AIDS Awareness Day: Jasmine’s Story

Hola mi Gente…

Today is AIDS Awareness Day. I have lost so many loved to this disease over the years. This story is dedicated to all of them because it needs to be told and they need to be remembered…

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yemaya3

(above: Yemaya)

The power of love to change bodies is legendary, built into folklore, common sense, and everyday experience. Love moves the flesh, it pushes matter around… Throughout history, ‘tender loving care’ has uniformly been recognized as a valuable element in healing.

— Larry Dossey

[Note: names, characteristics, specifics were changed in order to respect anonymity]

When I first started school and begn the process that eventually led to a career as a “healer,” I went through an experience that would forever change the way I understand healing.

Many years ago, as I was in the process of picking up the pieces of my shattered life, I received a phone call in the middle of the night. Marta, an old and dear friend, called to tell me that a former lover was on her deathbed at a nearby hospital. I’ll never forget her words, she said, “Eddie, I know you and Jasmine did a lot of fucked up shit to each other, but she’s not expected to last the weekend. If you have anything you want to tell her, now is the time. They’re giving her last rites as we speak.”

I thanked my friend and as I put down the phone in shock, I realized I didn’t know what to do. I mean, there were so many conflicting feelings. Here was someone who had caused me great pain, who had been the object of numerous homicidal fantasies, who now was dying. But as I thought of her it was hard for me to feel the old resentment and anger without a pang of conscience. After all, I thought, I was equally cruel to her. I decided then that I would visit her that very moment.

As I began to get dressed (it was about 2 am), it dawned on me that I had more than one reservation. For one, her family wasn’t too fond of me. In fact, Jasmine once admitted to me that the joke was that they wouldn’t even mention my name, and when they did, they whispered my last name as if actually calling my given name aloud would evoke me. So, in essence, I was something of a persona non grata, to put it lightly. But I resolved that I would go anyway and that if there were any objections, I would simply apologize and leave and in that way I would know in my heart that I attempted to make amends. People, that Serenity Prayer? Actually does come in handy sometimes, folks!

As I rode the train to the hospital, my mind kept coming up with various scenarios: the mother would curse me, I would make a personal family tragedy worse, or my presence would only magnify the pain. It was with these reservations that I finally arrived at the hospital and, after locating her, I entered the dark room quietly. The room was full of close friends and family members all huddled around the bed where a wasted and frail young woman lay seemingly unconscious. No one noticed me, as I listened to the priest murmur some prayers. Scared shitless, I waited for someone to recognize me and, as the priest finished his ministrations, the mother turned, noticed me, and with tears in her eyes sobbed, “Eddie! Oh Eddie, mi hijo, lo que a llegamo!” As we embraced, she cried. I could feel a stirring in the room, as my presence was made known.

The mother quietly explained the situation: something had gone wrong with a treatment and her daughter had fallen into a coma after a long bout with HIV and it was expected that she would die soon. I tried to apologize and explain that if my being there was inappropriate, I would leave, but the mother stopped me and led me to Jasmine’s bed. It was hard to look at her, lying there now ravaged by disease. Her mother spoke to her as if she could hear her and said, “Mira nena, look who’s here to see you — Eddie!”

Honestly, I didn’t know what the fuck to do. I mean, what do you do in such a situation? But something told me to take her hand. And as I touched her hand, I bent over and whispered to her, telling her how sorry I was for the things I did to her and how we hurt each other; that I was now living a good life free of my destructive patterns and active addiction. I honestly didn’t think she could hear me, and I thought it was somewhat foolish, but it also felt right, so I kept it up. Her hands felt cold so I rubbed my hands together to generate heat and warmed her hands. I kept this up — talking to the unconscious Jasmine and warming her hands, and then her face, her arms, as so on.

When I felt I had said what I had to say, I kissed her forehead and I began to walk away when I heard her whisper, “Eddie?” Everyone in the room stopped talking and when I turned around, there was Jasmine looking at me, calling my name. At that point, everyone in the room started doing the sign of the cross and Jasmine’s mother was praying and saying that it was miracle, and people were just running around calling the doctors and there I was in the middle of that whole scene wondering what the fuck was going on.

Jasmine would live for about four more months. And I don’t mean to imply that my hands “healed” her or anything idiotic like that. I don’t know if I had anything to do with it, but later, Jasmine said that it wasn’t until she felt the heat from my hands that she began to regain consciousness. Before then, she said, she felt she had settled into a form of resignation of meeting her fate. It’s hard for me to describe what Jasmine said, but I now think she had surrendered to death. She had lost all hope for life, she told me, and had deteriorated rapidly. She said feeling the heat from my hands awakened her to the fact that there were certain things left undone, especially with regard to her seven-year-old son, that needed tending before she moved on.

During those last few months of her life, I became one of Jasmine’s primary care-givers in that AIDS ward. The nurses called me Jasmine’s “boyfriend” and would arrange her hair in pigtails and her face would beam when I entered the room. Me? I simply resolved to do what I could — to give what I could to a person in need. Not only because Jasmine needed it, but because it was what I had to do. I felt there was a larger story being writ and that I had a play my role in it.

And she would often request, especially during times of extreme stress, that I use my hands in the same way I did that first night. I never got it at the time. And when I would ask her, she would only say that my hands ran hot (which they do) and that the heat would lessen the overwhelming feeling of numbness that would attack her body.

