As I witnessed the image that I thought was God, I cried out hysterically, “Why him?”
A burning desire was in my throat and I felt suffocated by fear. Just then a hand touched me.
“Girl, wake up. You havin’ a bad dream.”
Grandma sat unsteadily on the edge of my bed and gingerly wiped the sweat from my brow. She slowly caressed my shoulder as my breathing slowed down. Just then the alarm went off. With that look in her eyes, I knew it was time.
My Uncle James was on my mind a lot. Being the only father figure I knew, he impacted me in so many ways. His jokes could give Bill Cosby a run for his money. When faced with the ball of adversity, Uncle James just picked up his bat like Jackie Robinson and cracked it into the atmosphere. So when he got news that he had “The Disease” he somehow knew that he would eventually strike out.
“Slow down girl! You gonna run us off the road.”
I came back to reality. On the long trip to Uncle James’ house, daydreaming was my brain break. Grandma volunteered to watch over Uncle James while his wife went to work. I agreed to drive her to and from his house. On my days off, I would watch their interaction. Grandma would sit next to him on the bed and talk to him, sing, pray and hold his hand. And she would look into his eyes the entire time. Most times, he was too weak to talk, but that didn’t bother Grandma because somehow she seemed to know what he was thinking.
“Time’s drawing near.”
“What do you mean?” I shifted in the driver’s seat.
“He won’t be with us much longer.”
“Don’t say that.” The urgency to get to Uncle James overtook me.
“Slow down, I said. Listen Angel, James is dying and we are gonna have to face it. You know, when he was little, I felt his hurt when he hit his head on the monkey bars at school. I called them before they could get me. Don’t ask me how. A mother just knows I guess.”
“But, if we pray for a cure, then God will answer our prayers. He can’t die this way. He’s got so much ahead of him to do. He‘s gotta see me graduate. He’s gotta walk me down the aisle. Who’s gonna do that if he’s gone?”
“Suffering is no way to live. Besides, there is no cure for his kind of cancer. And there won’t be one before he passes.”
“You are giving up on him.”
“Listen chile, sometimes you gotta stop praying for his life and start praying for his soul.”
The tears clouded my vision but I held on as I gripped the wheel and my pulse quickened.
I had to talk to him. Tell him the latest joke so he could laugh and return the favor. I glanced over at Grandma whose eyes were closed and she was smiling.
“Yes, baby. It’s alright. Go on now. Don’t be afraid.”
“Grandma! What’s wrong? Grandma.”
She opened her eyes that were moist and looked at me with a stare that was so familiar but strange. I abruptly pulled onto the shoulder.
Those eyes again.
“No, that’s not true!”
I put the car in gear and sped towards my Uncle’s house with Grandma begging me to slow down. Faster I went as I screeched into the driveway. I didn’t care that Grandma was trying to keep me in the car. Nor did I care that his wife tried to block my entrance into the room. I needed to talk to him one last time. Tell him a joke. Have him return the favor. As I faced his bed now serving as his cooling board, I looked into his face. His eyes locked onto me. That same familiar but strange look that Grandma had in the car. How could this be? I felt a chill run through me as I heaved and found it difficult to breathe. Then darkness overtook me.
The struggle to accept a loved one’s death can be overwhelming. I discovered that my selfish reasons for wanting my Uncle to stay around did nothing to keep him on this Earth. I also realized my own mortality. My grandma showed me that in cherishing the time you do have, by soul sharing, you have the strength to handle life and death. Through my grandma’s and my Uncle’s eyes I witnessed the unspoken love that existed between a mother and her son. Their souls were connected in this life and the next. I learned to accept death that day not as an end, but as a beginning.