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Losing someone

a guy looks out the window

Death and dying can affect anyone, whether HIV is involved or not. HIV still an incurable condition so issues around dying can be hard to ignore.

How does HIV affect life expectancy?

When people are diagnosed with HIV, one of the first things they think about is their life expectancy. You may have assumed that because HIV is not curable, your life expectancy will be reduced. This can be upsetting and make you feel frightened, but the good news is that these days people living with HIV can live a more or less normal lifespan.

Early diagnosis of HIV and starting treatment on time are key factors in the increased life expectancy of people living with HIV. But even if you have been diagnosed late and have a low CD4 count, there are steps you can take to improve your immune system, such as eating well and getting enough exercise, relaxation and sleep.

Attending your appointments and taking your treatment correctly without missing doses are also important ways to keep your HIV suppressed and allow your immune system to begin to recover.

Modern antiretroviral treatment is very potent, but usually have fewer side effects which makes it easier to keep your HIV under control. Adhering to your treatment is one of the best ways to suppress the virus.

I have lost a loved one - how do I cope?

Death can affect anyone, whether HIV is involved or not. If you have lost someone, whether or not it was because of HIV, it may be useful to get some support.

Grieving can be a very long, slow process which can take a year or two. If an HIV-related illness was the cause of death, this can be an obstacle to talking openly.

Grief often involves the following stages:

  • Denial and disbelief – often with a feeling of numbness.
  • Anger – possibly coupled with feelings of regret and guilt.
  • Intense sadness – maybe with mood swings, feeling hopeless or becoming withdrawn.
  • Acceptance – over time your feelings of sadness reduce and it will become possible to let go of your loved one and move on with your life.

Points to bear in mind about grieving:

  • Expecting to be ‘over it’ by a certain date isn’t wise – it will take as long as it needs to.
  • New responsibilities or making major life decisions are best avoided while you are grieving.
  • It’s normal not to function as efficiently as usual.
  • Be wary of using alcohol or drugs to avoid dealing with your grief.
  • Grieving is not about forgetting someone but learning to remember them with a sense of peace, not pain.
  • Remind yourself that however long your grief lasts, it is temporary - sooner or later you will be able to enjoy life again.

Things that can help alleviate your grief:

  • Talk about your loss to friends, family, a counsellor, or to a religious leader.
  • Accept help if it is offered and tell people what you need from them.
  • Plan ahead for painful times such as anniversaries.
  • Plan good times that you allow yourself to enjoy without feeling guilty.
  • Look after yourself – get the food and sleep your body needs. Exercise is a good outlet for anger.

More help with dealing with death and grief:



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 24/7/2014 by C. Berry

Date due for the next review: 30/9/2017

Content Author: Tom Bishop

Current Owner: Health Trainers

More information:

NHS Choices What is the life expectancy for someone living with HIV? (2011)

NHS Choices HIV and AIDS – Diagnosis: (2010) 

NHS Choices HIV and AIDS – Living with: (2010)