Untold Stories | Aunt Vonne: Inspiration for Project Know

Our creator shares the inspiration behind Project Know…

My aunt didn’t get to tell her story.  A young, vibrant socialite. A young adult in her twenties living; but at age 26, living turned into dying.

My family was blindsided by a call from a hospital that was the beginning of a battle against HIV/AIDS.  For my aunt, it started with a phone call. She received a phone call advising her of an ill friend and that she needed to visit the hospital.  Per my grandmother, my aunt described visiting the hospital as very eerie and she remembers the nurses and other staff staring at her as if she were a ghost.  It was there she learned a former boyfriend was dying from AIDS and that she should get tested.

She left the hospital not knowing her fate, but after a visit with her own doctor, she learned she was HIV positive.  This discovery was the beginning of a traumatic series of events for my family. My grandmother had the right idea; thirty years ago she decided to seek therapy to process the situation.  My grandmother remembers sadness and devastation but early on she took on strength to guide her family through this tribulation.

My grandmother became my aunt’s primary caregiver and in her last days my aunt was fortunate to spend time being cared for by loved ones.  As an adult, I learned there was somewhat of a struggle during this time. As a mother, my grandmother felt an overwhelming desire to protect her daughter and shield her from the hate and stigma of the world.  This presented conflict as my aunt and grandmother seemed to be at odds on having visitors and revealing her status.

I learned of this conflict as an adult.  The creation of Project Know led me to uncovering discoveries about my family.  For clarification, my aunt is my father’s sister. Everything I learned early on about my aunt’s battle came from my mother and my mother’s sister.  My aunt contacted them, shared her status, and made it a point to create memories with me in her last days.  I have always known my aunt had HIV/AIDS and assumed it was public knowledge until I started my journey creating Project Know.

I was excited about finally following my heart and honoring my aunt’s legacy.  I naively shared my passion project with my family. I mean, I expected talking about my aunt would be uncomfortable but ultimately I thought it would end with encouragement.  It turned out my grandmother didn’t know I knew about my aunt’s cause of death and was rather concerned about how I received this information. She was shocked to hear my aunt had actually shared her diagnosis and this was when I became aware of a conflict.  My grandmother explained she chose to keep her status a secret because she didn’t want my aunt to be subjected to unfair judgment. But what stood out to me was my aunt’s strength, her courage and her willingness to tell her story. She had come to terms with her status and was on a path to finish living her best life.

As it stands, my family prefers this to remain a secret.  It’s why I don’t disclose her full name and have taken my time sharing my story.  This is difficult for me because I just want to celebrate her life and honor her legacy.  My aunt died in 1990. The number of lives lost to HIV/AIDS during this time is painful to discuss and it saddens me that some don’t get the respect and honor they deserve because people are so concerned with their status.  My aunt was not ashamed and I will always be an adoring niece. I will continue to share my personal process with you and hope to hear your stories.

1 Comment
  • Jennifer Cummings
    Posted at 01:27h, 21 February Reply

    I know your aunt is smiling down on you now as you begin this journey into a past, present and future awareness of AIDS/HIV.

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