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Breaking the Silence

My father, Terrell Renea Gandy, passed away about a month after my 14th birthday. From that day to now, when someone asks how he passed, I usually respond with 'He had cryptococcal meningitis.' Most people won't usually ask follow up questions. Instead, they'll usually say 'Oh. Ok.' Or they offer awkward condolences, most likely because they aren't really sure what they should say because cryptococcal meningitis is not common like diabetes, cancer or heart disease. My reluctance to disclose the true cause of his death became more about their comfort level than mine. I recall the few times I did disclose it, my revelation was met with a baffled look or unwanted sympathy; so I've learned to make it "easier" by moving the conversation along to my life after his death... Until now.

The truth of the matter is while my dad did have cryptococcal meningitis, which is an infection of the spinal cord or brain, it was brought on because he had a compromised immune system caused by AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

While my dad passed away when I was young, my life with him was not sad. In fact, it was the opposite. We had fun together. He's the one who taught me how to speak fluent Pig Latin. He also hipped me to "Lavern and Shirley." Between my two parents, my dad was less strict and treated me more like a little sister than a daughter, unless I got "too comfortable" with him. Then he would pull back the reigns, reminding me that he was, in fact, my father. But what I remember most about him was his mild manner and that everyone loved him.

People who knew him always tell me that I am a lot like my dad. Certain facial expressions. The way I fidget with my hands while I speak. My shyness. My writing ability. My sense of humor. My smile. All like Terrell Renea Gandy's. I smile when I hear this because these are the characteristics I "see" when I think of him.

Yet, there is so much more I wish we could have experienced together, had his life not been cut so short. I would have loved for him to witness this chapter of my life. I would have loved for him to meet LT. They probably would have inside jokes and lots of laughs together. I would have loved watching him dote on and spoil his granddaughters the same way he spoiled me.

On December 1st, I celebrated my 42nd birthday. Coincidentally, December 1st is also World AIDS Day, the day when people unite all over the world to support those living with HIV/AIDS and to honor those who have died. It was fitting that I spent most of the day creating a WHOAment that I hoped would shed light on the AIDS pandemic while affording me the opportunity to reflect on my father's memory. I was led to reach out to my mom, LaChele Gandy, for assistance with the content. Little did I know, my request for her assistance would blossom into so much more.

My mom has always spoken openly with me about her life with my dad. She often shares stories about their marriage, his illness and subsequent death. And while she is not shy about sharing her part of my dad's story, she has always respected that I am part of his story as well. She's always contended that she would share all of her story with "outsiders" when I was ready for her/us to share it. Up until last Thursday, I wasn't ready. I didn't think people needed to know. I felt like it was my story to hold on to. However, I now know differently. There are people who could benefit from hearing our story. WHOAments is all about my journey and I believe God's plan for my life includes a much bigger picture than myself. It was now time for me to break the silence.

At my request, my mom agreed to sit down with me while the camera was rolling to share her/our full story. This candid conversation was like none other. During this conversation, I was able to ask questions, gain clarity and confirm things that I already knew about my dad. Through her transparency, I felt parts of me healing that I didn't realize were broken. It was refreshing, cleansing and very, very emotional.

I've always admired my mom's strength, courage and faith. Being able to have her speak openly elevated that respect to insurmountable levels. Her/our story is confirmation that God truly has a plan for our lives. If we put our trust in Him, He will direct our paths and circumstances and situations that were meant to cause us heartache, pain and frustrations, we overcome!

With her permission (and mine), I am releasing the video of our candid conversation in hopes that hearing our story will inspire others holding on to past hurt, frustrations or loss to open up and talk about it. It's time for us to break the silence. It is time to heal. I believe today's WHOAment is the start to many discussions about healing, communicating and breaking the silence.

Please note: Parental guidance is STRONGLY advised.

Here is "Breaking the Silence - Part 1" (41 minutes)


Click here to view "Breaking the Silence - Part 2" (34 minutes)


Here is "Breaking the Silence" in its entirety. (1 hour, 13 minutes)

Note from TC: Although my dad's illness and death definitely had an impact on our lives, my mom and I weren't the only ones affected. His diagnosis, illness impacted other members of my family. Some choose to speak openly about it, while others find comfort in remembering what he was like before AIDS. While I respect both approaches, I hope this conversation opens dialogue to break the silence.

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