I haven’t experienced very much death in my lifetime, death that severely affected my life. I had no experience of childhood wondering and confusion, no feelings of being harmfully ripped apart from a loved one without proper and practical brearings.
The first death that I was truly witness to, I was old enough to step up to a podium in front of the family and a room full of mourners and tell them the story that I knew of his life.
It was the first time that I realized how much else there was to him—so many other parts and facets that I just wasn’t privy to in this lifetime. And, I found out when it was too late for somethings, too late to ask him questions, too late to marvel at his genius advice, too late to understand much of his creativity and courage first hand.
But, it wasn't not too late to let his spirit and memory encourage and inspire me.
I sat at the funeral—dry. Trying to force emotions buried or, perhaps ones that I didn’t quite understand at the time. I had reveled in his time—understood his continued faith and acceptance of me despite my constant underestimation of my own power, despite my consistent failure to live up to my own standards. He still cared and loved me despite my inate ability to sabotage myself. Still cheered. Still supported. His words of support still keep my head up.
Your faith in others may not be fully understood and appreciated at first, but the energy that you provide them will always be felt.
The second time death approached, it was even more tragic and unexpected. I was unprepared, to say the least. I was selfish and long, and innoportune in my mourning. Unskilled and ungraceful, I would mourn in broken bits and pieces, lash out at those who loved me most, and could cry without logical provocation.
It was a mourning of regrets and second guesses and wishes. The first time I had witnessed how some Western death rituals can truly massacre the living memories of the person, yet at the same time bring us back together with people that will help patch them up again.
I was a mess of a person until I reached out, and tried to remember her memory and what she taught me:
-Work hard to build community. Everything else is futile
-The nucleus is always the one working to bring people together, not those creating drama to tear it apart
-You can do everything. WELL.
-What you don’t know can kill you, so maybe it’s best that you don’t know.
-hard work. Work hard. Hard play. Play hard.
Today I learned about the death of my grandma that I barely knew. We spent two weeks together in a small farm with only our energy and pigioen English to bridge us, which is to say, enough. When she saw me she would grab the sides of my cheeks and smile broadly and she was proud. She was so proud of what had came out of her stubborn and quiet child who coveted only his books, his silence, and his solitude.
I was quick to smile, but still in the grips of the shyness of adolescence. I wore the clothing of her village and ran among the boys with confidence.
I was already a photographer then, and I took many pictures of her. Her appearances always came out strong shapes of bending and stretching and smiling.
Pulling groundnuts from their earthy cradle, looking back between cornfields, trekking ground she knew and raised, gripping onto her offspring that hardly knew her. I should have written more often, perhaps sent postcards, thought of being more thoughtful than my father but, I am very much his daughter in many ways.
My throat choked immediately—lamented not putting fuerza into the only woman it seemed my dad loved unconditionally, eternally.
Here I was again in selfishness, jealousy, wanting to continue memories of this life on a farm. Wanting to herd goats and plant crops and learn outside of the bookish predilections I inherited. Wanting to learn how to bless her in her own tongue, to make her proud again. Really, I wanted to learn the life that my father left, and really know the life they say that I was privileged enough NOT to live.
In some ways death has always been wanting to celebrate something that I wish I knew completely.
This constant feeling of wanting to know, to understand, to be able to hold completely in my heart did stir me to try to get closer to my father. He, as many people of color throughout the diaspora, claims one religion but has a syncretic religious belief system.
He was raised with the spiritual beliefs in his village, but was taken to America by a missionary pastor, who later married him to his wife.
After I found out about the death of my grandmother I cried pathetically and without particular reason. It was as if I was losing future memories with a person that I had planned to live with in a time. In my head we would have connected again incredibly, living side by side on the farm, her teaching my hands only parched with paper turning and piano playing, to truly till the earth—to truly grow and cultivate a life.
After I talked to my Dad, I found myself feeling strangely childish and aware of my childishness in so many respects. I was thousands of miles away from my grandmother, another thousand from my family, and in a successive crisis of dilemmas and choices—my instincts were cloudy. Scrunching my knees to my chest I spoke softly into the phone.
‘papa, a dónde fue mi abuela caundo se murió?
It was in part to understand my father’s belief system, but it was partly a small girl’s plea for her father to put her on his shoulders so that she could see more clearly.
He started his answer with a profound sigh, much like he starts most sentences.
“I was brought up to believe that though death is sad, it is actually not a bad thing. Your ancestors become your intermediaries between you and your God”. So there was my grandmother, my uncle, cousins, and the host of other family members in Cameroon that had died without me being able to hold a conversation in their launguage, bridging me to the universal energy source, bridges built with their world view. So perhaps, now, I'm closer than ever to my Grammama..