Mother dying of AIDS struggles to find home for son

January 05, 1993|By Joanne Wasserman | Joanne Wasserman,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- Late at night, with her son sleeping, Rosemary Holmstrom gently closed the double doors between her room and his.

With the television on for distraction, she dumped an envelope filled with hundreds of letters on her bed and began the journey that she both fears and desperately wants.

Ms. Holmstrom, a Brooklyn woman dying of AIDS who is searching for a home for her 8-year-old son, C. J., read the words she hopes will give him a future:

"My heart goes out to you . . ." "We have been wanting to adopt a child . . ." "There is so much to be grateful for, but loving and caring for a child would be the ultimate."

Two weeks ago, Ms. Holmstrom, 34, told her story to the New York Daily News. The story later appeared in newspapers around the country, including The Sun.

HIV-positive since 1986, Ms. Holmstrom is growing weaker from AIDS and is racing to find a home for C. J. before she dies.

Estranged from her family and wary of the foster care system, Ms. Holmstrom has launched the search on her own, looking for special people who will love the boy as much as she.

Ms. Holmstrom has also put another condition on whom she will choose to adopt C. J.: She wants to get to know them and them to know her "so they can pass on who I am to my son."

Hundreds of people have responded to her request with poignant letters.

Many are filled with revealing details from people intent on impressing Ms. Holmstrom with their openness. Some are written on handsome note cards. One is a brief note on an index card. Many offer hope through religion. Several letters are accompanied by family snapshots.

"They made me very hopeful and very sad," said Ms. Holmstrom. "I didn't feel alone anymore."

Going public with her search for a family for her son has been "overwhelming" and "exhausting," she said. Ms. Holmstrom's phone rings almost nonstop with offers to appear on television shows. Federal Express packages arrive in the mail. Friends check in constantly.

But not everyone has been kind. Because of the publicity, C. J. has been teased and shunned at school by other children. The boy has announced he does not want to go back to class.

A friend told her that another woman in the neighborhood planned to have her son tested because, " 'my boy used to play with C. J., and what about blood?' "

"Doesn't anyone listen?," said a distraught Ms. Holmstrom. "C.J. doesn't have AIDS." The boy has tested HIV-negative four times.

But mother and son have yet to confront what Ms. Holmstrom calls "the initial issue of my going" -- her death.

Concerned about the impact on C. J. of what has been happening, Ms. Holmstrom has begun the selection process in secret.

She and a friend began sorting through the letters. "We looked at the pictures. I was impressed by the pictures. I get to see what people look like. It seemed honest and sincere."

Still, she is overwhelmed by what she is doing, and what happens next is murky. She said she must "categorize the letters -- I have to find some way to sort them out: single parents, couples, gay, straight."

She said friends have offered to help sort through the letters, which continue to come to a Staten Island post office box.

Anyone wishing to contact Rosemary Holmstrom can write to her at P.O. Box 677, Staten Island, N.Y., 10304.

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