Yesterday was a beautiful day. I went home to celebrate the homegoing of one of my oldest family members, Cousin Jack, my Grandmother’s first cousin. What a blessing is it to experience 96 years of life! Always a smile on his face unless he was ready to go or annoyed. He & Grandma can catch up in Heaven now. I remember her telling stories of them growing up together & yelling at each other across the creek. I imagine little kids: “Hey Jack!, Hey Chris!” When you’ve been family for 90+ years, you literally know almost everything about a person. Every piece of dirt on them. Every accomplishment. Every heartbreak. Every moment of triumph and moment of defeat. Every first and every last.
The children of two brothers: One having all boys; One having all girls. Growing up together in rural Sparta, Georgia. What they must have experienced growing up in a time where being Black could be a death sentence. Before cars. Before microwaves & television. Before lynching was frowned upon. Before civil rights. When all you had was what you grew or made yourself. When greetings were: “Yes mam.” “No mam.” “Yes sir” and “No sir.” Before social media. When social media was hanging out on the porch. Before mega churches. When you attended the Baptist Church your parents attended and their parents attended because that’s just what you did. Before vegetarian or pescatarian was a thing. When organic meant you grew it in your garden or killed it/skinned it/cooked it all at home. They knew a different kind of strength than any I think I would have. A hardness and a softness at the same time. A matter of factness. They understood the importance of joy and none more so than when you experience pain. I can’t imagine. They watched the whole world change. They watched each other grow and change. Age yet remain the same.
He would come to visit my Grandmother when she became ill. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We knew she didn’t have long. She knew she didn’t have long. He knew too. It was a short turnaround between her diagnosis and her passing. When she got home from the hospital, we just wanted to make her as comfortable as possible. She had an influx of visitors. Sooo many visitors. Way past driving age although known to be caught driving in the early part of his 90’s, his nephew would drive him around. I saw the truck pull up…and always in the same spot. Left side of the front yard right up under the pecan tree. Coming to see Grandma. He had been coming every other day. He would come in and pull his chair up right beside hers on this day. (It was actually in the middle of the doorway) We just went around. She was not feeling well that day. She was pretty much unresponsive. In sedation from either the medicine or from the pain. Her body was tired and so was she and so she rested. He would talk into her ear. He held her hand. He told jokes to her. There were times when he would just stare at her…He did whatever he could to let her know he was there and that he loved her. The kind of thing that brought tears to your eyes. I know she could hear him. I hoped she could hear him. Although she wasn’t able to respond, I hoped she could. You could see him trying to put on a happy front. He was this very positive, lively, jovial man. But I saw…
There was a sadness in his eyes. A look of disappointment on his face. He knew his cousin, almost like a sister, was leaving this Earth soon. He could tell. And although he understood life and death, heaven and earth; The woman he’d known all of her life would be gone soon. I felt for him. I loved her more than I can explain. It was in that moment I saw how much someone else loved her and he had called genetic shotgun. 188 years between them. Amazing does it no justice.
I loved him for that. Loved him more for loving her. I’ll remember the man that gave the firm hugs and sugar. He, a humble man who loved his family and showed love to anyone he came in contact with. She, a humble woman who loved her family and showed loved to anyone she came in contact with. That’s how they were raised. Instilling in us that we are no better than anyone else and God loves everybody the same: rich, poor, pretty, ugly. The elders who sat at the head table at our big family gatherings and reunions, along with my Aunt Mae, now 96 herself.
Standing at the grave site surrounded by family members, I was aware of how powerful and important family bonds are. How those people you never chose are born into your life. Become a staple in your life. People you can’t imagine your life without. Knowing one day you will have to imagine your life without them because immortality is not real and one day they will transition. To heaven, the other place, or whatever afterlife you believe in. That that moment may be surreal. Knowing that even after life, we will see each other again. Because for eternity, we are still connected to one another. Some bonds are forever. Family.