friendship + family

Friday Reflection: How Do I Say Goodbye?

April 29, 2011

Until recently, I had gone almost my adult life without having to deal with the death of close family member. My paternal grandparents never got to meet me since they were deceased [before or shortly after] I was born. My maternal grandparents and my godfather died before I was in high school. I grew up feeling like I was missing key people in my life–people who were supposed to be instrumental in my upbringing and maturation–but I haven’t had to experience that kind of loss in a very long time. I’ve only been to 3 funerals in my life, so I had a vague recollection of what mourning a lost loved one feels like.

Until… my mom called me a few weeks ago to tell me my 42yo cousin Sherry lost her battle with breast cancer. Though my cousin and I weren’t very close (in age or relationship), I was devastated. I think I was mostly sad for the loss my cousin’s daughter, father (my only paternal uncle), and younger siblings (whom she was like a mother to) had to bear. I was also sad that she had to deal with such a horrible disease and the invasive treatments that came along with it in the first place. I’m incredibly afraid of breast cancer, since it runs in my family and there is a very high chance that my mother and/or I will one day be diagnosed with it. But even beyond the sadness I felt with my cousin’s death, I felt guilt. Guilt that I hadn’t made more of an attempt to be close with her, even after knowing she had been dealing with cancer for a few years, or reach out to her to give my love, support, and encouragement in her time of need. I would often visit the area in which she, my uncle, and others cousins lived but never made much attempt to visit. Even when I saw her last year for the first time in over a decade, holding her bald head high and proud, and she expressed desire for us to keep in touch, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I only communicated with her through her daughter on facebook. I was too scared of her condition. I allowed her sickness to be a barrier between us. Though I prayed for her constantly and managed to call her when her condition began to take a turn for the worst, I regret not reaching out more. I regret letting my fears ruin my opportunity to express how much I loved her and admired her courage, strength, and peace of mind which were all rooted in her love of the Lord. There are so many things I wish I had handled differently, but I take the time to miss and remember her dearly.

Her death served as a reminder to me how short life could be and that were was no room for “laters.” It seems so cliche to say that we have to enjoy our time with our loved ones now because we can’t predict when they will be taken away from us, but it’s so true! And so necessary. Sitting in my cousin’s funeral, in the arms of my older sister, I made a decision to make a better effort to reach out to my cousins and to try and restore my relationships with my siblings who I had been disconnected from (as I’ve mentioned previously).

But before I could even get the seeds of renewal sowed, my father called me yesterday to inform me that one of my older brothers, Butch, died from a drug-related heart attack at the age of 44. I find myself sincerely heartbroken at this loss. Heartbroken that my siblings and I lost a brother. Heartbroken that my father (along with his ex-wife) has to bury his son. Heartbroken that my nephew no longer has his father. Heartbroken that my big brother was so beaten by life and depression that he had to self medicate to cope. Heartbroken that we never rebuilt our relationship. Heartbroken that I wasn’t there for him when he needed love and support. Heartbroken that he didn’t reach out more for help. Heartbroken that I didn’t get to say goodbye. He was such a private person who shut most of the world (including family) out, so I wasn’t aware until now just how much my big brother was hurting and struggling. The “fixer” in me wants to rewind time so I could save my big brother from himself. I want to go back and pick up the broken pieces of him and put them back together. I want to go back and change him, make him more open to the love, support, and help of his family. I want to make things better. Or at the very least, I want to tell him I love him one last time.

Since I’m powerless to change the hands of time or control the circumstances of others, I submit my sorrows, grief and guilt to the Almighty. I pray for understanding, comfort, peace, and forgiveness as I mourn with my family over the loss of our loved ones. Undoubtedly my Cousin Sherry and Big Brother Butch will be in my heart forever. “And I’ll take with me the memories to be my sunshine after the rain…” And it’s my sincere hope that anyone reading this (myself included) will actively cherish those loved ones still here on earth with us and won’t wait until it’s to late to tell them you care.

