Less than two months into my freshman semester of college (Fall 2007), one of my favorite people in the whole wide world, was called home to God. Her name is Nicole and she is an angel, sent from God. She was my older cousin, but functioned in my family more like my aunt. She’d been sick for a while, and yet, her passing shook my entire family as hard as it possibly could. For the most part, I could easily say, very few people in the family have really gotten over her passing. For myself, her passing was one of the hardest I’ve ever experienced in my life.

There’s a book titled Mama Day, which is so deep I won’t try to relay what it’s about. Nonetheless, the subject of the book, Mama Day, is a deeply spiritual woman from the depths of the south, founded and ruled completely by the Spirit. She holds all types of spiritual powers, that we modern-day folks of the new millennial, might fight hard to believe exist, let alone have faith in. One of the most powerful aspects of the books that has stuck with me till this day, is when the main character’s husband passes on. Mama Day tells her grand-niece (I believe she was), that her mourning and grief was not for her husband, but instead, for herself. She told her, one day she would cry for her husband and when she did, his passing would really hit her. She would also, finally be able to move on fully, when it did happen.

Ten years later, the book describes a moment where the main character gets hit with the grief that Mama Day spoke of. She finally, cried for her husband, and not for herself. When I first read this, I didn’t understand yet, what Mama Day meant. What the author, Gloria Naylor meant by adding that deep spiritual truth into the book. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when Nicole left the world, that I understood. I cried harder than I’d ever thought possible. I still cry, till this day. I’m crying right now, as I write this piece. And, each time, I cry for Nicole. Not for myself. I mourn for her.

You see, Nicole never made it to the age of 50 years old. She left behind three beautiful daughters, one of which was only 13 years old at the time of her passing. More so, than the people and life she left, she left behind her chance of ever finding the joy that God promises us all, when we first greet this world in our spiritual and physical infancy. I didn’t understand the power of such a truth, when Marlene left this world and me in it, while I was only 12 years old. I cried for myself. Selfishly, for what I wouldn’t be able to share with Marlene. Selfishly, for all the sorry’s I would never be able to give. Selfishly for the love, smiles and joy she would never be able to offer me in the physical, again. I cried for myself. For what I’d lost, when she passed on.

It wasn’t until Nicole passed on, that I cried for what Marlene had lost. And with it, I cried so deeply for what Nicole had lost. I’d love to one day, tell Nicole’s story. To share with the world, her vibrant strength and endurance. I’d love for the whole world to one day read about a woman so grand, that she could heal a million broken hearts with just her smile and laugh. A woman who called me bubble gum cheeks faithfully, until the day she passed. A woman with a true heart of gold.

I’m not one to big people up in death, just for the sake of doing so. I’m not one who shies away from telling the whole truth about folks, just because they’ve passed on. I don’t shame or damn the dead, but I don’t tell fairy tales either. Nicole wasn’t perfect by far. She was human. But her spirit, was out of this world. She wasn’t a saint, but she was a true angel from God. And she’d been burdened by this world, from as long as she probably could remember. She was an only child with no daddy, who’d lost her mother at the age of 6 years old. She was an orphan, given only the left over love that burdened hearts and families like mine, knew how to give.

“I know God has His plans, but I still don’t fully understand that one.”

There was a point in my family, long before my birth, when God called home far too many, far too soon, before anyone was ready to say goodbye. My grandmother, her only son and my two aunts, one of which who was Nicole’s mom, were all called home within a span of ten years. That’s a lot of loss, man. A lot. Nicole, like my own mother, was born and raised into that loss. Into that hurt and confusion. Into that orphancy. To say the least, as much love and nurturing as she could receive, didn’t make up for the holes God graved into her soul, so early on.

Her life, by all means of understanding, was a hard one. A really, really hard one. And she got sick at a young age. As long as I can remember, Nicole was sick. She was battling so much pain and sickness, for so long, a large part of the family was grateful that she wasn’t hurting anymore, at least, when God did call her home. You see, that’s why I cried so hard. That’s why I still cry so hard. She never had a chance in this twisted world. God never gave her a fair shot. She was burdened with the weight of the world, long before she could walk steady, with her own weight. It’s just not fair. And I know life ain’t fair. But my dude, that sh*t just ain’t fair.

