Jamie’s Letters & Artwork

Journey of a Friend:

Jamie’s Letters and Artwork –

March 1986 through June 1987

Twenty-five years ago this June 30th, Jamie Heston passed away from AIDS at age 35.  In an era before email or facebook or blogging he shared the year and a half long journey of his illness through letters, artwork, and music with family and friends.

Jamie was hopeful, reflective and very human as he dealt with the tremendous unknowns about treating and living with AIDS in 1987.  Beyond the specifics of AIDS, his experiences are perhaps universal to anyone who is facing their mortality much too soon.

If you knew Jamie, you will recognize his personality right away in these letters.  If you didn’t know him you may be moved by his humanity.

Hopefully this blog will expand as other friends and family find their own photos, letters, and art that Jamie shared with them.  If you have any such items that you’re willing to share, please let us know.

This blog is dedicated to Jamie’s brother Jeff, his sister Jan, and their families and for Jamie’s friends.



March 11, 1986


(Postmarked Kalamazoo, MI)


joan – a late greeting for your birthday! i was detained in the hospital so was unable to attend to amenities.  i have developed a case of pneumonia with further complications.  i’m home now and back to work.

my new address is:

525 Axtell St., #2

Kalamazoo, 49008-1301


i hope all is well with you and your family.  Please keep in touch.

love- jamie


March 20, 1986


(Kalamazoo, MI)

3/20 the first day of spring.


your call last week and your card of saturday  were really appreciated and made my day.  as i have always wanted to keep in touch with you – what’s up or not, the moves, the breakups – i felt impelled to share my current health developments with you too.  you’re right – there are so many things we have yet to say and i do hope i have the opportunity to sit with you and at least have a chance to brush over old times and catch up on the new.

as far as “cues” go…i’ll always be more than happy to talk to you about anything. I have no hesitation in answering questions regarding my condition.  in fact, dealing with it head-on is much better. also, i need to know that there is interest and concern in the disease.  it’s  called awareness and education, and where i can help i will.

when i spoke to you i was a bit under the weather. as it turned out i was having a reaction to medication which manifest itself as elevated temperature and a wild rash all over.  so no work all weekend.  wouldn’t  you love a drink made and served to you by a rock lobster!? and as it happens (re: work) i am now an unemployed person.  certainly not by my choice.  rationale: can we depend on you?  you know one day here the next 3 not.  the doctor says if it’s a case of disease-phobia he’ll call them, but that’s not the matter. he thinks maybe i started back too soon and there was no way to foresee my having the drug reaction. other than that i’m feeling pretty good again and if i’m not working i’ll have a chance to get into my artwork. kalamazoo has so many fantastic buildings to draw!

well, my sweet, thank you again for your thoughts and do call again if you like – i can still hear and feel the love in your heart & voice.

my long distance dialing finger i think i’ll wrap in a blanket so it will be more difficult to push the buttons.  finances being as they are! (i’ve put myself in debt about $12k with this last hospital stay!).  all my love – jamie

p.s. my best to bill & the kids


April 27, 1986

4/27 (1986)


i shocked myself this morning! woke up, had coffee, showered & dressed (nothing unusual – or flamboyant) and went to church!

your letter arrived with the photos! thanks. It was great to see the whole family.  i got to digging through the old box of yesterday to find something to send you – wondering if doing so would upset the “apple cart”, so to speak.  i did decide to get copies of the rap line party for you.  you will die! (from amazement).  even these pictures are 2 years old.

joanie – i’m afraid you give me too much credit. re: being civilized. well i thought i was coping & accepting the whole situation with grace & ease.  lately i realize that i’m not.  hence church this a.m.  one of the ministers came up to me after the service to ask if i was alright.  i must look pretty obviously upset.  he gave me his card and i’ll go talk to him this week.  i need to talk to somebody!  kalamazoo is great but it does lack some psych-socio amenities, especially for me right now.

oh well – enough self-indulgence.  good things are brewing too.  jeff – (little jeff) is getting married! on may 18.  i only wish i knew where my pink velvet suit was hiding!

i took time out for dinner… chicken w/garlic & mushrooms. au gratin potatoes. cold beet salad.  it is sooo hard to cook for one.  not hard – just boring.  It was delicious.

well, my dear, this letter hardly seems finished but i’m sending it now anyway. more will come later.

enjoy the pictures.  my love to you…and bill & the children.





