A psychotherapist in New York City, Doneley Meris’ mother was a nurse and he was exposed to death and dying from a very young age. “I love what I do,” he tells Dr. Heidi Horsley during the Association for Death Education and Counseling 2015 conference. Working in the field of death and grieving for 34 years, Meris has a private practice in Tribeca and runs the HIV Arts Network which serves people living with HIV/AIDs, providing support group services. Dr. Horsley asks Meris whether, as a Filipino American, there are big cultural differences in how death is approached.

Meris notes that both family and religion play key roles in the Filipino culture. He’s honored to work with persons of color (POC), and says that even though he’s no longer a practicing Catholic, that background helps him connect with those in the program who do practice religion. He says that even though today’s perception is that HIV is no longer killing, that’s not true, and a person’s family and religion can play a big role in how they handle death from HIV.

The Importance of Acceptance

“We don’t talk about it as much as we used to,” shares Meris when asked about downplaying the realities of HIV today. “People are still dying” and HIV can lead to being more vulnerable to other diseases, which is no longer being as widely discussed. “There’s a glamorization of the disease since most people living with it can take a pill and be okay,” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other diseases killing those with HIV.

Community is key, he says. Having a support network when you’re living, or dying, from HIV can make a world of difference and Meris is committed to working with these populations around the country.


Heidi Horsley

Dr. Heidi Horsley is a licensed psychologist, social worker, and bereaved sibling. She co-hosts the award-winning weekly cable television show and podcast, Open to Hope. Dr. Heidi is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, and an award-winning author, who has co-authored eight books, and serves on the United Nations Global Mental Health Task Force. She also serves on the Advisory Boards for the Tragedy Assistance Program, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and Peace of Mind Afghanistan. She served on the National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, and for 10 yrs. worked on a Columbia University research study looking at traumatic loss over time in families who lost a firefighter in the World Trade Center.

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