On Death and Dying

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MJTheEssentialMichaelJackson

“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

My best friend thinks she has my number.  She believes that I have profound issues with death and that it is something that I fear or cannot handle.  The truth of the matter is that I’ve seen death up close several times because I’ve worked in nursing homes and hospitals.  I’ve held the hands of the sick and dying, washed down their lifeless bodies, and prayed for their souls to be welcomed into the embrace of the Father. I posses a healthy respect for death’s inevitable finality.  We all walk this earth in the knowledge that today could be the last day of our lives.  However, the longer we live, the longer we expect to live and we go through the motions of life forgetting to actually live for today.

What I can confess to is a vulnerability to anything that reminds me of my favorite Uncle who was taken from us a few days before his 52nd birthday.   His wisdom and guidance helped compensate for the absent father that has thankfully re-entered my life.  He shared so much of himself with me. It’s humbling to look back on it now.  His hulking presence gave me a healthy respect for authority and kept me on the straight and narrow.  In the last days of his life, before pancreatic cancer manifested itself, he drew me closer and imparted all of the wisdom of a rich but unfinished life. There was so much living yet to do

As the realization of death’s approaching advance came crashing down on him, he spent almost all of the service connected benefits he fought 30 years to obtain as if it would give him more time.  When he finally told me his terminal diagnosis, I cried for weeks.

Part of me believes that Michael Jackson was trapped in that cycle because of the way he lived cocooned in the protective amber of secrecy and wealth.  His physical pain, whether real or imagined, was one distraction in a long list of distractions that rendered him helpless in dealing with the cause of his emotional pain.   His profligate spending, which was the conscious manifestation of a burning desire to help others, almost seems like my Uncle Jim’s subconscious bargaining with God for more time.

Michael’s death brings all of that back for me and it is a painful reminder that I need to deal with my own bullshit so that I can be free to live whatever life God has planned for me in all of its fullness.  I refuse to be a prisoner of other people’s expectations or of my own insecurities because tomorrow is not promised.

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Fathers and Sons

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I first saw this photograph when rikyrah used it on Jack and Jill Politics and it disoriented me and I didn’t understand why until today.   I could appreciate the beauty of this photograph without being able to connect with the emotions the photo evokes.  The look on this little boy’s face is angelic and blissful.   The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I don’t remember my father holding me, embracing me, touching me, or loving me.

My parents divorced over 30 years ago.  To put it succinctly, they were estranged.  My parents were typical high school sweethearts and after graduation, they found themselves expecting a little bundle of unexpected joy.  Married to the sound of a shotgun, their union quickly disintegrated.  The breakup occurred one day after Daddy came home from work and Momma had no food prepared.  It became physical and Daddy told his pregnant bride that she was stupid and that he had fallen out of love with her in the span of their three week-old marriage.  He put her out of the apartment and told her never to come back.

Momma wandered the streets in tears for two days before she swallowed her pride and called her parents.

I have only two memories of my father during my childhood because I only saw him twice.   When I was four, Daddy asked Momma to take him back.  He took us to the state fair and it was the only time that I remember feeling whole, complete, total.   We had a great time and the single photograph of me at the fair was lost in a fire over twenty years ago, but I remember it because I feel the same as the boy in this photo.

My father is the most intelligent man I know and his physical presence makes an impression.   His commanding voice and magnetic gaze are intimidating.   Momma withstood it all, thanked him for a wonderful evening and asked for a divorce.

The last time I saw Daddy was in the grocery store.  I was all dressed up for Easter in a suit that Momma made.  I strutted my stuff.  I couldn’t have been more than five.  It was the last time my parents spoke until I was 19 and I briefly went to live with him.

My grandfather picked me up daily from school until I was old enough to hoof it on my own.   I saw him everyday.  He was there for me providing a gentle and quiet example.  He wasn’t demonstrative though and I don’t recall hugs and kisses being his thing.  I know he loved me and after his death I wore his clothes and used his Old Spice so that I wouldn’t forget his smell.

Don’t get me wrong, I grew up with love.  I grew up with unconditional love.  The Father blessed me with a wonderful Momma and grandparents who nurtured and cared for me.   But being surrounded by the children of the white middle class, I felt damaged and incomplete.   Some of that is a function of race and class and some is because of Daddy’s estrangement.  It occurs to me as I write this how much I needed my father’s love and how the absence of his love played into my self esteem and insecurities as a grown ass man.  I am so blessed to have Daddy in my life now.

Barack Obama never got the chance to reconnect with his Daddy the way that I did.  He understands what I’m feeling and he decided that his children would never know what this feels like.  This photo speaks to me because it shows a Black man unafraid to embrace himself and Black men in all of their complexity and love them. Despite the skepticism I am always expressing about Senator Obama, and will invariably express again, I will push it aside and vote for him.

To my brothas who have sons:

embrace them,

hold them,

make them feel safe in your arms and comfortable in your presence,

and love them unconditionally.

 

I love you, Daddy