May 31, 1986


here’s another of my famous three sentence notes.

the move went smoothly. dad came up and helped on saturday.   we had a pleasant ride back. joanie, you wouldn’t believe but dad and i are finally friends!

somehow i succeeded (?) in getting a phone. i am relieved to have it.  it makes it seem that the world is more accessible.  here’s the number…(313)464-8692.

mother is still out east until the 14th. that gives me a chance to get resettled and clean before she returns.

i hope everything is well with you.  give my best to bill and the kidlets.




June 15, 1986


Sunday 6/15 (1986)

joanie – as always your letter arrives welcome.  i am glad to know that i will see you one way or another this summer.  i realize there is a certain strain on you and bill in working out logistics. of course, joan, you are most welcome here if the turn of events presents itself that way.  please feel welcome.

i spent an hour or so with jack hooper on friday.  some basic friend to friend chit-chat and then some heavy stuff.  anger, guilt…you know, all the shit i thought i was above. at least we got to a point of recognition, and on to the next step.

mother returned from connecticut yesterday and we have so much to attend to. yikes!

mostly i’ve been feeling okay.  a few temperatures and wearing out easily…i spend most of my time in bed.  i think i’ll take up my artwork again.

see you soon-

love – Jamie


June 30, 1986


(Postmarked June 30, 1986 from Livonia, Michigan)

joanie –

just a note to say hi.  i’m thinking of you.  you must have your hands full with summer here and 2 beat-feeters more at large.

things here are good.  i hope your coming to michigan is still in the works! looking forward to seeing you.

love – Jamie


July 15, 1986




just a note to say hello.

things are going along.  my “award” finally arrived from social security disability – so i can relax a bit better now.

jim monroe is in town from phoenix. a nice visit.  we’ve known each other 21 years!

i hope you are well and that summer is treating you well.

the picture is supposed to be the aztec ocelot – but it looks like a fried egg on the back of a man-eating turkey.

love, – jamie


August 13, 1986



your letter arrived today.  thank you.  the manuscript was very touching, it made me a bit weepy. (not a bad thing or neg. comment). it pointed out to me that i haven’t given up the ghost yet and that i am still a “doing & productive person.”  thank you for sharing it.

i’m laying on my bed, immersed in sunlight and listening to vivaldi’s “four seasons” as i write you.  spring is so naïve.

i think i mentioned going to FAAC to talk to someone.  the man, steve campbell, is so wonderful.  extremely nice.  he has helped me a lot to unravel (sp.) creatively.

i am pleased to hear that you’ve broken away from a job that caused you upset and found something calming for yourself.  the vision of you washing windows by moonlight is delightful.

you will find photos in this envelope.  i hope they give you joy and good remembrances.

all is going along well here.  health seems to be continuing.  mother is doing very well.  she has stopped drinking, which gives me a lot of peace.  i hope she can continue on this path.  i’ m trying to give her all the support i can.

well, my dear – do take care and give my love to bill and the children.  it goes out to you without saying.  love – jamie


September 13, 1986

As Jamie mentioned in the above letter, he asked friend Pharen Knabl Johnson to help him.  Many years later, in January of 2012, Pharen wrote this recollection of their times together:
“Today, I woke up thinking about Jamie Heston. We were always good friends in high school, but I spent more time with him in the months before he died. I remember him calling me at work (St. Joe’s) and telling me he had Aids, and asking me if I would help take care of him. When he was still able, we  liked to go out for lunch. One of Jamie’s favorite restaurants was a little place in Plymouth, that… had a train running near the ceiling. When he was much sicker, one of his favorite things for me to bring him was bubble bath. Sometimes, the only place he was comfortable was in the tub. We read poetry, discussed great books, listened to music, sang show tunes and listened to opera, agreeing that our favorite was Madam Butterfly. A dear gentle, sweet soul, so full of life and love. I am a richer person for having the privilige of a wonderful friendship with Jamie. He has been gone over 20 years, but still in our hearts. I miss my friend.”


