son grow even if it was for a short time and most importantly, I thanked for making the sacrifice to spend time with me while I was away at college. By this point, her murmuring became heart wrenching. I knew in my spirit that it wouldn't be long, so I chose to return back to school because that's what she would have wanted.
After a couple days in hospice care, on December 1st, she went home to God. A few years later, I established an endowment scholarship in her name at Iowa State University. But I felt like I needed something bigger. So in 2005, I wanted to honor my mother's memory by adopting one of the most widely used highways in the south suburbs of Chicago -- Lincoln Highway (Route 30) between Chicago Road and to the west of Western Avenue.
Every time I drive down that road, I am overcome with a sense of pride because while my mother is no longer here, her legacy is still alive.
Wendell Mosby resides in Chicago Heights, Illinois and continues to speak publicly about the AIDS epidemic in black America.