Happy Birthday, Gerald

Gerald would have been 48 today. He wasn’t that much older than me, considering he was my Uncle, but my memories are always of someone who seemed much older simply because he always seemed to be having the kind of fun that I thought adults had. Gerald died 20 years ago. His death certificate said something different, but Gerald died of AIDS.

Gerald’s sexuality wasn’t a secret, but his death was still a shock. I was 20 at the time and he was only 28–far too young to be leaving behind a partner and a family who loved him dearly. I didn’t know much about the specific circumstances leading up to his death but let’s just say that back in the 90s the treatment of AIDS patients and their families was a far cry from today. Gerald wasn’t treated well, nor was his partner Peter, but after his death the family fought with the hospital where Gerald died to get better treatment and compassion for AIDS sufferers and their families. Now, that same hospital is one of the leading hospitals in the north of England for AIDS sufferers and their approach when dealing with both patients and their families is one of compassion and sympathy. Gerald may no longer be with us, but he’s left a legacy that makes a difference to countless other people’s lives.

I have several fond memories of Gerald (I still lament the loss of the panda-bear necklace he bought for one of my birthdays) but perhaps one of my abiding memories is the night Gerald babysat so that my mum and dad could enjoy a rare night out. Mum told him, as she told all our babysitters, to help himself to a drink and a snack. And indeed he did. When they came home a few hours later, Gerald had pretty much emptied the cupboards, snacking his way through several bags of crisps and packets of biscuits before starting on the cooked pork chops in the fridge that were intended for dad’s dinner the next day. You’d never have guessed from his skinny frame that he could eat that much. Oh, mum was mad–but these days we talk about it with a smile, knowing that we’d give anything to have him emptying our cupboards again.

Happy birthday, Uncle Gerald. Tonight’s knit-in is for you.

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