November 1, 1986

In the Fall of 1986 Jamie hand-transcribed a favorite piece of music – Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, by Johann Sebastian Bach.


rob  ober and i discovered this music last fall and i wanted to share it with you.

paul halley is the organmaster at st. john the divine cathedral in new york.

one of my projects this fall was making magic wands…and i send one along to you.  i’ve given one to my doctor and said “when all else fails get ‘em with the wand”.

hoping all is well with you and the family.

we had super holidays. my  whole family was here.

well joan – take care and much love –  Jamie


February 12, 1987


(February 1987)


so happy valentine’s day.  i hope your household is healthy and full of love!  it’s been a while since we’ve had correspondence or conversation.  i suppose you had quite a bout with snow last month, we did but not nearly what i’d heard the east coast had.  the closer it gets to spring and warmer climes the more i look forward to seeing my 200 tulips, crocus’, & hyacinths blooming.  not to forget the iris and poppies and other perrenials (sp?) i have put in a couple of years ago.  there are shasta daisies, coreopsis, lavender, delphinium, african daisies, purple spikes.  once it gets warm i’ll put in a bed of annuals for filler.  i found snapdragons great ‘cause they “bush” out and tend to keep the weeds down.

everything is doing well here.  healthwise i’m feeling good.  i’m gaining weight – up to 125# from 120# and my mind is perky.  who knows, i just might beat this!

we’ve had another nibble on selling this place.  it is inevitable and i’d really prefer to move when it’s warm.  i have mom considering a double-wide mobile home, as well as other options.  i really think a mobile home could be quite comfortable for the two of us and puppy.  puppy is about 4½ years old and is a lhasa apso, and she “lubs” me!

mother is doing well.  her job helps give her a little more independence ‘cause of the money and she likes what she’s doing.  this job is cooking 3 days a week for a family in birmingham.

joanie, is everything okay with you?  your health? your mind and spirit?  i just am concerned for you so i hope everything is alright.  i know it’s hard sometimes to keep up communication when you have a life as full as yours. what, with 2 children and a husband and a job it’s a bit taxing.  and please – i am not chastising you.  just take care and let me know you are okay every now & then.

again, happy valentine’s day!

love jamie


February 20, 1987



well, it’s that time of year again when we are opportuned to reflect on what has gone by us and then speculate the things to come.  hopefully we grow, from year to year, in our understanding of who we are and the world around us, and just what love is and how everything is passively held in its spell.

this is a birthday card and a card  to thank you for all the years i have known you.  your support and softness have been a comfort.

there are only good thoughts and wishes coming from here, and hopes that your birthday brings joy!

as always, love




thank you for the tape!

yes, bach still holds a place in my heart.

take care – soon-



April 8, 1987




how you doing?

i guess you won’t be able to make it to see these two classics.  i just wanted to send you the blurb anyway. i(t) seems that the command is screwed up the way they wrote it.  i think it’s supposed to be:


i figured you would know.  all’s well here as i hope with you.   take care-





i was looking through old negatives and thought you might like this.

remember kathy?  well she was up from phoenix for a few days and we had a nice visit.

i’m doing well.  feeling stronger and getting back together mentally.  it seems that it takes twice as long as usual to repair.

i hope all is well with you.  give my love to bill and the kids.

love – Jamie



joanie –

just a note to say “hi-dee-do” and that we’re finally beginning to have spring.  we still haven’t closed the deal on the house so we are somewhat in limbo as to what we can do.  i’ve been feeling really well except for the nerve loss in my feet and calves.  slow moving.

well, my best to bill & the kids.

love – Jamie


(April 15, 1987)


here i go with one of my “just-a-note” notes.  i realize it’s only been a couple days, soooo what could be news.  pull back into your memory department, oh, say a couple of months.

you know that i have been in contact with maria s., who by the by asks about you.  we have been doing some work with “absent healing”, as well as physical therapy, which has been very interesting by the focusing of energies.  we set aside some time (i.e., an hour), she in royal oak and i at home.

well, anyway in the course of doing these things we have a chance to talk about all sorts of things – sublime or ridiculous.  now for your powers of recall.  we had talked about toronto and ah…toronto.

well, maria shocked me!  she said she had been in recent contact with dale r.! and if you kind of like to have his address and phone number – here they are.



well, my dear, that’s all the news fit to print at this time.  so give my love to “billie-boy” and kidlets.

and love to you- jamie


April 22, 1987

[Jamie and I worked as medication technicians at a nursing home in Novi, Michigan in the early 1970s.  One of the residents there, who had dementia, walked the halls all day long with pennies in his hand, pouring them from one hand to the other and chanting “Back here again.”.]



“back here again…”


This was Jamie’s last letter to me.  As he got weaker it was easier for him to telephone rather than write.  He last phoned me on June 25 but I was at work so he left a message with my daughter.  When I returned his call he was too weak to talk. His mother, Jean, phoned me June 30, 1987 and said simply “Our Jamie is gone.”.


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