The way she was treated by the hospital and staff, was just heartbreaking. She was a Queen and they treated her like she was dirt. It hurts so bad. She couldn’t even pass on with grace and love. I know God has His plans, but I still don’t fully understand that one. I just wish I could have been there for her. I wish I could have been older and stronger. I wish I could have been more responsible for helping her find healing before she passed. I know most of my family mourns her passing, not for what she lost in life, but for what they lost in her passing. I, on the other hand, mourn for her. She deserved another chance at some remnant of Godly joy, and she was robbed of it.

Through all of her years of pain and hurting, she was always the person any and everyone could call for help. Any and every kind of help. If you needed a loan, that you knew you wouldn’t or couldn’t pay back, you called Nicole. Because, she gave from her heart, not her wallet. If you needed advice that you probably wouldn’t listen to and would take in vain, you called Nicole. Because, she gave from her heart, not her pride or judgement. If you needed a place to crash, though you’d never be able to offer the same in return, you called Nicole. Because, she gave from her heart, not her need for a return investment. She was angel, son. For real. I mean that, from the bottom of my heart.

I think, a lot, about how many times she probably needed someone to lean on. How many times she probably needed someone to ask for help, and actually be able to expect it. How many times she probably prayed for the security she brought to literally, every single person she came in contact with. I know it’s useless, but I sometimes pray and wish I could have been that for her, ya know. I wish I could have brought her a little more time, till I became stronger and older Shaquana, so I could at least, give her one small sense of security and foundational support before she passed on. So, I could make her feel like if her whole world fell apart, there was someone she could lean on, without feeling like she’d break them. Maybe then, her kids wouldn’t have been so burdened with the pain of trying to be a momma to their momma, from so young an age. It’s deep, son. Real deep.

Anywho, when her funeral came, I broke down. Like broke down, broke down. And I remember a couple of people in my family, saying something along the lines of, “I didn’t know Shaquana felt so close to Nicole.” What they didn’t know was that just two months earlier, when I was stranded in NYC, feeling hopeless about how and when I’d get up to my first semester of college, Nicole was one of the few people in my entire family who actually gave a real shit. She made calls for me, asking for help. She prayed with me. She was there for me.

“You see, there are volumes of blessings that are present, in the passing of a spirit from the physical world, to the spiritual world.”

I’ve never been one to ask for much, as I was raised to do the opposite, but the one time I ever asked her for something, though she couldn’t help materially, she was all in spiritually. And I’ll never forget what that felt like. She was a rock for me, in a time when I had nowhere to turn. I just wish she could be here in person, to see how far I made it with her spiritual support. I know she was at my graduation in spirit, but I just wish I could thank her in person, ya know. I wish she could tell me, how I will always be bubble gum cheeks to her, no matter how old I get. Lol.

Damn, Nicole. I miss you sooo much. And I’m so sorry your life couldn’t have been more prosperous in material for you. I know, if nothing else, you were and will always be grateful for the blessings you brought to the world. I know you’re simply gracious for the ability to birth your amazing children into the world, leaving a legacy more profound than any pearls or big house could ever afford. I know. I also know I have to stop wishing you could have been appreciated and loved more, while you were still in the flesh. I know I have to let go of the fact that in too many ways, you didn’t get your roses while you could still smell them. Because you’re gone. And that’s that. Life ain’t fair. And Lord only knows, you got dealt the most unfair hands of the game. That’s life. It is what it is. You’d know that, more than anyone.

That’s what brings me to this piece. The only way I can make peace with the justice that I feel, was never given to Nicole, is to make sure her passing wasn’t in vain. You see, there are volumes of blessings that are present, in the passing of a spirit from the physical world, to the spiritual world. The key is, we, the living, have to be open to accepting those blessings. Otherwise, their passing, in all senses of the word, is in fact, in vain. And that sh*t AIN’T RIGHT!

There’s nothing worse than sacrificing one’s life, literally, for the will of others to live tenfold thereafter, only for those people to pass up living for the sake of dwelling on your passing. Because you can’t come back and knock some sense into their heads. Literally. You can’t come back and tell their silly asses that life goes on. That’s the whole point. You passed on, to make sure their life would GO ON. Not for them to sit still, holding their breath, waiting for the day they’d meet you in the spiritual world. Duh!

