My brother's death is haunting me


My brother passed about 3 weeks ago and he was in the late stage of AIDS. He was not aware that he had AIDS. About 3 weeks before he passed, he called me complaining about leg and ankle pain. It hurt him to the point that he was falling. We talked about it and I told him to go to the doctor. About 2 weeks later, I received a call from his partner and he was telling me that something was wrong with my brother. He was paranoid and suicidal. He no longer had the mental capabilities he possessed previously. He asked for us to come out of state to pick him up and bring him home with us.

When we arrived, he was not himself mentally. He was angry one minute and really emotional the next. During our trip home, he attacked me by pulling my hair and was paranoid that my mom and I were going to hurt him. We stopped at a store and he called the police to say we were trying to kill him. Police came and transferred him to a hospital. The hospital transferred him to another hospital where he was put in the mental unit and it was discovered he had HIV. During his stay at this hospital, he was finally moved to the medical part, but refused treatment. He was not eating, he has thrush in his mouth, dehydrated, and confused. He had one day where he was lucid and started to understand more clearly, but the next day he was back unstable. This hospital decided that they could not do anything for him so they discharged him.

My family made him an appointment at another hospital with an Infectious Disease Doctor. This doctor said my brother needed to be in the hospital because he was clearly dehydrated. So he was put in this hospital and they were awesome. Well my brother passed on his third day at this hospital. My mother refused to have an autopsy done due to my brother's wishes.

What disease was he suffering from? Also, I need to let you know he had been on methadone for 5 years trying to kick a hydrocodone habit (his dosage never decreased) and when he was put in the hospital, he was taken off of it cold turkey. I really need some closure on this.


Thank you for writing. I am so sorry to hear about your loss and your brother's difficult final weeks. It is clear that you and your family really stepped up for him and did your best to help him. In cases of late stage HIV there are often numerous concurrent problems involving multiple systems in the body. Stress on one organ can set off a cascade that negatively affects others.

You will probably never know exactly what "caused" his death and I would encourage you to try and let go of seeking something specific. As difficult as it may be, I think it's important to move from the "whys" in your head to what is going on in your heart. Between the surprise of the initial call, the upsetting (and even traumatic) trip home, the sadness of his condition, and the grief you and your family must be feeling, it is important to focus on you and your family's needs. That means finding support and grief counseling for yourselves. It is especially important to do this as soon as possible. Unexpressed and unresolved negative feelings can jeopardize the health of you and your family.

Finally, I believe there is no right or wrong with grief. The famous "stages of grief" seem to imply that grieving is a linear process from one fixed stage to the next. I know from personal experience that it is normal to move back and forth in feelings and to slowly move toward acceptance. Know that you were truly present for your brother in a very beautiful way and that honoring your own path in this moment is the most important thing you can do.

With best wishes for you and your family,