Shony’s dead? How could this be? How can she be dead? For God sake she was nineteen! How can a nineteen year-old die in their sleep? I had just seen her a week ago, a week and two days to be exact and she was healthy or at least she appeared to be. She can’t be dead. She promised me, she reassured me that she would be at my house the next week for my 16th birthday. I was with her the week before. It was a rainy, cold Sunday afternoon. Mom sat in the car while I said goodbye to my cousin. She smiled at us as we hugged each other whining loudly, pretending to cry.
“I wish you weren’t leaving.” Shony said in a whinny voice.
“I know, I know, but we will see each other next week.” I said pretending to cry.
I tried to squirm from the bear hug she had me in.
“What are we doing? We will see each other next week. Let me go.”
She laughed and shoved me towards the car, “Yeah I know. What are we doing?”
“You are coming to Virginia aren’t you?” I asked.
“YES, YES, YES. I can’t miss your birthday.” She shouted annoyed.
“I’m serious Shony. Don’t lie”! I tried to look stern with my hand on my hip.
“Bye Tahanee.” She said as she rolled her eyes in back of her head.
“For real Shony. I am not joking.”
I got into the back seat of the car as my mother started the engine. I stared at my cousin as she stood in the driveway smiling. She clutched the left side of her jacket with her left hand and pulled it across her right breast to keep warm. We stared at one another as the car pulled out of the driveway. “Love ya, “she shouted flashing me a smile while waiving. “Love you too” I replied. We watched one another as the car pulled off and the distance between us grew and our vision of one another disappeared.
I stared down at my cousin. She lay peacefully in a pink casket surrounded with white lace. Pink and white teddy bears sat above her head. Her hands lay folded on top of another above her stomach. She had no neck. It had looked as if someone had placed her head on top of her shoulders. The white lacy dress she wore was not fashionable. It looked similar to the dress that my great grandmother wore to church. The white lace gloves that she wore didn’t help; as much as they tried to cover it up I could still see her fingers. They were wrinkled and her nails were brown. Her lips protruded and she wore bronze lip stick, she never wore lipstick! I waited. I stood there and waited. I waited for her jump up and say, “Sike” like she always did. But she didn’t. She hadn’t even noticed me. I reached out and rubbed her arm. Her arm felt cold and stiff and her hair, her hair was dry and felt like straw. The beautiful wavy texture it use to be was gone. I guess the embalming fluid changed the texture. Everyone watched me. They waited for my reaction. They waited for me to breakdown but I couldn’t. I couldn’t allow anyone to see me cry the way I wanted. I had to be strong. I became light headed and my knees grew weak. There was a lump in my throat. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I strained as I tried to fight back the tears. My face turned red and my head became hot it felt like it was about to explode. Then, I let it out. I cried. I cried and I cried. My body jerked as I cried. I could feel the pain in the pit of my stomach. No sound came out just a wheeze. I cried until I couldn’t cry and longer. The only sound that came out was the sound of me gasping for air. It reminded me of how I use to cry when I was a child. You know the kind of noise we all made as children after a long hard cry.
I have never had anyone close to me pass away. In my eyes my cousin was immortal. Teenage girls just don’t die in their sleep. She was young, vibrant, joyful and full of life. She was my second mother. She protected me and was always there to comfort me. Who would laugh at my jokes? Who would tell me stories at night? Who would pull my bra strap and who would give me wedgies? She had shared with me a week before she passed that she was afraid to sleep at night because she didn’t think she would wake up in the morning. She said that on several occasions while she was asleep she would loose her breath and that she could feel her body drifting away. Fortunately, she was able to wake herself up on those nights but on Tuesday August 20, 1996 she wasn’t as fortunate.
After my cousin passed away I couldn’t eat or sleep for months. I constantly thought about death. I couldn’t enjoy life. If I found myself having a good time it would turn into grief because I was thinking “Tahanee your going to die so why are you so happy?” I would look at my family members and wonder who would be next. At night I was afraid to sleep. I didn’t think that I would wake up. I couldn’t enjoy anything. The things that once made me happy made me sad. I couldn’t go on. I didn’t want to go on. I wanted to join my cousin. Sometimes I would ask God to take me away the same way he took her. I ate, slept and breathed “DEATH.” I started having panic attacks.
I was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I was put on Paxil, a medication for depression and anxiety. The medication was supposed to balance out the chemicals in my brain. My doctor told me that I had a chemical imbalance and that there was not enough seratoniam in my brain. The medication helped for a while but it didn’t replace the void of my cousin. I wondered if she was thought of me as often as I thought of her. I spoke to psychologist and they came up with an exercise for me. They had recommended that I write a letter to Shony. When they had first suggested that idea I thought to myself, “Maybe I’m the wrong person lying on this couch.” I didn’t see how writing a person who was deceased would help me with cope with the loss. I was reluctant but thought why not?
I wrote my cousin and self consciously I waited for her to write me back but somehow I knew that, that would never happen. With a mixture of medication and writing the letters I found myself somewhat back to normal but I didn’t feel complete. Something was missing, something that the medication, a psychologist, or letters couldn’t fix. I decided that if I wanted to get in touch with my cousin and understand why? I had to go to the source. I had to go to the creature and have a one on one conversation with him. That’s when I called on God. I had several questions and he had a lot of explaining to do. I couldn’t live comfortably until I found out why? I need to know that Shony was safe and I needed to know that she knew how much I loved and missed her. I had to contact her and the only way was through him. I decided to pray and when I prayed I asked for several things. I asked for comfort. I asked for understanding and I asked for strength. I knew that death was a reoccurring thing and I knew that it was going to happen whether I liked it or not, with or without me. I had to accept it and learn to live with it. I started to read a lot of books that focused on death and why we die. I did a lot of praying. After a while I felt reassured and confident that Shony was okay. I now know that we all were created by God for a purpose, we all have a mission here on earth that needs to be accomplished and when that mission is accomplished and God says that its time to come home there is nothing we can do to change that. Sometimes I think that God takes away a loved one to bring us closer to him. I believe it is his way of trying to catch our attention. No matter what religion or what God you believe in death is coming. Our days are numbered. I am not afraid of death as much as I was before. I know that when I die I have a cousin who will be there waiting for my arrival. I don’t look at death as being a final thing. When I think of death and dying I look at it as being a birth, a whole new life that is waiting to be lived.
I am no longer on Paxil. The only medicine I needed was God. Understanding death and coping with it is not an easy thing. Sometimes I find myself playing Russian roulette when in to certain situations and maybe that comes from my comfortableness with death. I’m not saying that I welcome death with open arms but I am saying that I can’t allow myself to fear something that is destined to happen. Death does not discriminate and comes to all. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what color you are, how big you are, how small you are or what your personal life preferences are. When death comes there is nothing we can do about it and I know that no one is promised tomorrow. With the passing of my cousin and other close friends I have to stay prepared and keep up front that we are “Born to live and Born to die.”
I couldn’t end this essay without a special tribute to my cousin, Latoya Shantel Cranford.
Loving and caring like a mother is to her child.
A girl who loved life, she was crazy and wild.
So sweet and brave, too young for a grave
Her heart stopped beating as she slept and lay.
On one Tuesday morning sunny and bright
Not knowing she wouldn’t see that Tuesday night.
I wonder if she knew how much she was loved and
How much she as missed when the man from above.
Came down and took her life from her body and whispered
In her ear “Come with me Shony.” I miss her so much
Her hugs and her kisses and the way she would laugh
At my jokes and my disses. I can remember the last
Time I said goodbye not knowing the next week
She would die. I miss her so much, I really do.
I wish I would have said more often the words, “I Love You!”