January 9, 2017, my life as I knew it ended on a cold evening in Fredericksburg, Virginia. My father was watching television in his family room when suddenly, he experienced a fatal heart attack. However, 12 minutes later, he miraculously “came back'” but was put into a medically induced coma. In February, my mother had to make the difficult decision to “release” him.
My father’s death was one of the darkest moments in my life, and if any of you have experienced the sudden loss of a parent, you too may understand the darkness that I’m speaking about. It’s a shock wave that starts as a big bang. Next, the wave vibrates up from the bottom of your feet AND down from the top head, simultaneously, until it rattles your heart, exploding it into tiny pieces. Meanwhile, the rest of your body and consciousness moves at full speed. It’s quite a painful experience. If my father’s death was this painful for me, I imagine that it would have been undeniably excruciating for my mother. 50 years with the same lover is a really… long… time… Memories of courting, then marriage, children, family, life’s complexities and triumphs and secrets are all gone at the flick of God’s switch.
My mother seemed to manage my father’s passing, as well as any strong Black Southern women of character, would—with her head held high, the love of God burning her heart while walking with the courage and strength of Rosa Parks. However, I could see and feel her real emotions, and about a month after my father’s death, I watched my mother topple emotionally. Caught up in the rapture of loss, my mother cleared out almost every material thing my dad owned. By nature, my mom is a cleaner and an organizer. So if her husband wasn’t going to be around to use any of his things, it had to go—all of it. Had I realized the level of sanitation she was conducting, I would have snuck something that belonged to my father from their home—an undershirt, a sock, his glasses, or the pad of paper he wrote his grocery list on. Anything from his day-to-day life would have gladly been received by me. I did, however, manage to nab his box of probiotics, “Pearls Complete,” that was purchased days before he passed. I cried with joy when I found them. However, to her credit, about a few months later, my mother did give me a lapel pin off of his boating jacket, a few Black Panther comic books from the 60s and 70s, and his money clip.
Anyway, as time passed that year, I became depressed, and my heart inked with darkness for the desire to talk to my father. I was confused with my reaction because I was lucky enough to speak to him hours before his heart attack. Dad and I always had a bi-weekly phone call. However, this call was much different than our usual father/daughter talks; this talk was more like a goodbye. I remember telling him that if he was ready to “get his angel wings,” it was okay and that I’d come to hold his hand as God attached them. I don’t know what made me express those words to my father, but four hours later, he was gone… I felt like my dad was “released” of his fatherly duties for a reason, and I was determined to find out why. My gut told me there was an explanation, and my gut is always right—except when I drink milk. I’m glad I had that box of probiotics!
Many people said that my determination to find out why my dad died when he did was useless. “What is there to find out?” they’d asked. “He died, life moves on, and the circle of life continues.” They told me that I was grieving and should give the process some time. I refused because something was gnawing at my soul. I knew there was something more to my father’s death. Unfortunately, the more I tried to process my feelings, the more darkness crept. So, instead of giving in to this negative vibration, I decided to create a Jackson Family tree. Maybe this project would help me heal, so I signed up for my free account on Ancestry.com and began my research. Building this tree was a fun and rewarding outlet, and I felt connected talking to family, finding documents, photos, and remembering great childhood moments. The darkness began to fade.
In December 2017, I attended a conference for work. My brother, Jermaine, called to tell me he was gifted a DNA kit and that he found more family members to add to our Jackson tree. Oh! This information was juicy, and I was amazed that his DNA could connect him to many relatives. He also told me that his DNA detected his African lineage. “What?” I said to myself. I wanted to know my African descent! Clearly, because of the significant difference in my skin tone compared to the rest of my family, I was convinced that my genes were picking up a secret from the Jackson family’s past. Possibly a relation to Andrew Jackson? I hung up, ordered a DNA kit from my phone, and returned to my conference workshops.
On the last day of the conference, grief came to my door again. However, instead of knocking, it kicked down my door, and soon after, I found myself standing on the hotel’s balcony, looking down, wondering… After what felt like an eternity, I heard a voice inside me say, “Step back and live!” I raced back to my room and cried. I needed help because I was dealing with a severe mental crisis.
- Have you ever lost a parent(s)?
- Were you stricken with grief? If so, how did you manage it?
- Did you have to deal with a parent that was grieving the loss of their partner? If so, what was your experience?
- What is your definition of a strong Black/African-American woman or man?