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“I want to die in Peace, on my bed, with Maria beside me”

On the sociologist Betinho’s death anniversary, we remember the farewell letter he left to his wife, Maria.

On Aug. 9 it has been 19 years the sociologist Herbert de Souza, Betinho, one of the Brazilian warriors in the struggle for a more equal country (he is the creator of the Citizen Action Project that stands up against starvation, poverty and for Life). A sweet and loving warrior, in love with the country, with life and wife Maria – for whom he wrote the farewell letter, which we have reproduced below, written six months before his death. Betinho has lived with the idea that death accompanied him since his birth because he was born with hemophilia, a genetic and inherited disorder that affects blood clotting and can cause several complications. In 1986, he and his brothers Henfil and Chico Mario found out they had AIDS – the three of them went through constant blood transfusions and received contaminated blood. The brothers died in 1989 and Betinho in 1997, but his ideas and his love remain alive. Bravo Betinho!

“This text is for Maria to read after my death, that according to my estimate, it must be soon. It is a love declaration. I’m in no hurry to die, as I’m in no hurry to finish this letter. I will return to it as long as I can and work on every word with love and care. A letter to Maria must be carefully written. I don’t want it to be sad, I want it to be a piece of life, a memory pathway that is our eternity. We met in the AP (Popular Actions) meetings in 1970, during the Maoism. There was an atmosphere of sectarianism and fear; not very favorable to love.

Before any moves I did a survey and the signs were encouraging, in spite of mysterious. But we had to start dating somehow. It was in a bus in São Paulo. We were going towards the end of the bus line as those seeking a start. Then a first kiss happened, awkwardly, but delicious, a public kiss. The distance barrier was down  and the relationship had started, a 26 years relationship!

Betinho sociologist and his wife, Maria
Betinho sociologist and his wife, Maria

The Maoism was in China, our love in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was much stronger than any ideology. It was the life in us, so sacrificed, always hiding, meaningless and no future. We went to live in a small place, one room and kitchen, in the back of a poor house, near a Church, near downtown. The place had room enough for our bed, a small table, kitchen things and nothing else. But we made love at that time so much! It was amazing and certainly we never had so much pleasure. Times of fear and insecurity. We lived like this for almost a year. Until it began to “fall.” Arrests, torture, police everywhere, hell in front of us. We went to Chile. And there, I was called by Garcez to write texts, Allende liked my work, and used my texts in his official speeches. It was the first time I saw love becoming a political speech… Then we went through a lot to get back. Until the Amnesty International came and surprised us. And then, what to do with Brazil? It was a turmoil of emotions: the dream came true! True, Brazil was “ours” again. The first thing was to eat everything that we had not eaten in abroad: polenta with chicken with brown gravy, okra with ground beef, chayote, pumpkin, beef stew, pork and beans – feijoada -. A festival of culinary nostalgia, a reunion with Brazilian flavors. One of the biggest thrills of my life was to see Henrique coming from inside you. So much emotion and no limit that made me rediscover the childhood. After the exile, our lives seemed quite normal. we worked; we traveled on vacation, we visited friends, Ibase (Brazilian Institute of Social and Economical Analysis) was  working, even the hemophilia seemed to have given a break. Henrique grew up, Daniel got closer and closer to me, gradually, as a son and friend. But a tragedy hit us, unexpectedly, we were facing something I didn’t foresee. AIDS. In 1985, the news of the epidemic that was affecting homosexuals, drug users and hemophiliacs. Panic was widespread. I, obviously, was in panic too. It was not enough to be born in Minas Gerais (a conservative state in Brazil), a catholic, hemophiliac, Maoist and physically disabled. It was necessary to be part of the world wave, the plague of the century, final, and no cure, no future and fatal. And that’s when you, more than ever, revealed that you are able to overcome the tragedy, suffering, but facing it all and with great affection and care. AIDS sealed a love, stronger and more definitive because it challenges it all, fear, despair temptation, discouragement about the future. Carrying it all on, in spite of everything, the kiss, the warmth and sensuality. I turned my HIV status public and you were with me. I never said a “but” or made a comment on necessary care. You gave me your hand and followed with me as if you were half of me, inseparable. And you were. Since the times of anger, no hope, the death of Henfil and Chico, from the crisis that surrounded death to “the drugs cocktail” that triggered new hopes. A short time to describe, but an eternity to live. One of the biggest problems of AIDS is sex. Having sex relations with all the necessary care or not? All precautions are enough or we should not take risks with our loved one? We went through all the stages, from sex with one or two condoms to none, only sex affection. I chose total security for minimal risk. I stopped, we stopped and no dramas with needs, but no dramas, as if it were normal to live contrary to everything we have learned as a man and woman, living the sensuality of music, good food, literature, invention, small pleasures and peace . Living is so much more than sex. But to live this, it was necessary that Maria also felt this and were able to go through this metamorphosis as she was.

To speak of a person with total freedom is necessary that one of them is dead and I know that this will be my case. I will go to my funeral without major problems and especially without work, carried by people. I have no curiosity to know when, but I know it won’t take long. I want to die peacefully in bed without pain, with Maria by my side and without many friends, because death is not the time to mourn but to celebrate an end, a story. I’m very sorry for people who die alone or poorly monitored, it is dying many times in one. Dying without the other is like leaving alone. The look of the other is what makes you live and rest in peace. Ideally I could die on my bed and painlessly, taking a cold sake, a good Portuguese wine or a cold beer.

Love you forever,

Betinho,

Itatiaia, January 1997