COPING WITH LOSS
It’s not easy. Never has been, never will be. I will say I am blessed to still have a lot of people around me, but sadly they have all experienced loss in their own way. This year more than ever, the world has experienced such deep losses. The coronavirus has taken so many relatives from us in such a brutal way, and we’ve lost such massive heroes like Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman. It really never gets any easier, but in a way it brings us closer together.
I am extremely lucky to say I still have my mom, dad, and brother. Because not everyone can say that. I do however feel like I had to comprehend death at a very young age, which has always made me look at life a little differently. Though most memories from my childhood are a little foggy, I will never forget the moments before and after I experienced each of these great losses. In September 2001, I had just started a new school and was finally starting 1st grade. It was a pretty pivotal moment in my life! Then a few days later one of the most tragic moments in U.S. history occurred. It was a pretty normal day, I remember I was heading to lunch and then my teacher told me that my dad had come to pick me up from school. I was obviously pretty confused and didn’t want to leave my friends, but my dad insisted that I go get my backpack ASAP and we zoomed home. I still had no idea what was going on, until we got home and turned on the news. Being that I was only six, I couldn’t exactly comprehend what I was watching. Of course, my parents explained to me in the best way they could, as did my teachers the following day. Now that I’m 25, I cannot even imagine having to explain something so traumatic to a group of first graders. What made matters worse, is that because we were all living in New York, several dads would travel back and forth from NYC and unfortunately a lot of them lost their lives. The older I got, the more people I met that’s families were effected by this tragic day. Though decades have passed, I’ll never forget that day, especially as a New Yorker.
Though my family was not effected directly by 9/11, the years after that were pretty tumultuous. My aunt was unfortunately very sick. She was always such a bright spot in our family. I was pretty young when she passed, but I’ve always heard such great stories about her and how she always kept everyone on their toes and always had them laughing. Sometimes my dad even says I remind him of her in certain ways. Once again, even though I don’t remember many personal stories between us, I remember exactly what happened when she passed. We were all in my grandmother’s house gathered as a family, sadly we were all aware that these would be her final moments. I remember my dad bringing my brother up to say goodbye, he was a baby, so of course the memory wouldn’t stick with him. But I remember once she finally passed, my mom removed me from the house so I could remember her at her best. We went on a drive and talked about everything that happened, and how unfortunate it was for my cousins to lose their mother at such young ages. Because my dad had previously experienced a loss of his own parent, he knew exactly what they were going through, and has always made sure to keep a watchful eye on them.
I never got to meet my dad’s dad. But I definitely have seen how it has effected him. My mom and dad had just started dating around the time that my grandfather passed. My dad was finally finding success in his field and was happy to be in a good place in his life. Before my grandfather passed, he and my dad weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye. My dad was away for business, but for some reason, my dad felt it in his heart to go back home and apologize to his father and let him know he’ll always love him no matter what issues come up. And soon after that, he passed away. Though all losses are deeply tragic in their own way, I can’t even imagine the grief he would’ve felt had he not made up with him. So that has always stuck with me.
A few years after my aunt passed, my great grandpa and grandpa were both battling cancer. A battle that they both sadly lost within the same year. At this point I was a little older, probably around 8 or 9. So I fully understood what was happening, but I didn’t quite understand why. It didn’t seem fair. These were supposed to be the best times of my life, spending holidays with my big family and making memories to cherish for years to come. But most of my memories of them are visiting them in the hospital. One of my fondest memories of my grandpa was watching the movie Daredevil, starring Ben Affleck. Gosh, that movie was so horrible. But it’s always had a special place in my heart because it’s one of the few moments we got to share before he passed. I actually have not watched that movie since then, because I feel like it will diminish the memory I have with my grandpa. I was learning how to play the piano at that time and was still too shy to play in front of anyone. He would always say one day he’ll get to hear me play. I would tease him and say “nope!”, when in reality I was practicing to make sure whatever I played would be perfect. But sadly, I never got to play for him. And It breaks me up every time I think about it. Though most might now see me as impulsive, because of how long I waited to play one little stupid song on the piano for my grandpa I’ve told myself that if I’m going to do something, I’m not going to waste time and hesitate.
