By Britni Danielle
Basketball Wives star Patrice Curry was just a freshman in high school when she found out her mother had contracted HIV. At the time, during the early 1990s, most people believed the diagnosis was an immediate death sentence, but seeing a presentation by HIV/AIDS advocate Rae Lewis Thornton helped a then-14-year-old Curry cope with her mother’s illness.
“She made me feel a little bit better because she had had it for so long and she was doing all right,” Curry recalls. “And at the time, my mother wasn’t doing terribly bad. If she hadn’t told me she was sick, I wouldn’t have known she was sick.”
Curry says that her mother didn’t tell many people about her diagnosis, effectively minimizing the stigma experienced by many People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Still, Curry saw firsthand how AIDS negatively affected others as she watched her mother’s ex-fiance, the man from whom she’d acquired HIV, succumb to complications from the disease.
“I watched him deteriorate. Once he got sick enough, his family was afraid of the disease, so they didn’t want him around,” she says. “So my mom took care of him. That really bothered me for a lot of years. I was a kid and couldn’t understand how she could help the guy who pretty much sealed her death warrant.”
Watching this dynamic had a negative effect on Curry. “I was an angry girl who was mad at the world for what I was watching happen right before my eyes,” she says.
Curry’s mother moved on with her life, however, and began dating another man. Soon she became pregnant and took ARVs throughout her pregnancy. Thankfully, Curry’s little sister, Brandi, was born without the virus, but her mother’s health soon took a turn for the worse.
“Going through the pregnancy took a lot out of her,” she explains. “Everything went downhill from there.”
Curry spent her senior year at DePaul University shuttling between classes, work and her mother’s bedside. After a few lengthy stints in the hospital, Curry’s mother made it clear that she didn’t want to die there.
“It’s the loneliest place on earth,” Curry says. “She wanted to die at home in peace.”
Her mother passed away in July 2001, just two months after Curry’s college graduation.
“It was a very traumatic experience. My little sister was four and a half and we were all there,” Curry recalls.
After her mother’s death, Curry took on the responsibility of raising her sister, but she struggled to make it work.
“I was a kid raising a kid,” she says. “I didn’t know what I was doing, and I think I didn’t have the best impact because I wouldn’t let her call me mommy because I was worried it would take away from her memory of our mother. When I look back now, I realize I didn’t make the best choice, because normal kids need a mother and father and someone they can feel connected to, but I didn’t get that then.”
These days, Curry and Brandi are very close, and Curry hopes to use her experience and platform to help other families cope with the disease.
“I tried to shed some light on it when I was filming Basketball Wives, but I guess they didn’t think it made for good TV,” she says. Still, she hasn’t let that stop her. “I just hope to be able to use my story to help the next little girl or boy who is suffering silently the way I was, or help another young adult who has to raise their little brother or sister because their parent passed away from this disease.”
Curry advises HIV-positive parents to be open and honest with their children about their illness.
“Communicate everything. Even if you’re afraid to speak the words, write it down. Let your child have those notebooks of information to fill the void once you’re gone,” she says. “I tell parents [to] keep it real, keep it open. Because I’m over here trying to still find answers from people who aren’t [my mother].”
Britni Danielle is a Los Angeles-based writer and novelist who frequently covers pop culture, race and parenting. You can follow her on Twitter.