Grief is grief whether we are allowed to feel it or not; it is intense whether a sexual relationship exists or not; it is real whether the relationship is open and sanctioned by marriage, blood ties or other formality or whether it is kept hidden for personal or professional reasons.

I was moved to buy and read Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS' Wildfire Days by a poem that Nancy Bevilaqua had shared on Goodreads. The poem made me cry which is unusual. I am often moved to tears by sad films and classical music, but rarely by poetry. Initially I thought I was going to buy a poetry anthology because I wanted to read more by this poet. When I read the description I realised I was buying a memoir.

Memoir and biography are genres I dip into occasionally so I thought “What the hey! Let’s give it a try!” It was only sleepiness that prevented me reading the whole thing in one sitting. It was not so much the short length as the power of the story and the depth of skill in Nancy Bevilaqua’s prose. It was almost like being her- certainly like being with her-as she performed the daily tasks of looking after David who was an AIDs sufferer. The first half of her book held me wrapt, the second half had me curious to learn more and share her journey of discovery into David’s background.

The theme of disenfranchised grief is one that resonates with me personally. The total isolation, lack of understanding of others and difficulty of sharing with those closest to you is therefore a familiar theme. This is intense and intimate writing about a personal loss that is not for those who are easily upset. Nevertheless there is a brutal honesty in this story that will strike a chord with anyone who has a heart and the reality of the AIDs epidemic before drug treatments controlled symptoms and prolonged life is certainly something I well remember.

Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS' Wildfire Days is a book that I will hold in my heart for some time to come and that I can heartily recommend to anyone interested in this period of history or tragic personal memoirs that are beautifully stated.

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