Earlier that same year I lost my great grandpa. From as far back as I can remember, he needed an Electrolarynx to speak. So that’s how I remember his voice in my head. But from all of the stories I heard, he always spoke with purpose and didn’t give a shit whether or not he hurt your feelings. He didn’t have time for tears, not in some sort of strict or stern way. But in the sense that life keeps moving on, so you better take the punches now or never. I’m sure he would be disgusted by Millennials LOL. He was such an important part of my grandma’s life, she was a daddy’s girl. That affection even poured onto my mom. He was tough on them, but they were still his princesses. To have lost both of them in the same year seems unfathomable and unfair. I still don’t understand why, but just like he taught us, we moved on and cherished the time we had with them and still remember them fondly. I can’t speak on what my mom, grandma, and great grandma felt after losing a grandfather, father, and husband. But I know for me, it was a pretty dark time. I kind of felt like there was no point in building relationships if they were just going to be snatched away from me. So I became pretty closed off. But now that I’m older, I understand that isn’t the best method. When you open yourself to make positive memories, you’re able to remember those people in a positive light. And though they may not be there in spirit, the things they left behind can always serve as a guiding light.
By time I got to High School, I experienced losses in other ways. But not in terms of loss of life. High school is hard enough as it is. Everyone is trying to figure themselves out. I remember one kid in particular who was a few years older than me. He was right on track with his life. He was a superstar track athlete and an exceptional scholar. On top of that, he was super nice! I didn’t know him as well as my peers but he and I would always tease one another in the halls. I never really cared about being popular in high school, but it always made me feel good to know that he saw who I was. He didn’t have any ulterior motives, he was just a genuinely nice guy. At the high school I went to, the senior class is allowed to drive off campus to get lunch. Besides all the proms, and graduations, being able to drive off campus was one of the pivotal parts of becoming a senior. At the time, I was in 10th grade, I had just gotten my permit and was learning how to drive. I was excited to be able to drive off campus in two years too. Sadly this very same thing, we all look forward to eventually became something we feared. Because one day this same kind student and his friends were coming back from lunch and got in a car accident which resulted in his death. Once again, it didn’t feel fair. Why would someone with so much potential’s life be cut so short? This was also the first time I experienced someones death that was actually close to my age. I didn’t even want to learn drive anymore. I kept thinking, what is stopping the universe from choosing me next? I remember my dad taking me on a drive, and he took me to the exact spot that the tragic event occurred, letting me know that I would be okay. It helped, but I never used that route after that. Though everyone (especially his family) was grieving, the community was able to come together for once. Our school offered therapy and planned several memorials so we can highlight just how great he was. His brother actually was in our class, and at the time one of his favorite football teams was the Philadelphia Eagles. Our class all worked together to reach out to his favorite player, and it worked! He sent his condolences to our classmate, and though this didn’t change the issue at hand, it definitely made him feel as though he had a community behind him that cared and that he wasn’t alone in his grief. While writing this, I didn’t even realize how much time had passed. This tragic situation occurred almost 10 years ago. Though I’m not personally close with the family, I think about them pretty often and hope that they are doing OK.