As with the whole medical establishment during the early days of the epidemic, the doctors could not explain. Indeed, what I witnessed during those days was that the doctors were often at a loss for answers or “prescriptions.” What I learned at that time was that a healer, whether a doctor, therapist or whatever, must act as a channel, or conduit of a healing entity or force. I don’t care whether you call it, God, Goddess, Christ, The Great Spirit, Qi, The Dao, or whatever. Furthermore, in order to become such a channel, there are essential qualities a healer must possess. Some of these surely must be trust, faith, love, and humility.

Though different healers may channel this healing energy through different techniques, none of them can heal — regardless of technique — unless they use it with love and humility. Out of all of these qualities, love is probably the most troublesome because all healers have days when they are not open to love. There are no recipes or formulas for staying open that way. To love also doesn’t just mean loving others, it means loving one’s self too.

I learned in those days that healing does not necessarily mean to become physically well or to be able to get up and walk around again, something Jasmine desperately wanted. I came to realize that healing means achieving some kind of balance between the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions (spiritual in this sense meaning the reality of interconnectedness). For example, Jasmine would never walk again, and her T cells were, like, nil. In fact, doctors were at a loss to explain why she was alive and resolved themselves to minister to her while she was still alive. However, Jasmine became awake and though she was young (33), sometimes she gave the impression of a very wise, very old soul with far more knowledge than her years. I believe that suffering kicks up the evolutionary spiritual dimension by a few notches.

Don’t misunderstand, Jasmine, like many AIDS patients — even more so than patients suffering from other life-threatening illnesses because of the tremendous stigma attached to the disease — was lacking in qualities of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-trust. One day she admitted that she felt these qualities were impacted by a lot of guilt, shame, and ambivalence. There were issues Jasmine never had a chance to address, some, such as some issues regarding her son, her addiction, and her deep-seated feelings of guilt, she took with her to her grave. But when faced with the seemingly impossible, we do what we can — and that’s what Jasmine I did, one day at a time, sometimes one breath at a time.

In a way, we were like ships passing in the night. I was in the midst of reinventing my life, starting anew, doing the things I never got a chance to do, and exploring and actualizing my potential. Sometimes I would forget that for Jasmine, this was as good as it was going to get. There were times when I would forget and think that maybe she would get “better” whatever that means. The reality was that she was on borrowed time and that often worked to minimize her motivation. Over the years, I have lost too many friends to this disease. Some emphasized that they were living with a disease, not merely dying. I don’t know if Jasmine ever got there. But we learned to trust one another, and laughed many times at how easy it was to revert to old patterns.

I do believe Jasmine experienced a degree of healing. But Jasmine’s “healing” didn’t occur at an individual level, because we are all connected through a vast neurological network of relationships to an infinite number of people and creatures on the planet. I learned that the process of healing even one person has consequences for all of us. It did for me: though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, acting as a channel for this healing energy, Jasmine’s situation had a healing purpose for me.

Most important to Jasmine was the seven-year-old son she had to say goodbye to and as she went about trying to resolve issues in her life, she seemed to become more at peace with her illness. There were days that her smile would remind me of the Jasmine I had known — beautiful, alert, intelligent and spunky — someone who took pleasure in challenging me and my interminable teasing. But those days became increasingly rare. Eventually taking care of Jasmine became a job that took priority over everything else in my life, in the process burning me out. A part of all this had a noble purpose, of course, but a lot of that was also to my tendency toward codependency. There were times I would forget that I was but a conduit through which some of this was happening and I would forget that Jasmine would not get better.

And she took me hostage, Jasmine did. Her greatest fear was of dying alone in that sterile hospital room. One day, after a particularly rough night (Jasmine’s main caregiver, her sister, and I had obtained special permission from the hospital administration), I was irritable and tired. My life had been consumed by Jasmine’s disease and I was feeling spent, confused, and angry — all dangerous triggers for a person in my situation. By then, Jasmine had lost her ability to speak and if we weren’t there doing it, she would not be cleaned in a prompt manner, so there I was cracking jokes about cleaning Jasmine’s ass and laughing about it. Sometimes I swore I saw a grin on Jasmine’s face during those times.

Anyway, I was tired and I wanted to go home, shower, and to re-energize myself. I tried calling her sister several times, but she could not be reached due to a business meeting, so I turned to Jasmine and told her I was leaving and would be back as soon as I could. I hated doing this because she would become agitated if I left the room, let alone tell her I was leaving. Jasmine’s was horrified of the idea of dying alone.

As I left, I turned to look and there was this look of stark fear on Jasmine’s face. At that moment, I felt so bad about my own anger and it dissipated. I blew her a kiss and promised I would be right back. She was still upset… but I reminded myself she always became upset whenever I left the room. I took the elevator to the lobby and just when I entered the lobby, something almost physical stopped me dead in my tracks. It was as if I had run into an invisible wall. And then it hit me… I knew what was happening.

Jasmine passed away as I was entering her room. When she saw me, the most beautiful smile of gratitude and contentment came over her face. She couldn’t mouth the words, but the look in her eyes — I’m sure if she could she would’ve said, “Thank you, Eddie.” I stood by her, heard the death rattle, and she was gone.

The only difference between Jasmine and the rest of us, I came to understand, was Jasmine’s degree of illness. It seems to me that the whole planet is going through what Jasmine experienced with her terminal illness. My conclusion is that there must be a way to for all of us to go through a cleansing process, or a way for us to become conduits for healing in order to eliminate the hatred, greed, pain, grief, and rage that we harbor for so long.

I think Jasmine’s greatest gift was to teach me that we must all tap into this healing energy so that we might become whole… I wrote this because I believe that so many of our loved ones – our family members, loved ones, friends – have died at the hands of this epidemic and people really only die when our memory of them is erased.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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