With a heavy but hopeful heart,

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  • Reply Wu Young, Agent of M.E. April 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I’m sorry to hear all of this Gemmie. My prayers go out to you and yours.

    I hate the sh*t out of cancer in all of it’s forms. It has visited my family three times in the last few years and there’s so much that I don’t understand about the various forms of cancer that my questions and thoughts manifest themselves in anger. I remember you talking about your cousing a few weeks ago on Twitter and again, I’m sorry for your loss.

    Don’t let the fact that cancer is touching your family play with your mind. I dropped 20lbs last summer when I found out that my pops had prostate cancer and it was all mental. DO YOUR BEST TO STAY STRONG!

    I hope your family rallies together during the recent events of your brother’s passing. My best friend’s dad had a drug related stroke last year and it hurt me to see him as a shell of himself all because he just doesn’t deal with his mental issues. The next day after seeing that made me thank my parents for doing their best and i’ve grown a lot closer to them.

    Hang in there Gemmie. Heartache, like all other emotions must be worked on constantly when dealing with them. I’m sure you and your fam will work through it all and become stronger.

    From my hiding place in the bushes outside of Cancer’s house,


    • Reply gemmieboo April 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

      thanks for the thoughts and prayers, Wu. very much appreciated.

      i’ve had the “cancer is the devil” talk with so many ppl (you included), its really quite sad and depressing to even think about! its so prevalent and such a mystery in terms of finding a cure. thank God i see a doctor regularly so that if signs of cancer do show up, my a$s can get on a treatment plan quick fast and in a hurry.

      i am trying not to lose the battle to cancer in my mind and let it affect how i proceed day to day. but when i find out a family member has cancer, it gets me shook and i try to will it out of existence.

      i definitely look forward to my family being together again. we have been broken and my siblings haven’t all been together in a very very long time. im sad we have to reconvene in this time of tragedy, but im glad we’ll be together regardless. im sure my dad, my mom and my siblings’ mother could use the strength in us being all together.

      despite the sadness, it feels good to just get all my thoughts and feelings out. i feel freer.

      thanks for commenting 🙂

      p.s. i snickered @ you hiding in the bushes outside of cancer’s house!

  • Reply DQ April 29, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Ok, now I understand why you were so reserved the other day. I am truly sorry to hear of your loss. I wish I had words that would help right now but I don’t. An acquaintance of mine just passed away of Cancer (not less than a week) and I was flooded with the same sort of guilt “I could have done more”, “I should have done more” and yet I didn’t. I’m smarter than to let things happen like this, and I feel like they deserved better, and I have no explanation for why I didn’t… I just didn’t. Maybe it was self-absorption in my case; just too wrapped up in my own world, my own problems, my own issues.

    I’m choosing to use it as a reality check. I have said it before to others but I need to remind myself that, “the only safe assumption is that you don’t have time”. I can’t stop at identifying the “right thing to do”, I need to start doing it because there won’t be time later. I know the cancer can’t hurt my friend anymore, just as it can’t hurt your cousin, nor can the drugs hurt your brother; there is some solace in knowing that the suffering is over. I just wish I had done what I know I should have done. It is a mistake I plan to learn from and not repeat.

    Stay strong Gemmie, none of this is in vain, not even the mistakes that we make.


    p.s. thanks for sharing

    • Reply gemmieboo April 30, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      thank you for stopping by and sharing your own issues with death and “saying goodbye.”

