December 24, 2015

December 24, 2015
A Special Christmas Eve's Story

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Thursday and it is also Christmas Eve. I hope you have had a beary safe and great week so far. It has been another busy week for Dab the AIDS Bear and me as we finished up our holiday parties for children living with HIV and AIDS around the world.

But many of you don't know why I do these holiday parties for children living with HIV. In 1985, a friend asked me to visit San Francisco General Hospital to see a special child. She was one of the first children born with HIV in the United States. She was also born deformed because of alcohol fetal syndrome. Her mother had died during childbirth. No one knew who the father was... and as you can imagine, no one wanted a child with HIV in 1985.

Sometimes in life if you're lucky, you have a special person come into your life and change everything. For me, it was my wonderful god-daughter named Candace.

When my second partner, Brad, and I saw her in her incubator in the nursery, it broke my heart. Here was a little girl who was alone in a room by herself. I didn't see any of the nurses paying her attention. Having watched so many of my friends dying in the previous four years, it broke my heart to think this little girl would never feel loved, compassion, hope... all because of being born with HIV.

Even though we were both living with HIV and had no idea how long we had to live, we decide to fight for custody. After jumping through hoops, a ton of paperwork and a lot of prayers; we were able to take little Candace home a couple of weeks later.

She was always small for her size and spent most of her days dealing with illnesses, health problems and hospital visits... but we made sure she knew she was loved, cherished and wanted every single day.

But in 1989, we still had no HIV medications that really worked. On August 3th, Candace entered the hospital for the last time. I stayed by her side, slept in that room for eleven days and was always there to love her in that last week and a half. Brad would come up as soon as he got off work and had friends cover his shifts the last three days.

Even though we already knew having been through this process with far too many friends to count, we already knew it was probably her last day on Earth when the doctors spoke to us on the morning of August 14th. Holding back tears, I asked my little girl what should would like to go do to bring a smile to her face.Candace looked at me and asked me to make other children like her feel loved. I smiled at her and told her what a special little girl she was to think of others.

I told her Daddy had to leave the room to get something to keep her from seeing the tears streaming down my face. I went down to the gift shop at the hospital and bought her the last teddy bear I would ever give her and brought it back to the room after I was able to compose myself. A few hours later her little body started failing and her vitals dropping. Brad and I held her little hands in ours and told her how much we loved her... how special she was... how much love and joy she had brought into our lives as she took her last breaths.

It is hard to lose anyone you care about but when it is your child, it is so much harder... How do parents go on when a parent lose a child? How do they wake up every day? How do they breath? But you do wake up... and for just a second you forget and then oh you remember. It's like being there again and again every time holding her as she takes her last breaths. You don't get to stop waking up. You have to keep on being a parent even though you don't have a child any more...

I'll miss her for the rest of my life until we are reunited.

For the 26th year, I've kept the promise I made to my little god-daughter as she was dying that I'd make other children like her feel loved. Now all of our Teddy Bear Touchdowns are done for the year. We had 72 parties for children with HIV and AIDS around the world helping bring hope and joy to almost 260,000 children. Thanks to all of our donors, volunteers, corporations and organizations who make these events possible. It is because of you that we have been able to do these parties for 26 years now.

Every Christmas eve, I would read her a poem which was her favorite, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. When I told her to come sit on my lap, she'd see the book and come running to hear her favorite story. She'd hug close to me and look lovingly into my eyes while I read it to her.

In her memory, we read or act out the poem at every holiday event we do for the kids. I still can remember her smile and giggles as I read to her as she tried to stay awake to be able to see Santa at bedtime.

So in her memory on the 26th year of her passing, please enjoy the following:

While I still love Christmas, it is a little less bright without my little girl with me. Please remember to tell those special ones in your life you love them. You never know when you might not get another chance. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. I know I would give anything to be able to hold my little girl in my arms again and watch her open her presents on Christmas day. To feel her hugs and hear hear say "I love you Dab!"

To my wonderful, loving Candace... Daddy loves and misses you so very much it hurts. I think of you every single day of my life. I look forward to the day when you're in my arms again little girl and feel those special hugs you had especially for your Dab.

Until then know every Christmas there's a bear under the tree for my little girl and because of you millions of children living with HIV have felt loved, shown compassion and experienced hope... all because of you!

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab and Dab the AIDS Bear