Happy Holiday Season! This update will be a little on the sad side as it is about one of our mothers, Neri, who died of complications from AIDS on Monday.
Neri had four of her own children in the JRF plus one grandson. The oldest, Wilis, is 16 and has been with the JRF since early 2011. The other three are ages 7, 9 and 10 and the grandson is 2. Neri has been a Good Threads stitcher since 2013 and before that was paid to bring bananas to the foundation every day. In 2014 we had her get tested for HIV, as she was quite skinny and had skin problems associated with HIV. She could not read and brought us the test results. We told her she was HIV positive, and that it would kill her before long. After telling her this, we engaged in a negotiation of how many years she had left. It was a tricky spot to be in as we didn’t want to downright lie, but we also didn’t want to be too harsh. I opened with one or two years, she opened with 10 and we settled on 3-5. She was very sick in January of 2015 with TB and would have died if Catherine and I had spent two or three more days in the States for Christmas. We saw her when we got back and paid to get her good medical care and were able to nurture her back to decent health. Since arriving in Jacmel, Neri had spent 90% of her time in the hospital before dying on Monday evening. We paid for her funeral as she had nobody else to do this. Catherine and I have taken her three young boys and grandson into our house. The fate of her grandson is still unclear. He may go back to his mom in Esperanza or he may stay with Catherine and I for a while before being placed with one of our families. We had a local lawyer and judge visit Neri, and we are in the process of becoming her children’s legal guardians (their father also died of AIDS years ago). They will continue to live with Catherine and me for the next few months before possibly moving in with other families in the JRF community.
I will remember Neri as a hard working, tough woman who lived a hard life. I will remember her big goofy smile, way more gum than teeth in that smile. I will remember the trust she put in Catherine and me. Whenever we asked her questions she would say, “you guys are the ones that know what’s best”, whether it was work related, health related or related to her kids, she totally trusted us to look out for her. I will remember that despite having almost no money and being deathly ill she took in her grandson when his mother would not care for him last year, that was noble. I will remember that she dealt with the AIDS news totally on her own, she was too embarrassed to tell anybody, so only we knew for over a year. I will remember her concern for her boys. It was definitely what we talked about most on my hospital visits these last few months, and they were the number one reason that she was not ready to die. I will remember that towards the end she was always requesting x-rays because in her mind this would in some way make her better. I will remember that she faced death bravely, she may not have been ready, but she did accept her fate. I will remember that she held on while Catherine and I were in the states. Before leaving, Neri and I discussed the fact that her boys would need us when she died, so she would have to wait for us to be in Haiti to die. She was suffering, but she held on.
Her boys have accepted her death better than we could have imagined. They were sad when we told them and the funeral was a very sad experience, but they are taking it as well as could be hoped. The 10 year-old was very factual about it. He was worried about what to do with their infant nephew, what we would do with her household items, whether or not his sister would come and take everything and what his and his brothers’ future would hold. While the boys cried at the funeral, they have been playing and behaving normally otherwise. It is probably something they will deal with for years to come but so far it is going as well as we could have hoped.
Neri’s boys are pretty amazing. Between the three of them, they take care of a two year-old, are incredibly independent and more self-sufficient than most would imagine a 7,9 and 10 year-old could be. They get very excited about brushing their teeth, because in their eyes having your own toothbrush and toothpaste is a total rich kid thing. They love unstructured outdoor play, drum circles, climbing trees to harvest fruit, legos, kung fu panda, The Netflix children’s section in general, and eating massive quantities of food. Everyday they go to school at 6:30 am on a motorcycle we pay for. They then make their way to the JRF land after school to eat and play all afternoon before walking about 90 minutes from the JRF land to our house at dusk.
Neri’s children are her only real legacy as she did not leave behind any works of note. The woman clearly had great genes as all the children are athletic and bright. We swore to Neri that we would ensure her kids were provided for and that is what we will do. We are sad that she has passed, but happy that she is no longer in pain and finally at peace, hopefully watching and doing what she can to protect her boys.