A Year After: Remembering Elisha Henson (2015)

When my kids were younger, I often sang to them to put them to sleep. I am not a fan of most lullabies (babies falling out of cradles? Really?), so the songs I usually sang to them were worship songs and/or R&B or pop songs. Often the lyrics had to be modified a bit, but not always. One song that was perfect as is and didn't need modification was "Seasons of Love" from the "Rent" soundtrack. They love that beautiful song that talked about the significance of the passing of one year. I do as well.

With all of the things going on, it completely slipped my mind until just this evening that just a few days ago marked one full year since Elisha Henson was buried. Wow. A whole year.

Although we were located in the same state (Texas), I never had the pleasure of meeting Elisha, but from what I've gleaned from her family she seemed like a pretty unique woman and one I would have liked. She liked motorcycles (now that's cool). She loved her two sons fiercely. She was cared for deeply by her family and friends and was a member of a local church. She lived openly with her diagnosis of HIV.

Elisha's life was ended far too short and in a horrific manner. But rather than focusing on how she died, I think it's more important to focus on two things. One, and most importantly, her memory, which lives on through those who love her. But two, and also important, is what her story has meant and will continue to mean for others. Especially now, as advocates in our state fight against current bills in state legislature that aim to criminalize HIV.

Elisha's death sliced many of us like a knife. So hurtful, so senseless, and so preventable. She should have never have been made to suffer in this manner. Elisha's situation (and that of our other dear Texas sister, Cicely Bolden, whose life was also ended too soon), has served as a rallying cry for advocates across the globe, who publicly grieved her loss, launched state advocacy campaigns, and rallied to create, in her honor, the first ever National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living With HIV (#EndVAWHIV). 

Elisha's family is a close-knit and loving group of individuals whose bond and whose strength has been evident as they have coped with these life-changing ordeal. They have survived what no one should have to, yet they continue to go on. We owe them a debt of gratitude for permitting us to fight for justice for other women across the globe in their daughter's memory. They will forever be a valuable part of the community of people living with HIV, affected families, friends, and supporters who all wish to see a change in the all-too frequent violence perpetuated against positive women. Please know that we are here, and that Elisha is not forgotten.

With one out of every four HIV positive women experiencing violence at least once in their lifetimes, clearly much needs to be done to change things for the better to prevent more people from having to bury their loved ones. We must, as a society, continue to speak out against stigma and discrimination as a whole, including that which is perpetuated against HIV positive individuals.

This poem was submitted during the National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living With HIV month as a contribution to a flash blog that was hosted as a virtual event to commemorate the day. This poem, originally published here, honors Elisha. We republish it again today in honor of the 525,600 minutes (one year) that have passed since her burial:

In Memory of Elisha Henson

She was just a few years younger than me,
But she'd had a lifetime more pain than I.
Life can be cruel, and people can be judgmental.
Sometimes the way we choose to cope with pain
Can also create more pain even while it dulls the pain.
We all make mistakes.
We are always growing, learning.
Elisha wasn't perfect.
Neither are you
Neither am I.
But she, like you and I
And IS more than the sum of bad decisions.
More than mistakes - which we are ALL guilty of making,
More than flaws.
She was a daughter,
A sister,
A mother,
An aunt,
A wife,
A friend.
She had interests
She had people who loved her,
People who supported her,
People who prayed for her and rooted for her.
She had a whole life to live.
Those 3 letters - HIV - are NOT what ended her life
Elisha was killed by 4 letters...
Like Cicely was,
And numerous women across the globe.
Remember her name,
Remember her life.
End this hatred.
Stop the violence.
Don't let her death be in vain
Don't let another family bury their Elisha.
End violence against women living with HIV!
Elisha, you will NEVER be forgotten.

Elisha Henson, 1983-2014. Photo credit: Carrel family