“He begged for his life.” The District Attorney’s description of the young man’s last words to his would be robbers just moments before he was shot in the head leaves me with a surge of emotion. There is sadness over the loss of a promising young life that ended in terror, empathy for the family left to grieve, and anger over the seeming unfairness of the situation. As the tragic saga continues to unfold in the courts and the media I find myself contemplating the inevitability of death and thinking how will I face my own.
As a journalist, I have covered more deaths than I can count. Some of the reports left me in tears literally. In my personal life, I have also had many friends and loved ones pass on. But two individuals touched my spirit with their examples of both life and death.
My Godparents were truly a God sent blessing in my life. They filled in the gap left by my natural parents. I could not have loved them more, nor could any child have been given more love than I received from this childless couple.
She lived in Detroit, but Mama spent her last months with me in Alabama where I could better care for her as her health continued to fail. It also gave Daddy who was getting up in age a break.
When Mama asked me to arrange for her flight back to Detroit three months earlier than she had planned, I was afraid I might have done something to make her no longer feel welcome or comfortable in my home. She assured me that was not the case. She said she had something important she needed to take care of at home, and promised she would come back. She insisted Daddy could not handle this task.
On the morning she was scheduled to leave dense fog delayed her flight. It gave us a few more precious hours together. I remember the advice she gave me about my marriage, and my husband whom she adored. She told me how proud she was of my children and my work. Her words left me filled with love and tenderness. There was no hint she was actually saying goodbye.
It was before 9/11 and Homeland Security, so I was able to walk my mother to her seat on the plane and fasten her seatbelt. There was an angelic innocence in her face as I kissed her forehead, and said goodbye. Her spirit seemed light enough to soar, free of any burdens and regrets.
One week later, resting in her own bed, Mama peacefully closed her eyes and said goodnight to the world, and the life she always tried to live to the full.
I was better prepared emotionally when Daddy’s time came 13 years later. A respiratory illness caused daddy to struggle for every breath. The condition had progressively worsened over the years. Long before his final trip to the hospital Daddy had talked to me about every detail of what I needed to know to make his passing as smooth as possible. It was a conversation I was mature enough to listen to, knowledgeably enough to write down, and wise enough to have one of my father’s church member’s sign as a witness. At the time, I did not realize how crucial daddy’s foresight would prove to be. In the end, he spared me a lot of family drama following his death.
The real blessing was the fact that I was at my father’s bedside when the end came. I held his hand, and watched as his breathing that was so difficult for so long settled. I kissed his forehead and told him I loved him. He was too weak to talk, but I could see the love I’d known my entire life in his eyes. I could also see “goodbye”. I did notice a hint of sadness, but there was no fear in his face as he took his last calm breath.
I have no way of knowing if my last moments will come at the end of a long, fruitful, and happy life, or the result of some random act of violence. However, I am thankful for my Godparents legacy of life and death. Live fully, express love and forgiveness to others and yourself, and do as much good as your resources and time will allow. If I can master this lesson, hopefully, I will face death as they did with dignity and grace.