However, when the ones who you grew up with begin to die, you become incredibly alarmed, saddened and reflective. It reminds you of your own mortality when someone your age who you share memories with, die. In an unnerving and sobering way it reminds you that it could have been you and it becomes hard to separate the fact that you are still living with the fact that they are dead.
My cousin Jeff died a few weeks ago and was buried yesterday in Lapland, Catadupa, St. James. I grew up in Belfont, one of many neigbouring districts to Lapland that all shared the same post office, Public Works Department, Clinic and Basic and All Age Schools. Those essential public domains connected us and were the reason we met many times a week when we went to collect letters, go for a check-up or to dress a cut or get a baby vaccinated and to learn. But my cousins and I who lived many districts away, were even more closely connected by My mother (Ms. Amy) and their father; (Mass Hubert .. who we called Uncle Ubert) as they were both VERY close. They attended the same church Pastored by Elder Davis (Now deceased) and they shared the same mother: Miss Harry, a woman I have never met but who is as real to me as my mother. Miss Harry, our maternal grandmother, was always there like a hanging shadow, especially because my eldest brother, Phillip always spoke about her. He is extremely nostalgic and the truth be told, he is the one who keeps us connected with the parts of our familial history that happened before we were born or from a time we were too young then to remember.
I have often wondered why she came to be named after a man and what her other names were. Next time I speak to Phillip I must remember to ask him. (*Note to self*)
But my mother and Jeff's dad were very close and Uncle Ubert would come to Belfont maybe once a month or so to help my mother in her grung (especially to dig yam banks) which was a pretty strenuous undertaking and more suited to men with more muscle power than women. He would arrive early in the morning, (usually Saturdays) with most if not all of his many children in tow (he and his wife, Miss Merline had between 9 & 10 children from my recollection) and our yard would erupt into a bevvy of activity and laughter and fun and 'cousiness' that is hard to describe. It just felt happy and crowded and nice. In those days, large families were the norm. My mother gave birth to 13 children.
My bigger cousins like Samson, Patrick, Bunny and Jeff as well as my bigger brothers who still lived at home; Earl, Winston, Pete and Paul, would follow Mama and Uncle Ubert to bush (which is what we called the place where the grung was) and as you can imagine, is pure bush over or round there which is why it was referred to as such. Bush and mud and ticks and cow doo doo and mud and just.... eeewww!
Anyways it is where most of the food we ate was planted and reaped so I'm not going to stay here and act all stoosh. My mother's grung is what helped sustain us.
So while they went to bush to work, My mother and Miss Merline would get busy in the kitchen cooking lunch and us, the younger children, Me, Garfield, Dave and Donnette would mostly run each other around the house and make each other miserable anyway we could and sometimes we would go down to the river to bathe and catch crayfish but for the most part our activities were confined to the yard while we waited impatiently for lunch to finish cooking and share out. The two bigger girls from either family, Precious and Joy; I am not sure what they did with themselves during this period of grung planting and waiting for lunch. As I was younger, I didn't really pay them much mind, nor was I encouraged to try to find out what they were up to but I suppose they kept themselves busy as well.
The younger children from each family, Kevin from ours, and Karen and her twin brother Owen, were not born until years later I believe, long after the informal monthly family get togethers had stopped.
Mass Ubert was one of a few people in those parts that went away to America on Farm Work every year and whenever he came back he would always send and call us to come for things he brought back for us. I loved that man and still remember the hats he wore and his booming bass as part of the Sunday morning choir at church. His eyes were piercing and kind and always held a twinkle. In a world where my mom and dad were separated because he was an insufferable drunk and she was in church, Uncle Ubert for me represents for me, my earliest memories of a text book dad. He died before all his kids were grown when he feel off the back of a pick up driven by Desrick while on his way from someone's funeral in another Parish. His death was unexpected and made no sense. I still miss him.
Read more about my Dad and his strange death here
Jeff is the first of his siblings to die but I guess his dad now has some company up in the skies or wherever dead people go. He has been alone a long, long, time. But that is no comfort to me for having lost one of my best cousins whom I loved dearly and I cannot begin to imagine how his brothers and sisters feel. He died leaving children, all of whom are grown and none of whom I have met yet. And it reminds me how fragmented we have become generally as a society within which families exist as we move away from our rural communities to seek opportunities in Montego Bay or Kingston and then further away to various foreign countries to pursue our personal and professional goals. If any of Jeff's children ever read this I would like to wish you heartfelt condolences on the passing of your dad and hope I get to meet you all soon my second cousins. I hear one of his daughters worked at CVM; a Jamaican television station, (pursuing an early career in journalism which was my main career path) and is now studying law at the UWI. That is awesome news.
I would also like to send deepest sympathies to Miss Merline, Jeff's mom, I am a mother and I cannot begin to imagine what it would feel like to lose a child. Only God can give you the comfort you need in this very difficult time. To Denise, the mother of Jeff's children, (I remember her as a dark beautiful, petite girl with a shy smile and the sister of my very good friend Sharon Smith). To Denise, I also offer condolences. It is hard to lose someone you share memories with and made babies with even if you were no longer together. When certain life experiences are shared with someone, they become intricately linked with who you are. Interwoven into your personal history and emotions.
Last night when I saw my niece Trish-Ann posted pics from the funeral, I wondered how it felt for him to be out there there under the earth in the dark and cold night all by himself and I mourned for him. Death is still the unconquerable divide that separates two worlds only one of which we know. I always get sad when I have to watch a loved one get covered by heavy dirt while encased in a wooden box and then further encased in concrete and left all alone to the elements while everyone turn and walk away after the burial headed back to the business of living until it's their turn to be left alone like that while others leave. It is sobering and jolting and a bit scary to say the least. Death: The Eternal Silence from which no one emerges except in dreams.
Makes me think that an idea I saw circulating on Facebook last week via a video post of planting our loved ones in pods that would then morph into trees might not be a bad idea. So much better to imagine your loved one as a thriving, vibrant tree then a silent presence encased in so much and buried underground. Makes it even hard to breathe when I visit my relative's graves.
Jeff, you have made the transition, you have moved on to where we all are headed inevitably. Rest in Peace my cousin and hopefully, we will one day meet. I hand't seen you in years before you died but I remember everything about you and I still hold you dear.