By Dawn Onley
Watching someone you love slip away is one of the most painful things we will ever experience in this life. It’s the downside to love – knowing that someday we will lose our loved ones in the physical realm.
One day they will break our hearts, or we will break theirs. That’s the way love goes.
Then the memories flood our minds and we are assured that no one who is loved deeply and completely is ever truly gone – they remain with us as permanently as DNA is imprinted in our genes, permeating our cells. Our hearts always remember.
The raucous laughter. The conversations. The jingling of pocket change to fund an afternoon treat. How family gathered around the piano as my grandfather made magic, and the singing that ensued with my uncles, aunts, cousins and anyone else who could carry a tune.
As their numbers dwindle, we cling to the memories to keep them alive in spirit.
Memories like what kind of candy to buy at Mr. Barnes’ corner store. I would stare at the display case hoping the candy would choose me. Usually grape or apple Now & Laters won out, but I was also fond of Lemonheads and Alexander the Grape box candies. I had a serious sweet tooth.
Uncle Reggie would sometimes foot the bill.
Broad in size and gregarious in demeanor, his whole body shook when he laughed. It was impossible for you not to laugh along with him. He was the family storyteller – lively and animated in his delivery. In some ways, Uncle Reggie — whom my siblings and I affectionately called Uncle Wo-Wo — was the heart of the family. He shows up in many of my childhood memories over at my grandparent’s house. He lived just down the street from them and he would drop by daily. I thought he was cool.
He would put the radio on and grab me up to dance. He always had the latest dance moves. I thought he was fun.
He wore his hair in a ‘fro for much of my childhood. I remember his wide collars and 70s pants, along with the Lavar Burton/Kunte Kinte poster that hung proudly and unapologetically in his basement.
As a young child, I spent a lot of time around him at my grandparents but also because my parents and he sang on the same church choir – the Quinntones. He often sung lead and was known to walk right off the choir loft and down the middle aisle of the church before his song was through – getting the whole church waving and swaying along with him. Man, he knew how to drag out a song! He was a local celebrity in his own right — vocally gifted, highly regarded, whom everyone knew and loved.
Yesterday, he made his transition to a new life where the old spirituals teach us there’s no tears or sadness. He joins his son, Tony, his mom and dad, his brothers, Uncle Darryl and Uncle Dickie, his grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a host of other relatives and friends.
I know he’s smiling again. And singing. He’s in no more pain. And like those who went before him, he would want us to keep loving and to cherish the family and friends who are still here with us.
We will do that. To honor him, and to heal ourselves.
When death comes, as it has several times in the past 17 months for my family, we hug a little tighter and a little longer until we know we will be alright.