When my parents, brother and I moved to California, I was afraid to leave some of my extended family behind. We were so far away, so if something happened we wouldn’t be able to get to them fast enough. Before we left, my great grandma was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This is a pretty common condition, but it’s never easy to see a loved one go through it. She was always such a sassy little lady who loved to bake and dress up. It was really hard to see her lose herself and not be able to do all the things she loved. I always loved going to her house to watch old TV shows like Match Game or Gilligan’s Island. She’s also one of the main reasons I love pop culture! She always had tons of magazines in her house and knew all of the celebrity gossip, she was TMZ before TMZ! I am so grateful I got to spend time with her. I would always brag to everyone that I had a great grandma! I mean how cool is that? I got to be a part of four generations of strong, confident, and well-rounded women. Speaking of well-rounded, I have her to thank for my curvy figure! After my great grandpa passed, she continued to get up and go to work well into her seventies. And that always inspired me. Having a strong work ethic is important, but especially as a black woman. Because I experienced so much loss in my life, I knew in the back of my mind that when we went to visit to the nursing home before we moved, it would be my last time seeing her. Everyday I would pray for her hoping that maybe things would get better, but I also prepared myself so I can be strong for my mom. I’ll never forget the day she passed, it was an average quiet day. My mom, brother and I were all in our own rooms doing our own thing. Then I suddenly heard a scream. My brother and I immediately ran out of our rooms and ran downstairs. We’re a pretty low key family, so we knew something bad had to have happened. I came downstairs to find my mom hysterically crying and she told us the bad news. Obviously I was distraught to hear this, but I switched gears and held on to my mom as tight as I could and made sure was able to grieve while I handled the situation. We called my dad and he raced home. I decided to stay back in California and take care of the house and bring my brother to and from school. I grieved in my own time, but what was more important to me was making sure that everyone else was OK. I made sure I continued to be strong and supportive just like my great grandma and great grandpa taught us.
Most recently the two losses I experienced were my dog Chuck, and our family dog Kobe. I’m sure most people wouldn’t consider the loss of a pet as great as the loss of a relative. But their deaths still leave a hole in your heart. Chuck was my first dog, he was the first thing I could say was “mine”. To be honest, because I was so young when I first got him, I didn’t exactly appreciate him. But once we moved out here he was all I really had. I didn’t have any friends, sure I had my family, but it’s not the same. His original owner was actually going to give him away because they didn’t want to take care of him. I had to beg, but eventually my parents let me take him home. Chuck was always pretty sickly, so I was forced to take extra care with him. After his first hospital visit, I would go to the vet everyday for hours. I would feed him and play music for him until visiting hours were over. He was always in and out of the vet and eventually he was tired, and I totally understood. He was a fighter, that’s why I named him Chuck, just like Chuck Norris. I remember when I said my goodbyes, I couldn’t handle seeing him hooked up to all sorts of tubes and wrapped up in casts. But once he heard my voice, he used all his power to stand up and even tried to jump into my arms. I felt like this was his way of letting me know he appreciated all that I did for him, and that he would be OK. Again, it didn’t feel fair. Chuck was only eight, which is so young for a dog to be so sickly. But I realize Chuck taught me everything I know about how to love, which is why Ozzy is so spoiled. I give Ozzy an excessive amount of attention, because you truly never know how long you have with them. Kobe on the other hand was with us for a while. He passed away during the quarantine. He was nearly 20 years old and was clearly not living the best quality of life. My family decided to put him down because it would’ve been unfair to force him to live a miserable life. Though we loved him dearly, we wanted him to be at peace.
All of the losses I have experienced have been heavy on my mind because it feels like this year has been filled with TOO many. Though we can’t get these people back, we have no choice but to move forward with the lessons they taught us. It’s also important to cherish these people while they’re here because we truly don’t know how much time we have with them. Just like Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman, both of their lives were cut short in the primes of their lives. But they made the best of it while they were here. When doing research for a new tattoo, the concept of “Danse Macabre” came up. This phrase, an allegory from the Middle Ages, basically means that no matter our situation in life, death unites us all. And it’s true, you can be in the prime of your life and it could be cut short or loved one can be taken away. Though it might sound cliche, this is exactly why it’s important to live everyday like it’s your last. I’m sure I’ve given my parents a few frights, but I can’t afford to look back on my life and say I didn’t get to cherish each day.