Glenna Oldroyd doesn't have trouble putting a face on those who suffer and die from AIDS.
Everyday, she sees the faces of her son, Michael, and his fiancee, Karen, as she struggles to understand the devastation of a disease many people in Utah are just beginning to recognize as a reality in their lives.Michael died in August 1995. Karen died eight months earlier.
The two met in a support group for AIDS/HIV patients after Michael Oldroyd had turned his life around, became active in the Odyssey program and was working to help others deal with being ill from AIDS.
"My son was involved for a brief time with drugs. That's how he contracted AIDS," said Oldroyd, one of about 200 people who turned out to support the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial and Mobilization in Provo Sunday night.
"He paid a terrible price for a brief bout."
Michael would have been 43 this year.
In his memory, his mother is trying her best to educate others about AIDS.
Monday morning, following the candlelight event, she was headed to Pleasant Grove High School to teach teenagers about the disease, the risks and the realities.
"I take pictures of Micheal and Karen. I take along an AIDS patient. It really helps to put a face on AIDS," Oldroyd said.
It helps, too, to have support groups in place for patients and for the families of those involved, she said.
"I still grieve. I still depend on the support of others. It's so important."
Oldroyd says Utahns are somewhat blissfully unaware of how many people have been diagnosed as HIV positive because the patients are counted in the cities where they are diagnosed rather than in the places where they live.
"It's significant that while the rates of incidents of infection are coming down a little, it's going up in the rural areas."
Oldroyd believes education is directly responsible for any inroads being made against the devastation.
"Like most people, before my son was diagnosed, I'd heard of it (AIDS), but I had no
idea what it really involved."
Two Utah cities, Provo and St. George, participated in the international event - the largest grassroots AIDS event ever. The event involved people in 400 cities and 60 countries, including 200 rural villages in southeast India and candlelight processions in Latin America.
Utahns gathered at the Provo Community Church and heard Dr. Kristen Ries, a physician and an advocate of support groups for those who've lost loved ones to AIDS.
From there, a candlelight procession trekked from the church on North University Avenue to the steps of the historic county courthouse.
"The healing service is a beautiful event each year," said Clark Swenson, Utah County Health Department representative. "It brings a number of faiths together to pray and hope for a common cause to end the suffering caused by AIDS and to support people whose lives have been touched by the illness in some way."
The international memorial and mobilization event is organized locally by the Utah County Ministerial Association and is in its fifth year.