It’s been almost 20 years since Benjamin Scott Allen endured the heartbreaking loss of his wife and two young sons to AIDS, brought on by a tainted blood transfusion during the delivery of their first child.
Since that time, Allen, now an Incline Village resident, has been living — and healing — in what he calls “the after loss.”
At the invitation of Suicide Prevention Network of Douglas County Executive Director Debbie Posnien, Allen brings the story of that ongoing journey to Carson Valley on April 16.
He will speak at 7 p.m. at Carson Valley Inn at a program entitled “Out of the Ashes,” based on a book he just published.
Allen’s story began in 1982 when his wife, Lydia, pregnant with their son Matthew, received a transfusion of platelets during the delivery of their baby.
The transfusion saved her life, but led to the onset of mystifying health issues for Lydia and baby Matthew. This was during the early stages of the AIDS crisis, when information about spread of the disease was limited.
The Allens were told in 1985 that Lydia’s donor had died of the HIV virus. By then, the family had welcomed son Bryan into the family, who also suffered from health complications.
The three were tested and learned the devastating news that all were positive for the virus. Bryan died three months later at eight months old. Lydia died in 1992, and Matthew in 1995 at age 13.
“I was completely alone. All I had left was my sorrow,” Allen said in an interview at the Suicide Prevention Network office in Minden. “There was a lot of pain, but there was also joy in the gifts I uncovered, a whole lot of love remained.”
He said his book, “Out of the Ashes,” is not about AIDS, or a “how-to” book about working through the stages of grief.
“There is no ‘how to’ in grief,” Allen said. “My definition of healing is to be at peace with my sorrow, and incorporate it into the beauty of life. I just lean into it and see where it takes me.”
Posnien said her experiences dealing with survivors of suicide have similarities that she hopes attendees can explore at Allen’s presentation.
“People constantly say the same story over and over,” Posnien said. “In suicide, they are ridden with guilt and sorrow, asking themselves, ‘Could I have said something? What didn’t I pick up on? Could I have stopped this from happening?’ It consumes them.”
Similar to survivors of suicide, Allen said he experienced survivor’s guilt with the loss of his wife and sons.
“I asked myself, ‘Why am I here?’ It’s part of everyone’s experience: intensive, massive and immediate. Trying to answer that brings up every important question of life. I don’t like the term that someone is ‘gone.’ When someone I love dies, part of me goes with them, and part of them stays with me.”
Allen said the part of his presentation he enjoys the most is taking questions from the audience.
“Grief isolates us. You think you’re on your own. I hope through this that people find their own story and hope for healing,” he said.
Posnien said Allen’s presentation is open to all ages, and to anyone who has been touched by loss.
“This is for anyone who has lost someone they love, people dealing with life and death, caregivers, those going through their own end process,” Allen said.
From previous presentations, Allen said people come away feeling validated in their own journeys through loss.
“I’ve had people say this may be the first time they’ve ever discussed their grief with anyone, or, they don’t feel so alone anymore. People tell me they didn’t know what was going on within them, but now they do,” he said. “No one needs to grieve in secret. When we live in secret, it separates us from the wholeness around us.”
He accepted the Suicide Prevention Network invitation because he said the organization offers a safe place for secrets to unfold.
Allen said he hoped people would feel comfortable sharing about their experiences.
“Every question is important. I hope people realize they’re not the only ones, “ he said.
The presentation is 7 p.m. April 16 at Carson Valley Inn. Suggested donation is $10 per person, but Posnien said no one would be turned away. Copies of Allen’s book, “Out of the Ashes,” will be available. The book also is available at Amazon.com.