I am used to losing the people I love most. When I was in the sixth grade, my grandmother died from a cancer-like disease. In less than a year she went from being the stern yet vibrant and nurturing matriarch of our family to a bedridden invalid trying to ward off death. Everyone in our family was devastated after her passing. For days, I secretly chided my mom, uncles, grandfather and other relatives for their sorrow. Didn’t they know that my grandmother, Josephine Forde, the pint-sized dynamo who evoked respect from local thugs, organized block parties and trips, and made sure I got the best from Sears could not be gone? The doctors made a mistake. So I waited. Every time the doorbell rang I’d run to the glass expecting to hear the news of the medical error. I anxiously awaited the time I’d see my Hershey chocolate complicated, 4’11”, cherub-faced caretaker wobbling down the long hallway of our home… yelling that she was alright. It never happened. My mom kept crying. My uncles looked distraught. My grandfather retreated to his room. That was my introduction to death. It was 1990. I was never the same. Four years later it was my grandpa’s turn. First, it was the bleeding. One night he went to the bathroom and called for assistance. An ambulance had to be called and he was taken to the hospital. I knew. Mind you, my grandpa, Louis Forde, wasn’t just a giant in my eyes — he was as respected as my grandmother was feared. He’d migrated from Panama, bought three houses, invented technological advances for automobiles, and was even in Harlem’s Schomberg Library. Still, what made my grandpa great was his wisdom and vision. There were always people lined up to come sit on his couch and talk about stocks, investments and life planning. Now he needed help. I knew what was next. Death wouldn’t fool me again. I was older, wiser and I had a plan. Every chance I had, I told my grandfather how much I loved him. When I brought him food. When I straightened up his room. When we sat and talked. Prayers, tears and fear did not matter; soon he too was gone. I understood death had its own agenda. Guess it’s easy to see why by the time my mother was diagnosed with cancer I knew death well. It was an unwelcome visitor in my home and heart. Though nothing has ever compared to loss of my mom, I was not surprised. I was trained in the art of dealing with death, loss and grief… maybe too well. On August 21, 2010 my cousin, Kevin Eugene O’Neil, lost his life in a scooter accident. He turned 25 years old the month before. When I got the call that he was in the hospital and learned how dire his circumstances were, I became numb. Here was death, again. Kevin was loved. Kevin exuded love. He adored family. In the days leading up to the funeral, I could not cry. I knew why and it scared me. I was so tired of being hurt, dealing with loss, and — yes I’ll say it — making sense of God’s divine time and letting go of man’s. It’s been too much. It’s turned off a part of me. You know what I’m talking about… that part of you that wants to roll up in a ball and bawl incessantly. Or that part of you that questions why your loved one and not the person who is “more deserving” has been taken. How about the part of you that wonders when it will be your turn? Each death I’ve experienced has eaten away at my ability to hurt, cry and agonize over loss… and that scares me. Today I am trying to balance how to manage loss without losing it. I realize that intellectualizing death serves a short-term purpose — at least for me. At some point I have to emotionally come to terms with the reality that another person I love is gone and be okay feeling that pain… and moving on. Losing my cousin reminded me of how sad life can be, but I am grateful that he was able to enjoy his time on earth. Kevin Eugene O’Neil had a great life. It is our duty to honor our loved ones by doing the same. Life after death is not easy. How do you cope with grieving the loss of a loved one?
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