When my grandfather died I was nine years old; I was young but I wouldn’t say that I was too young to not really understand death. Actually, I probably understood it too well. My grandfather had been ill for quite sometime; he had a stroke that paralyzed him on the left side of his body, and while I do wish that wasn’t that case, because I don’t believe I got to know him— not as well as I would have liked to— but I did know that he was a very strong and prideful man. I spent a lot of time as a child thinking about the things I would’ve never gotten away with if he wasn’t bedridden. I can’t imagine what it was like for him to no longer be able to take care of us, let alone himself. I knew then that I’d never wish to be ill in that manner. I was saddened by having a grandfather who was confined to a bed in a room, unable to do the bare minimum for himself. He wasn’t even able to talk and ask others for help; just grunts of frustration. I felt so sorry for him and wanted nothing more but for him to be at peace.
I remember sitting on my mother’s bed with her and my sister, in our two bedroom apartment at Highland Enclave. At the time It had only been three years since we moved to Atlanta from Connecticut. At some point within those years our family had moved to Atlanta too, but for a more temporary period of time. I’m not sure exactly when they left and returned to Connecticut but I don’t think it was much longer after them settling back there that my mother, sister, and I were just happily in her bed— I say happily because, although very vaguely, I remember my mother laughing— then, the phone rung. I’m not sure if it’s just my recollection of how things happened but the ringing of the phone was accompanied by the most dispiriting aura. I was able to see the fear within my mother as she answered— honestly, I don’t believe whomever unfortunate enough to have had to call actually said anything, verbally, anyway— but my mother was so…… dismayed. For awhile she sat silently, as if her brain was trying to process what she had already so deeply felt. The dispiriting atmosphere quickly became sorrowful and as the call ended my moms sadness built up and it was followed by her tears. She tried her best to contain herself but her cries quickly turned into her weeping and achingly repeating “my daddy.” My sister was also crying at this point but the only thing I was able to do was rub their backs, trying to comfort them as best I can, and remind them that it’ll all be okay. I was sad, of course, but not like them and for awhile I felt guilty but at nine years old I didn’t understand what it was that I felt. I definitely didn’t understand my emotions enough to articulate them. I didn’t know how to say- I prefer his peace over his presence- so as a child I was convinced that I didn’t love my grandfather. I didn’t understand why there was a disconnect but I hated myself for it. Thankfully, as I matured I was able to gain a different understanding of love, life, and death. Coming to terms with death didn’t seem as complicated and I was thankful to no longer hold on to the sadness I felt within. I was grateful not to experience another death that hit so close to home for such a long time but I still always reminded myself that:
“Death is apart of life so be that as it may, I’ll never prefer the suffering of a loved one.”
I guess it never occurred to me that I might experience the death of a loved one in any way other than old age, or natural causes but on November 3rd, 2016, I got the most unexpected phone call I ever thought I’d get. Shani, my best friend of 10 years, called me and asked me if someone died— did someone die?— Imagine randomly receiving a call so vaguely frightening; I considered getting up out of my bed and counting the people in my household because of how bizarre the question was— I answered no but was very confused because she clearly knew something that I didn’t. I knew that her asking me was her way of telling me that someone I knew had died, and I guess me saying ‘no’ was my way of trying to avoid the inevitable. At the time it didn’t cross my mind that she had approached me so differently than any other time we’ve talked about the death of a former classmate because she knew that, for me, this wasn’t another classmate. -You sure?- her response left me so unsettled and at this point my anxiety peaked. My confusion left me and her on the phone talking in circles— idk DID someone die?— Eventually, she told me that she had been on Facebook and saw a status from a former classmate of ours that read RIP Bari. Instantly I felt a little relieved because I just knew that it couldn’t have been my Jabari. It was way to unbelievable to fathom. Bari? Not Jabari, not the Jabari I’ve known since middle school. I really couldn’t have imagined it being the same boy I shared endless memories with as we grew to be young adults. Not the Jabari I spoke to a few weeks ago about the next time I’d see him because it had been way too long. Couldn’t have been the same Jabari who, when I had nowhere to go, slept in a car with me in the dead of winter. I was genuinely convinced that I had no reason to be worried; he was way too good a person to no longer be here.
– He’s too loved too pure too genuine –
I confidently assured Shani that her concern for my Jabari was misplaced because ‘Jabari was just on snap somewhere lit for Halloween.’ My phone call with Shani ended and I needed to call Jabari and see what the hell was going on; he didn’t answer. I wouldn’t say that I was truly convinced but I was a lot less sure as I logged into Facebook to see if I could find the status Shani was referring to.
“NOOOOOO not my little brother😢 RIP BARI”
A picture of Jabari, my Jabari, followed that post made by his sister— I never knew that heartbreak could be more than a figure of speech—
I felt pain in ways I didn’t know were possible and for a while I was consumed by sadness. I can still feel the absence of his presence within the world.
A year ago today I lost a friend, a great friend. It was nothing like my first experience with death. I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t get to come to to terms or cope with reality. It wasn’t something I expected; I was barely able to believe it. It’s more than true that you hear about tragedies and empathize with others, but you never really imagine what it would be like to have a friend to call on one day and the next found out that he was taken, unjustly. I spent a lot of time this year trying to make sense of murder. Trying to understand what reason could be good enough to take a son, a brother, a uncle, a friend. Why cause someone this never ending agony of guilt. Today, more than ever I feel guilty that It’s been a year; a year in which I still took life for granted, made mistakes, and failed to appreciate being able to do anything my mind can think of. All the while he’s been gone. I can’t think of many people who might deserve to die but I can’t think of anyone more than Jabari who deserved to live. It’s been particularly hard for me to “move on” because this isn’t and will never be a situation I can accept. I’ll never be able to come to terms with death by murder and I’ll never be able to understand why good people are subjected to such a horrible ending. However, I’ve learned that I’ll have questions that’ll go unanswered and that is okay. Some answers will never suffice and some things just are. I found myself in a lot of situations this year that helped me learn to accept that life is just what you choose to take from the things that happen. Good and bad are just merely a perception and how you perceive things is a reflection of your insecurities. No one is anything more than how they choose to deal with how they feel, and right now I️ feel empty, confused and lost. I’ve been my worst self.
– Sade Elder
Shared with you today, written on November 3, 2017.