We Remember Always... Loved Ones who have died

Bob "BJ" Johnson

September 11, 1953 -- May 17, 1993

   My sweet husband, Bob "BJ" Johnson, died at 1:45 am on May 17, 1993, in my arms in our new home. Although we had been together for five years, we had only been married 18 days. I celebrate his life. BJ stood as a vocal and visible example for all PWAs during the past five years, even as he struggled through bouts of PCP and CMV. I often heard the phrase, "If BJ can do it, I can do it!" from other PWAs. I was, am, and always will be very PROUD of my Beej. I miss him so much. When I went in a special AIDS-specific grief support group from Hospice for those who had lost their SO's to AIDS, we had to write a letter to our loved one. This is my letter to BJ. --Debbi Hood Johnson

Debbi and BJMonday, November 8, 1993

Dear BJ:

I've put off writing this letter because I didn't know what I would say until I realized that I talk to you every day and this shouldn't be any different. But it is. Just thinking about writing you a letter (putting my thoughts into words instead of my feelings into thoughts) puts a big lump im my throat. I miss you so, so much. I still can't believe you're gone. I look around, waiting for you to turn the corner and let me know it was all just a bad dream. But You ARE gone...and I have to understand that you're not coming back... ever.

I never realized how final "ever" is until now. Why can't things be the way they used to be? Why can't we go back to February, or March-- anytime before April and May? No, I mean anytime except after Monday, May 17, 1993 at 1:45 a.m. As selfish as I know it sounds, I'd even settle for things the way they were when you were so sick. Not so you'd be in pain, sweetie, but simply so you could BE. I need you. I need you here. We always thought I was the strong one, but you were the glue that held me together, the reason for me to really live.

Life looks and feels so different without you to share it with. Where did all the colors go? Where are all the beautiful sounds we heard together? They're gone now, replaced with noise...dissonant noise with no melody or meaning. If a tree falls in my forest and you're not here, will I hear it?

I try to go on, knowing you would want me to, would expect me to. Can you see me? Do you know how much I miss you, how much I love you? Tears are spilling over as I write this. This hurts so much. Life hurts so much. I hurt so much.

You would love our little house. It's just as we imagined. I've put off unpacking some of our things, and hanging pictures on the walls, and especially settling into the bedroom. If I finish unpacking, hanging, and settling, it'll mean it's now MY place, not OUR place, and I need to put that off as long as I can.

Your pictures, of course, are everywhere. I'd rather have you in person. Pictures can't hug back.

Through all my pain, there are so many wonderful little gifts that I am grateful for. I'm so VERY grateful we never let a day close without telling each other "I love you"...and I'm grateful that those words, said so often, never lost their magic for us. I'm grateful for our five wonderful years together and our 18 days together as husband and wife. I'm grateful that you trusted me enough to not only share your living and its details with me, but also your dying and its details. And I'm eternally grateful that, at the end of your final, horrible 8 hours, God let you wake from your coma, look me directly in the eyes and know that I never left your side. He knew I needed the assurance that you knew I kept my promise to you and stayed with you as long as I was allowed through the valley of the shadow of death.

Thank you, Beej. Thank you for bursting into my life with no warning and changing everything about it from Day One. You taught me so much about myself. Did you know that? What a mirror you were. What was it about you that sensed and brought out the very best in me? Your love? Your acceptance? Whatever it was, I'm grateful. But now that you're gone, I'm afraid the best in me left with you. The rest of my journey here will be to try to find it again, if I have the courage.

Everything reminds me of you. Parts of songs, snatches of conversations, glimpses of profiles. I miss coming home to you. I miss talking to you about the little things. I miss waking up to you. I miss cleaning up after you. I miss being annoyed with you. I miss you. I MISS YOU. You're in my thoughts always. Why can't you be in my dreams, too? I long for an escape to dreams of you. I try, but the dreams don't come. Do I try too hard? Is it wrong to want... need.. .to see you, feel you, smell you, be with you in my dreams?

I'm so tired. So tired of pretending to be strong, pretending to be okay, pretending to be normal. I'm not strong, things are not okay, and "normal" doesn't exist. I remain afraid, but of what? I think I'm afraid life will touch me again and it hurts too much to be touched. But I long to be touched. Nothing makes sense.

Yesterday I had one of those unexpected respites when, for a little while, my heart didn't hurt. It seemed as if you were still here but temporarily gone from my view. I noticed and caught myself wondering if this is what it feels like to heal. If someone had said something funny, I think I could have laughed. It was odd. But now, poring over these pages, it seems unimaginable to be able to, or want to, ever laugh. Smiles are hard enough, even when I'm pretending. Now the gaping wound stands wide; the night winds swirl around inside, mocking the emptiness. Tears fell freely an hour ago, but there are no tears now. All that is left is me... whatever is left of me. Who is "me"? WHY is "me"?

If you were here, what would you tell me, give me, show me? I be lieve you would tell me to live, really live---to embrace life today as if there were no tomorrow. I think you would give me peace--the quiet, gentle peace you always carried with you. And you would maybe show me that the "me" who used to be "BJandDeb" can still live on with your legacy.

I can learn and grow and share "us" with others, just as we did together when you were alive. You are such a part of me still that I know you would pass these gifts on to me. The question is: Am I ready? Maybe I am.

I love you, honey.


BJ's Quilt Panel

Read Debbi's story about how this panel was made and what it symbolizes about B.J.'s life.

AIDS memorials are published on CAM's web site as a free service to those who wish to remember loved ones and friends. They are personal statements by those who are bereaved and in their own words.

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