When you think about the word, death or dying it usually makes you want to think of something less final. It's a subject that no one wants to touch. Especially when speaking about a loved one. We just don't want to do it. Even in scary movies when we know it will happen, we tend to either look on in fear or attempt to shield our eyes from the inevitable. I've always been afraid of it, although I've become more accepting in more recent years. It should be said that the acceptance I have is more reserved for the elderly. In saying that, there's no amount of preparedness that can get you ready to deal with the blow of someone you know dying unexpectedly.
For a time, I used to watch a show called American Horror Story and there was one season with a character that played the angel of death. She was beautiful; creamy skin, deep eyes with long pretty fingers. She wore all black and her massive wings were covered by the best shiny onyx feathers that looked like they were deep conditioned in Silicon Mix. They were large. So large in fact, that she could probably wrap herself and a few others in them. The only scary part of her showing up was that you would no longer be of the world as we know it. You'd become one of a new collective or who knows, maybe you'd be alone for a very long time. Does time even exist there? Once I saw that season it was hard for me not to envision her showing up whenever it was someone's turn to go, in real life. I imagined her gliding up to you wherever you happened to be and taking the most delicate of seats, looking you in your eyes knowingly, touching your shoulder and kissing you gently. Almost in a romantic way. You could hardly be afraid of that. The show was scary, but somehow she wasn't, even though she most definitely was indeed.
Almost two weeks ago, one of my cousins passed away unexpectedly. I was in my vehicle, on my way to Target for groceries when I got the news from my sister, via text. It stunned me. I sat still in my truck for about an hour. Time left me while I was in the parking lot facing the East River. The sun was so bright and I thought to myself that she was out there slipping away into the cold beautiful sun-filled late afternoon. I couldn't believe it. How did it happen? Did she know she was dying? Who was with her? All of these questions slowly bombarded me. Did she know what happened to her? Was she alone? Could she still see us or did she see the other souls that were leaving us on that day? Did they all look like the best versions of themselves, or did they look how they looked a second before the angel kissed them? Were they all confused and trying to hurry back? I didn't want her to be alone. My heart was heavy, but not too much, because there was nothing that could be done in this moment. So, I just sat back and digested that into my mind. She was gone and she left on a day of rest. I was calm and achy, but I was still here and so was she because I was thinking of her. I thought of nothing and everything all at once. I prayed with my eyes open and then closed, for her family, my family; the ones who had more memories with her than I. Surely, they were really hurting. I thought about how they felt as a group and individually. I ached some more. I thought about my siblings and my immediate family. I was grateful that we had a bond. I eventually shopped and I was grateful too for having a list or else I would have probably wondered around aimlessly. I got in, got out and took my feelings home and stayed to myself after making sure my sister was alright. They were closer than she and I. It was a greater loss for my sister for sure.
Last Saturday was my cousin's memorial. Just a day shy of a week after she was gone. It was near my home, in an old majestic church on Harlem's west side. It sat beautifully on the left of the street, across from a rather sizable cemetery. It was sunny again and I was pleased. Everything was all so peaceful. I found a parking spot immediately and didn't want to delay getting inside. Cars were double parked for the service directly out front. At ten minutes to 11 everyone gathered slowly and quickly at the same time. Faces I hadn't seen in a while were there, some key ones that loved her still were missing. I didn't make any calls in between now and last Sunday to anyone really and when I arrived I realized that it wasn't necessary. The feeling of welcome was so overwhelmingly good. I sat in an old polished pew. It was a brisk March day and the cold was sitting with us inside the chapel as well, but there was a sense of comfort and warmth from all the attendees. We were surrounded by us. Oddly, or not so much, there weren't any tears. Just pleasant faces that looked like they were done weeping for now. All that was left of my cousin, in this space, was a big photograph of her on an easel and an urn with her ashes. In the picture, she looked just the way I knew her to look; a coy smile, with her head tilted ever so slightly. She had a look of confidence that made me smile, because I never knew her to be any other way than that.
When the service started it was explained that it was wished to be a celebration of her life, not a time to mourn her passing. She wouldn't have wanted that. Everyone that went up to speak of her did it with strong shoulders and a smile. All except her youngest sister who just really couldn't help but be human and miss her deeply. It brought many silent tears to my eyes, because I was more close to her and I was sympathetic to her loss. However, overall it was a beautiful home-going. There were poems specifically crafted for her and her favorite gospel songs, prayers where we all (the entire sanctuary) held hands and prayed for her and us all. There was even a short sermon from her pastor. It was he that mentioned the transition. I thought, what an interesting way to put it. He spoke a while about life here on Earth and how it's not the final stop. It's just the beginning phase. Almost like we're passing through. I understood and it made grieving a little easier. I miss her, but something about this service and getting together made it better to bear. The best part of the service for me was when her oldest brother stood up to speak about her. He mentioned that he was blown away and that he wasted hours, after receiving the news, just sitting still at home. He was so shocked that he missed complete hours in that day. I understood that feeling. I thought about us all sitting in different spaces, wherever we were when we heard, sitting still while she transitioned into a new space leaving us all behind.
I learned a few things. First, even though death can be sudden and unexpected, it doesn't have to be harder than it already is after your loved one has passed on. Secondly, transition is an incredible substitute for a difficult word such as death. For passing on must happen to us all and we never know which side of the transition we will be on when it happens.
For my cousin, Daphne with L O V E