Traditionally, responsibility for providing care in the home for people with serious illness has fallen to women as wives, mothers, or daughters of the afflicted individual. Among the many societal repercussions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been the creation of a new group of caregivers—gay men who are the primary caregivers for their partners with AIDS. In the 1980s and early 1990s, before the advent of protease inhibitors and the new antiretroviral treatments, AIDS was a pernicious, essentially uncontrollable terminal illness that manifested horrendous opportunistic infections. Caregiving during this period was challenging at every level: emotional, psychological, physical, and even spiritual. The tasks were daunting, highly stressful, and unremitting. The only predictable aspect of the disease was that it would claim its victim sooner rather than later.
How could these caregivers, many of whom were themselves infected with HIV, maintain their own sanity, and for those who were HIV+, sustain their own physical health, while facing the extraordinary challenges of AIDS caregiving? These were the questions that led us to design a study about this new group of caregivers. We felt that there was a great deal these men could teach us about coping with profound psychological stress that would help other AIDS caregivers as well as anyone who was faced with the profound stress of caring for someone with a serious illness.