Thursday, June 19, 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.


Berenice Nunez said...

fuI am amazed how often tragedy leads to triumph and clarity. Like Kanye West says "People never get the flowers while they could still smell 'em". Its times like the ones you just described that puts everything into perspective and makes our everyday bull***t seem so meaningless. But therein lies the purpose...We need these moments throughout life to help us live our lives fully and completely. To help us see what's truely important through the chaos.
I have also seen the face of death many times throughout my life and I feel you. Still, even though we all know that DEATH is inevitable and that our time will surely come so much of our life it wasted. We neglect out relationships and place value on the material not the spiritual, our priorities are twisted.
Thanks for the moment of clarity. You made me remember what is truely important in life. PEACE, LOVE, FAMILY, FRIENDS & HAPPINESS!

Anonymous said...

You tell the story well Miss Tina. I knew your grandmother and your mother. I like to believe that we were both family and friends. Your grandmother was a saint. And your mother, well, there simply are no words fine enough for her. Her spirit lives on within me, as I know it does within you. I can see both of them within you.


Tina said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I too agree death makes you appreciate life if you don't allow the loss to engulf you and make you bitter and/or depressed. For me, it has made me look at from a different perspective. Nothing is life is bad; it is a lesson and/or a blessing if we are willing to learn from the experience. We all have been place here to do a work that God has ordained for us. If we embrace it and underderstand that the relationships that we share and cultivate are what is remembered.

JuneBug said...

thanks for sharing something so personal. ironically. my extended family has been struck by tragedy recently. reading this is reaffirming everything i have been feeling. ironic. (or not) that I stumbled upon it today. anyway. thank you for sharing. it brought tears to my eyes.

Tina said...

Thanks Berenice, CM, and junebug for taking the time to read my essay and for sharing a comment on how you relate to what I wrote. I appreciate your thoughts and am likewise moved by your life affirming words. respect and love.

Anonymous said...

Hi my friend Tina,

It's amazing, I've known you for about 25 years now and we have shared so much. I remember your mom as I know you remember mine and they are both in heaven now. Maybe they are looking down on both of us as I am writing this email to you - I'm sure they are thankful we are still friends. You take care Tina. You've done so well for yourself with your husband and two sons. Family is the most important thing. Keep the faith, Sincerely, Sunita