      “the only safe assumption is that you don’t have time”
      such a true statement!! but how often do we really live like this?? we get so distracted and caught up in what we’re doing, thats is so easy to just put things off–esp when it comes to maintaining relationships that are strained or in need of some repair.

      there is some solace in knowing that the suffering is over.
      indeed there is. and all i can do is be grateful that i had the opportunity to know them while they were here. and wish for better for those who are still here.

      thanks for condolesnces 🙂

  • Reply Cheekie April 30, 2011 at 11:44 am

    So, sorry, Gemmie! *hugs*

    My former coworker actually recently lost her battle with breast cancer as well (which was a super shock seeing as how she had caught it early and was doing fine until it slapped her silly… cancer is a TRIP) and it truly hit me hard since she was so young (36) and was such a bubbly spirit. And of course, combine my history with the disease (lost my paternal grandma and father to lung cancer) I was initially HEATED. Still planning on getting a “F**k Cancer” tshirt pretty soon.

    Overall, what comforted me (after a crying session) was remembering her contagious smile/laughter. Instantly made me feel better. It is definitely hard to say goodbye, especially if you have the feeling of not being able to tell them everything you wanted to (a common sentiment).

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, Gem.

    • Reply gemmieboo April 30, 2011 at 1:06 pm

      thanks for your support and prayers Cheeks *hugs*

      sorry to hear about your co-worker. cancer is definitely a heaux a$s hater and needs to have a _ in the pits of hell. when you get your “F**k Cancer” t-shirt, lemme know cuz im gonna cop one too.

      what comforted me (after a crying session) was remembering her contagious smile/laughter.
      this has comforted me as well. my mom just sent me a ton of pics of me with my brother (and other siblings) and i smiled ear to ear seeing them. im glad i have some warm memories to hold on to in my bro’s absence 🙂

  • Reply N.I.A. naturally April 30, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss, Gem. Cancer is such a sneaky devil of a disease, you can’t see it coming, and once it gets there, it seems you can never truly get rid of it.

    My maternal grandmother contracted intestinal cancer in her later years, and with an already weakened immune system, she was not able to fight it. I’m fortunate I got to have 20 years with her. She was the last grandparent living, and the one to whom I was closest. When we lost her, I was devastated, and it took a while for me to get over all of the grief. Slowly, I found comfort in my memories of her, memories of us spending the afternoon watching the stories and Oprah, cooking, and just being together. Even now, I am hooked to Young and the Restless because that was her favorite soap.

    Gem, I’m praying for you and your family as you go through this grieving time.

    • Reply gemmieboo May 1, 2011 at 9:39 am

      thanks for your condolences and prayers, sis. and thank you for sharing your experiences with losing a loved one.

      i, too, love Young and the Restless because my mom and grandmother loved it so. even though i havent watched it regularly in years, its the one soap i will sit and watch if im home when its on 🙂

  • Reply keisha brown May 1, 2011 at 2:37 am

    i echo the sentiments that everyone else has shared about both your losses.
    it usually takes moments like these to make us re-evaluate how we are living our lives (for ourselves and others). i hope it proves to be a moment of honesty that leads you to strengthening your relationships with yourself, God, friends and family.

  • Reply jas May 1, 2011 at 2:56 am

    I just found your blog on the day of the ten year anniversary of my maternal grandfathers death. the title of this post summed up my feelings when I was told of his passing but with time I’ve learned that there is no perfect goodbye. The best goodbye is to live life with the memmory of how they’ve affected your life and continue the legacy.

    • Reply gemmieboo May 1, 2011 at 9:42 am

      thank you for reading, jas, and thank you for sharing.

      The best goodbye is to live life with the memmory of how they’ve affected your life and continue the legacy.
      indeed. such a simple idea but something we dont practice often enough.

  • Reply SmartFoxGirl May 5, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    I’m so sorry Gemmie. I lost my Aunt to colon cancer in 07′ and it was really hard for me. I’m still dealing with it. Cancer is so destructive to the body that i was a little relieved for my Aunt. It sounds corny but Sherry is in a better place and pain free. It’s us who suffer. It gets better over time. I’ll pray for you and your family. *hugs*

  • Reply The Masquerade « That's What GEM Said May 25, 2011 at 3:59 am

    […] I’ve been dealing with family tragedies, heartbreak, failed/halted experiments, pressure to publish, and anxiety to graduate. If it […]

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