Yesterday, the air was cold and clean, drenched in winter sunlight. My friend Margaret Clark stood at the door greeting people. She was dressed in hot pink. We spoke for a few minutes about inconsequential things. I wasn't in a hurry to go up the stairs, so stepped outside for a moment just as Janette and her son Luke showed up. We walked back in together. More and more people began to arrive at 775 Washington Street. Well dressed people wearing black; cashmere and leather and silk. Margaret said, I've been to bar mitzvahs here, and even danced here when it was a nightclub in the early 90's. What is it today, I asked. Primarily a photography studio, she replied.
Finally I took to the stairs, and then up a cement ramp that curved to the right. On the landing, a slide show projected onto the large white wall. Jasmina Anema in all her glory; dressed in gold lame with matching gold sneakers, wearing a two piece bathing suit, laughing and giggling, her long braids, her wide smile. A six year old girl. I stepped into the main room flooded with sunlight. Row upon row of white chairs, and in the front of the room, a little white coffin and two large sprays of roses. Jasmina's mother, Thea, seated in the front row on one side, on the other side, Jasmina's birth mother and family.
Jasmina had a fought a year long, much publicized battle with a particularly virulent form of leukemia. Tragically, she lost that battle last Wednesday night. This was her funeral. I walked up the aisle, gave my condolences to Thea, and stepped up to the coffin. There was Jasmina dressed as a fairy princess, the coffin lined with toys and a picture of her with President Obama. Nothing prepares you for this. Soon the service started. Many people spoke, musicians played, two of Jasmina's friends from school sang Twinkle, twinkle little star. My heart ached for Thea.
I only knew her casually through Margaret, but throughout the years, I heard all the stories, all the adventures of Thea and Jasmina; how they traveled around the world, how Jasmina knew Dutch and Mandarin, their summer house in the Catskills. Margaret told me the story about how Thea stitched up a mermaid costume when Jasmina had to undergo a painful procedure at the hospital. When I saw them together, I was humbled, they were such a pair, mother and daughter, bonded for life. The love was palpable. But now it was over. At one point in the service, a man sang a song about how lonely he was going to be, and suddenly the birth mother burst into tears, inconsolable.
I thought about how incalculably generous Thea was--- inviting the birth family. And it was strange to see adults and children who looked so much like Jasmina, but who never really knew her. Thea reached out to them at some point during Jasmina's illness. They bonded. I couldn't get over Thea's courage. I thought how strange, sad and even wonderful that there were two mothers at this funeral for a little girl. Both had, in their own way, lost their child. But Thea was the true mother who raised her, loved her, and who, day after day, stood by Jasmina's side and never gave up. She never spent a night alone in the hospital.
There was no religion at this funeral. No priest. No 23rd Psalm. No drive to the cemetery. Instead in a photography studio flooded with late winter sunlight, a mother and her community grieved the loss of a remarkable and beautiful little girl. My heart is still breaking.
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