(What’s the most significant secret you’ve ever kept?)
Secrets are the nature of some relationships. Some of those relationships are unseemly or scandalous; others are purely professional. In many professions as with my own, we hold many secrets as a matter of client confidentiality. As an ordained and licensed minister and spiritual counselor it has been my responsibility through the years to hold many secrets in the areas of health, finances, issues of a sexual nature, other marital issues, parent-child relationships, instances of abuse, and the list can go on.
In the late 1980s and early `90s during the explosion of the AIDS epidemic, secrecy and misunderstanding seemed to go hand in hand at times. During this time I was fortunate to be the pastor and confidant of a family dealing with cancer in the father’s body. I say fortunate because it became my honor to hold their most guarded secret found during his fight against cancer. The husband and father had AIDS. In the paranoia of that time such news became the death knell to personal reputations.
Because the high percentage of deaths attributed to AIDS during the late 80s and early 90s were among sexually active homosexual males, the diagnosis of AIDS cast a pall of suspicion of homosexuality and stigma on anyone found to be HIV positive. (Simply a statement of fact concerning that era.) It was believed by all involved medically and my friend’s family that his contraction had come through massive blood transfusions he had received a few years earlier following an auto accident in the days before blood donations were screened. Knowing my friend’s heterosexual nature I could believe that to have been the truth.
Up until my friend’s and his family’s dilemma I had never had a problem with separating my private life and my professional responsibilities. During the months that followed it seemed I had to walk a tightrope of professsional integrity and personal responsibilities. That was necessary, however, to protect the lives, health and safety of my spouse, children and other parishioners while also protecting the privacy of reputation and dignity while dying for my wonderful friend and his family who was already dealing with so much heartache. I’m sorry that I cannot tell you all concerning how I maintained such integrity and fulfilled my responsibilities to all concerned. Suffice it to say with divine help I did both and the rest is still secret!
-Donald R. Sansbury, 2013