"beyt" by JDR

Lois Holmes



  EDITOR'S NOTE: In this open letter, Lois Holmes, sister of Essex Hemphill, responds to some of the newsgroup digest postings on the subject of her brother's death, and her family's handling of the funeral. For an editorial on our reasonings for soliciting this letter for STANDARDS publication, see the Hemphill Tribute page.  



13 January 1996

It has taken me this long to get up the courage to read the negative things that have been said against my family. After reading the material, however, it became apparent to me that these articles were not about Essex and how his funeral was handled, but they were about my family. So today, I give my response from a sister's approach, in stating the following to anyone who challenges my family -- the family of Essex C. Hemphill.

It saddens me to think of the anger from those persons who have never helped Essex with his homework; who never saw him wash the pepper from his thumb he used to help him stop sucking it; never watched him play with his pet dogs; watched him lead his brothers and sisters in an Easter parade around the neighborhood; watched him loan his sister his pair of Keds so that she could cheer at school; watched him graduate with honors from elementary school, middle school, and high school; watched him read and sing in talent shows (and win). So many never witnessed him fighting his way home from school and after school functions; reading poetry at his family reunions; hanging out with the fellas in the neighborhood; cooking hearty meals for his family; teaching his sisters how to drive.

Few witnessed the Essex who dealt with spousal abuse; consoled his sister after losing her husband, his dear brother-in-law; who spoke out against the Mayor of Washington, D.C.; and stood at his mother's side, after the loss of her sweet mother, his grandmother. Our family bore witness when Essex held his nieces and nephews in his arms with loving care; when he came to nurture, clothe and play with them.


We bore witness when Essex announced his homosexuality to the family; when he announced to the family that he was HIV positive. We witnessed his fight with the illness: his striving for health, strength and success; the late-night phone calls to his family to tell us how bad he was feeling; telling his sister and family not to cry, because he was going to be "okay"; how he did not want to have the virus take his mind away; and telling his mother that the disease was rapidly taking over his life. We were with him as he lay in hospital beds: we held his hands; prayed with him; hugged him; laughed with him; talked with him; witnessed him taking his last breath.

How can those persons who have never shared even one precious moment of his life tell you what you felt about your brother? How can these same people give you direction and even make comments about how his funeral should have been handled?

I guess what bothers me most about this whole idea or notion is that I would be the first person to ask, "What role did you play in ensuring that Essex was loved and cared for, while he was alive?" Did anyone who speaks out negatively about my family stop to see him when he did not feel well? Did anyone ask him if he needed a ride to the grocery? Did anyone prepare a meal for him, when he could not prepare a meal for himself? Did anyone massage his legs, when they pained him so badly for days? Did anyone wash and iron his clothes, when he needed clean ones? Did anyone change soiled bedding when his nose bled for hours? Did anyone help him to his doctors' appointments, or to the hospital, when he needed transportation? Did anyone pay a bill, when he could not pay it himself? Did anyone clean his apartment when he was too tired to clean it himself? Did anyone take him to church? Did anyone pray with him and for him? Were you there???

When we have closely examined who we are, what our roles are in life, what part we will play in this world, we will find that we do not have the time or the opportunity to sit back and pass judgement on myself, my family, and Essex's family. Your perception and my perception of Essex is not and may never be the same. Essex will never be defined first as a homosexual; he will always be defined as Essex, the loving, caring and nurturing person our family knew him to be. Therefore, when persons from the outside who may have read a book, a poem, or an article by Essex; who may have even seen him speak at an engagement or university event, can only say that they received just a sprinkle of who Essex was -- and, in understanding that, they can never say they knew the Essex I knew.

None of us really knew how Essex would have wanted his funeral. Our main objective and focus in our time of loss was that the person we loved so much is now gone away from us, never to be seen again. So we may sit quietly from time to time, waiting for Essex to come again in a whisper, a laugh, or a dream -- hoping to capture what is now gone, but lives in all who were touched by his work, his love, by the dedication Essex left for all of us.


Lois Holmes




 "An Open Letter for Essex, My Brother" © 1996 by Lois Holmes

Original Graphic © 2002 by Jim Davis-Rosenthal  




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