I pondered this as I sat on the edge of my large king size bed, staring into a closet full of clothes. I felt guilty for being this comfortable and calm, while others were in so much pain.
Less than 24 hours prior, life was normal: wake up, hit snooze, wake up again, feed baby, dress baby, drop baby off, go to work, pick baby up, go home, feed baby, change baby, and go to sleep. A comfortable routine and rhythm that came to a screeching halt somewhere between pick baby up and go home.
As I turned the corner into the neighborhood after work that Tuesday, I noticed a fire truck. It was at the far end of the road, a relatively safe distance from any relatives’ houses on the block. I felt even more relieved when I saw my sister-in-law holding my daughter, Lucy, on the porch, and they both seemed in perfect health. But as I stepped out of the car and walked up to them, the relief slowly melted away as I noticed the tears streaming down my sister-in-law’s face. As soon as I got within earshot, she gargled, “Nanny found Uncle Willy…”
At the young age of 50, my husband’s uncle, Willy, had had a heart attack and died. Nanny had called for him to come downstairs for dinner, but he did not answer. And now, less than an hour later, no one could even stomach the thought of eating anything. He was loved. He was Nanny’s baby boy and the only caretaker she had ever had. To everyone else in the neighborhood, he was the handy man and the guy that would take his shirt off his back if you needed it. He walked the grandkids to school every morning, took Nanny to her appointments, ran errands for all the elderly women on the block, and even helped me fix my washing machine, or at least tried with all his heart. And so, when I say he was loved, it is no exaggeration.
The thought of Willy being gone and the pain Nanny was going through as she and the rest family was making plans for her youngest son’s funeral did not escape me. Yet, perhaps, due to being in a state of shock and disbelief, I found myself sitting on our plush, king size bed distracted by another thought: what will my one-and-half year-old, Lucy, wear to his funeral?
The day of the funeral arrived, and in a state of panic, I asked my mother-in-law what Lucy should wear and she said, “She’s just a baby.”
Maybe she was right; perhaps, I was over thinking it, and so I dressed her up in a Minnie Mouse dress with red polka dots and white Mary Jane’s to match.
While everyone sat around the casket, eyes filled with tears, Lucy stood in the middle of the room, twirling around in her out-of-place outfit. As she innocently played by herself, while taking moments to admire her shiny white shoes, Nanny whispered across the room while staring at her, “and that is what keeps us going.”
Nanny passed shortly after uncle Willy’s funeral. But her message stuck with me. In so few words, even while grieving, Nanny had captured something beautiful and special about life and loss. She made me understand that, even through our despair and sadness, there is always something that gives us hope, strength, and the belief we will find joy again. And for our family, we found that hope and strength in Lucy.
Written by Barbara Brown
This is an excerpt from Kwapi Vengesayi‘s book, Men Cheat More, Women Cheat Better: Stories and Conversations About Love, Life and Everything in Between (2017) Available on Amazon