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Let’s Talk HIV: My First Will

by Michael Petrelis
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday December 31, 2011

All of my adult life, I've had a psychological barrier stopping me from taking care of very important records that should have been addressed long ago. I am in the process of drafting my first will, advance healthcare directive (AHD), and other legal documents regarding my wishes when my health declines, and after I've passed away.

One of the first steps the Gay Men's Health Crisis had me do after becoming a client was sit down with a counselor who had one piece of advice for me: draft a will.

That directive was at odds with my "fuck you, AIDS" attitude after receiving my diagnosis. My focus was totally unable to look at death as quickly approaching and all of my thinking was how to live as long as possible. Drafting a will would bring about my demise before I was ready to check out of this thing we call life, sums up my thinking back in the 1980s.

The GMHC counselor had no information about the limited drug trials taking place in New York or Paris or alternative healing community clinics, and explained that they couldn't say a thing about such topics because it might be seen as an endorsement of the treatment. Our appointment ended expeditiously when it was made explicit that a will was not on my agenda at the time.

That's changed and in recent months I've given much thought to all the reasons why I need two documents finalized, affixed with my signature and legal -- a will and the AHD.

After comforting a dying man with AIDS with singing on Christmas Eve at the Maitri hospice, glimpsing for a moment how end-of-life actually takes place today, I talked to my partner and folks I want to serve as my agents to discuss my latest thoughts about my end-of-life concerns. It felt good to articulate my wishes to my loved ones and again receive permission to make them my agents.

As if I needed a reminder about helping my agents and survivors carry out my wishes, and my always-challenging health, I suffered another episode of diverticulitis this week. The pain was excruciating enough to send me off to the emergency room at Davies Hospital. I'm now on a regimen of flagyl and cipro antibiotics and under orders to increase my fiber and roughage intake, which is already high, to calm the inflammation and heal my stomach.

If a medical crisis struck and my partner needed legal documents allowing him to make healthcare decisions on my behalf, right now he would lack those papers. It is unfair of me to burden him with any extra stress and hassles, should I suddenly take ill.

There is quite a large degree of self-satisfaction knowing that my end-of-life legal papers will be notarized and valid in the new year. It's like making a resolution without realizing it and the resolution is kept.

There's also the matter of the will taking care of my earthly possessions. The lawyer assisting me in this, who was recommended by the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, has sent me a clear and concise will spelling out my wishes. It needs some minor editing before finalizing next week.

The lawyer emailed a two-page disposition of remains document I have to fill out, explaining my cremation wishes, who is to arrange my funeral, the kind of service I'd like, and my favorite music, among other simple directions my survivors will need after I've kicked the bucket.

Seeing the disposition -- a document I'd never seen before -- I felt part of my fear of death had diminished seeing the document's easy to answer questions in black and white.
Legal issues aside, there are a few items of activist and personal natures that I wish to be part of my send off and legacy, and those wishes will be written down and shared with my trusted survivors.

One of my friends who's agreed to serve as an agent for AHD requirements, and is almost a decade older than I with many tangible assets and financial resources, said he didn't have a will and that one of his promises to himself in the coming year is to write one.

I laugh at myself being surprised he does not have a will, when I am in the same boat and think, well, I am a bit younger than he is and I lack his assets so I can cut myself some slack. Glass houses and stones come to mind.

Not that I planned these steps taking care of my will and AHD as 2011 would be coming to a close, but there is quite a large degree of self-satisfaction knowing that my end-of-life legal papers will be notarized and valid in the new year. It's like making a resolution without realizing it and the resolution is kept.

What better way for me to welcome in the new year of 2012 than with my first will?

Michael Petrelis was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 when he was living in New York City. He was an original co-founder of ACT UP, and credits the group and his activism with directly contributing to his surviving and thriving. Since 1995, he's lived in San Francisco where is happily partnered to his husbear of 15 years, Michael Merrigan. When not agitating for social justice, he can be found watching foreign films around the Bay Area. Be sure to check out his blog:

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