Being a celebrant or minister means dealing with circumstances of death as well as the celebrations in life. It can be difficult to come out of our human selves and see a greater meaning in the loss of a loved one. Mourning is a process and the more one confronts their feelings about it, the closer you get to accepting it as a part of life. But, that is easier said than done.
When my grandmother died last year I had to fly from New York to California for the funeral. There was no wake or viewing. Simply a burial, funeral ceremony at the church and a reception. I was taken aback to discover I wouldn’t see my Abuelita again, not even a glimpse at the shell she carried for over 80 years. I traveled across the country to watch a box be placed in the ground. I accepted the circumstances, the decisions that were made, placed my first juzu beads on her casket and said goodbye for the second time.
The first time I said goodbye was maybe two months prior. I knew she was dying for the last year, however my family found out she had pancreatic cancer in her last months. I called the hospital room and was warned she was on drugs for her discomfort. She was already senile so I didn’t expect a difference. I told her how much I love her and that I didn’t want her to suffer, so she could go, we would all be OK.
She said she wasn’t ready.
I don’t expect everyone who is aware they are dying to have an ah-ha moment right at the end. Still, I realized that despite what either of us wanted, goodbye and see you soon would have to do.
That’s why departures are important. How you leave a situation can have lasting impact. I’m grateful that my last interaction with my colleague, Elisia Cabrera-Young, was full of whispers and black girl laughter. She told me to keep in touch over the summer since we weren’t working together anymore. Later Sis!
Today I will attend her wake and chant for her. Chant for her to be always happy and let life abound for her three sons. Her sons are so different from each other. I think it’s amazing to see such different reflections of a woman in the children she created and cared for deeply. I respected her for the way she loved her sons and never gave up on them.
She impacted many lives as a guidance counselor, to say the least. She was a role model for all black women, not just the students. She reciprocated respect and made the stress look so easy to carry.
Afro-Latina. Elisia was never shy about being black and Puerto Rican. She was proud and I think she secretly enjoyed confusing people. We had this in common. What is uncommon is the way she touch so many lives with the truest part of herself: her heart.
The room was packed. No, it was overflowing with so many people who knew her love. Her eldest son told me he was happy to have seen me and his mom laughing the last time we saw one another. He noticed the moment I will carry with me through this process. Her middle child said he hasn’t cried yet, has to be strong for his grandmother. I told him that he will cry and when he does it will be fine and he will deserve every moment of it. When I finally saw the youngest, the biggest of her boys, I just hugged him. He’s so gigantic in comparison I don’t think he would have heard me.
Many people spoke, some of our former students stood up to share their memories of her. She saved lives. She helped our young women learn to forgive and love themselves. They were introduced to the idea of self-care. She helped our young men do this to, as evidenced by their ability to articulate the impact her loving kindness had on them. She truly served in lieu of parents… She was a mother to them all.
Her former colleagues were called to the front, forming a semi circle around her boys. The pastor shared some words as he asked that we raise our hand in protection and praise of her children. One woman kissed each young man. Others shook their hands. Still some didn’t move after the pastor spoke.
I had already bowed to Elisia, but it was what her sons needed now. I stood in front of each one of them, youngest to oldest, and bowed. I said “I honor you.”
I honor you
I honor you
I honor you
Ms. Young, my sister, was 47 when she suffered a stroke during surgery for an aneurysm.
When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.