Day 36: Lois Johnson

I first met Lois (1930-2012) on World AIDS Day in 1996. Lois had lost her oldest son, David Arnesan, to AIDS in 1995. During David’s illness, Lois and her family had to face not only his illness, but the fact that David was gay. Lois had long known this, but felt David would let her know in his own time. Once out, Lois worked with her church to make sure it was a place where her son was welcome. “I just can’t see how you cannot love your children” was a constant message. Her church became the first in conservative Wheaton to be “open and affirming” and, later to perform same-gender weddings. After David’s death, through a grieving parents’ support group, Lois was presented with the fact that she had an opportunity to use her story to help break the prejudice and fear that was fueling the AIDS pandemic, and “with that opportunity comes responsibility”. For the 13 years I knew Lois, she was my “partner in crime”, as she called it. She was also my friend and guide. She embraced opportunities as responsibilities. She kept David’s spirit alive while adapting to changes in the pandemic. She led HIV-testing efforts at her church and wherever she went with a clear message that we are all at-risk, and she joined me in the efforts to advocate for approval of self-testing. She was always willing to challenge assumptions and the status quo, such as the time she and a 20 year-old Wheaton College student got tested for HIV together, causing gossip about the age difference of this “couple”. I still hear her laughing about that.

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Lois (center) hitting the pavement in DC advocating for more HIV testing and options

It was not all light and easy for her. Shortly after David’s passing, her own marriage ended. She later reconnected with and married a high-school sweetheart who sadly died from cancer after 6 years. But there was great joy, including three grandchildren, and all the love that surrounded her right up until her own sudden passing in 2012. Shortly before David died, he said to Lois “If I had only known how much I was loved, maybe it would have been different”. For Lois, it was always about love, and it was her love that made things so different for so many of us. As she so often said, she was grateful for her life after David’s death; she just wished he could have been here to be a part of it. For those that knew her, we are better for having been graced with her love.

So for today, take some time to reflect on these words from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross that evoke the spirit of Lois: “I think modern medicine has become like a prophet offering a life free of pain. It is nonsense. The only thing I know that truly heals people is unconditional love.”

Submitted by Brad Ogilvie

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