Saturday, October 11, 2008

Death…and Life

Peace and blessings to all. As a media studies educator, I watch a lot of news, and often have it on while I’m working at home. I have also been following this election very closely and analyze the different media coverage of it. I had it on MSNBC last week when Tom Brokaw came on live and announced the death of Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert. I was quite shocked because I identified him with this election and have enjoyed his analysis on primary nights. Like many, I didn’t know him but still felt a loss. He always seemed to be smiling when he talked. Some call that spirit. I’ve been watching some of the memorials of him and finding the stories shared of a public figure to be quite personal and telling. I realized the essay I have wanted to write for years might be timely right now.

I’ve actually had many personal experiences with death. When I was a preteen, I lost my first close family members: my grandfather in Jamaica that I spent some summers with, and my uncle, who died of cancer while still very young in his thirties. My uncle actually lived with us for many of his last days so I saw what sickness and death looked like at a young age. And there would be others like Uncle Eric, Uncle Fitzie and Big Momma. So I learned at a pretty young age that death was a part of life. But it would be what I learned later that is important and what I want to write about now…how death taught me about life…

The most difficult time in my life was a two year period that started a year before I started graduate school (pursuing my Ph.D. in sociology). In the summer of 1997, we lost my grandmother to cancer. She was the matriarch of our family and it wasn’t clear then how many in the family would be able to go on without her. She was even raising an uncle’s two young children so their future was really insecure. We had her memorial service in Jamaica. As soon as we returned, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. This seemed impossible in timing and irony. How were we supposed to handle this blow? We were still reeling from the loss of grandma. But life went on and six months later, my other grandfather died. Now as I said, my family wasn’t new to death but this seemed like “too much” for one family at one time. We memorialized my grandfather in January of 1998 and had to move my mother and 17 year old brother out from Virginia to be with the bulk of the family in California later that summer because she was not going to survive her battle with cancer too much longer. My mother died in October 1998 with many of us by her bedside. She was only 54 and it had only been a little over a year since we had buried her mother and less than a year since we had buried her father. And for me, she was the one person before I got married and had kids that I knew I wouldn’t be able to live without…but I do…and almost ten years later…it’s never easy, but it is.

But our family tragedy doesn’t end there. Three months after we memorialized my mother, I got a call from a close family friend. It was a weekday morning in January 1999, and her voice was one I had become familiar with – tragedy had yet again struck. While walking to school, my two cousins (the ones my grandmother helped raise) had been hit by a car. Adam suffered leg injuries but Zondie was fatally wounded. My husband and I rushed from Irvine to San Diego to see her and hope and pray that when we got there, we would find Zondie okay. It seemed unreal and too cruel for anything else. Because we had already lost so much…and she was only twelve…and it was her birthday.

But she was brain dead and declared dead one day after her birthday. Her father donated her organs and because of that, others now live. And while that gave hope to others, how would our family deal with all this loss? In two words…we lived.

Death has taught me many things about life. Many we have heard before. Life is fragile and often too short. Tomorrow isn’t promised so take nothing for granted. Appreciate what you have and those in your life. No doubt my ability to deal with the loss of my mother at such a young age had more to do with my deepest gratitude with having such a beautiful soul for a mother and knowing that many in this world were not as blessed. Although we did not have as many years as I thought we would have, I was truly blessed to have her as my mother and her unconditional love and beautiful spirit provided me with a model to aspire to on how to live. Yes, death taught me how to live.

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