I am the youngest of my paternal grandparents’ twenty-two grandchildren and almost the youngest of my maternal grandparents’ fifteen grandchildren. All of us grew up in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area in Minnesota. No seder table was too long, no home was too large, no park was too spacious for our family gatherings. A week did not go by without seeing my cousins.
My cousin Nicholas Chiam Tilsen was born in 1951. He was more than ten years older than me, and I did not know him as well as did my siblings who were his contemporaries and his classmates in high school.
Nick was a talented chef, and when he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area he had a catering business. Nick was fit and energetic and had developed an extensive network of friends who cared deeply about him and about each other. He was an essential part of his community and of his family.
Nick was my first cousin to die. He died of AIDS in 1990, among the first few thousand to succumb to this retrovirus. He died in the loving care of his family and friends. His death left us diminished and we are still grieving to this day.
As we approach his yahrzeit I observe that the level of pain and death brought by the disease seems incomprehensible. Millions of people are infected with a virus with a near 100% mortality rate and no cure in sight. The agonizing medical effects of the virus are compounded by the social and legal stigma of the HIV-positive label. The devastation touches us all.
My first cousin performed many deeds of kindness during his life and enriched the lives of his family and friends. May his memory be a blessing.
© Jon-Jay Tilsen 1995