You see, this has been tough for me. Just writing this piece takes a world of courage on my part. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I was featured in the NY Daily News for a scholarship essay I  wrote, describing my freshman year struggles with adjusting to college. In my essay, I mentioned briefly, my struggle with dealing with Nicole’s passing, in midst of adjusting to being a first generation college student at a predominantly White university. The newspaper, decided to print my essay, in addition to my interview. That was by far, not something my young and naive mind expected. I was even more horrified when I realized they’d misquoted what I said about the cause of Nicole’s passing, to make the article sound better.

I was crushed. Most especially, because in preemptive anticipation of my feature, I’d asked my whole family to buy the paper, to read about me. I was actually called by my older cousin, and chastised for sharing those details about Nicole. He had no idea that I would never do that to her. That I was so sorry. That I’d been duped by the media, as so many, all too often are. It was absolutely tragic for me.

“Every time we lose another person, another set of family members joins the group of the regretful and sorrowful.”

It was also a turning point. I had to decide whether or not I would own my own story, or let others tell it for me. I had to decide how comfortable I was as a writer, though still so young, with sharing my truth, no matter who it might unintentionally, though realistically hurt. I remember talking to another one of my older cousins, and she told me the most powerful thing, that I’ll never forget. She said, “Shaquana, don’t you apologize for saying that. That’s your story. That’s your truth. No one can tell you how to tell it.” I’ve remembered both of those conversations ever since.

In such, since launching this blog, I’ve taken grave effort to own my own story, my own truth, with as much unapologetic strength as I can. At the same time, the one topic I’ve desperately worked to avoid, has been that of my family. It’s a catch 22, if I’ve ever seen one. I’m surely damned if I do, and even more damned if I don’t. So, today, I will. Today, I am. Because we need to be freed. We need to be uplifted by God Himself. And that can truly only happen through owning our truth. Through living in truth. His truth. Through living in the light of God.

You see, my family is far removed from the powers of acknowledging and living in Spirit. In such, one thing for sure that has come of my will to live in the full acknowledgement of Spirit, is the most dense tension between us. For the most part, I can truthfully, and quite sorrowfully say that, most of my family has been deleted and/ or blocked from one or both of my Facebook accounts. I haven’t seen just about anyone, outside of my immediate family, in more than two years. The divide is real and it hurts. All of us, I assume. I can definitely say, it hurts me.

This plays into the power of spirit and life beyond death, quite simply. Since that decade of death that passed on my family, back in the 60’s and 70’s, the wicked one has taken hold of our most pure love for God. Most of everyone, has spent almost all of their lives, focused on the “dead”, instead of living themselves. My mother, has spent damn near all of her natural-born life, waiting for the day she could meet her mother in spirit. She has passed up on fully living and enjoying life with her blessings of children, to dwell on the fact that she never got to enjoy her own mother as a child. She has lived in guilt and regret of the fact that, the blessing we (my siblings and I) received from God, by being able to live to adulthood knowing and breathing with our very living mother, was not granted to her.

The saddest part is, in one way or another, that’s guilt and regret has been caked into the hearts of just about every person in my family, for every decade that has passed since. Every time we lose another person, another set of family members joins the group of the regretful and sorrowful. Every time a person sacrifices their life, so we can live longer and healthier, we do the exact opposite. Up until Nicole’s passing, itself. The trend has continued and continued and continued. And it has to end.

Right now, my aunt Edith is sick. She’s real sick, right now. And it hurts. Real bad. Because that shadow, that’s become all too familiar to my family, is working to swoop over us, all over again. To take another round of casualties. I’m praying so hard for my aunt right now. I am doing everything I can, to enlist all of my spiritual powers and greatness to send the white light her way. I know that when it’s her time, it’s her time. God has His plan, and there’s nothing I can do, to circumvent that. I’d just like to buy her a little more time, so my family can get it together.

“The irony, that the more time she spent with him, the more it seemed like time was not enough.”

I just can’t stand the thought of another powerful spirit passing on in our family, in vain. Another powerful spirit, being called home to God, only to be stuck in limbo here on earth, because we won’t let them go. Because we won’t move on, and live for the life they can’t live anymore. Aunt Edith is the matriarch of our family. The powerful and supernaturally strong Queen of a woman, who has held us all together, one way or another, since my grandmother passed on in 1969. That’s 46 years of being the rock for this family.

If you ask me, she’s still too young to go. But Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy, said something the other night that stuck with me. She said, “we’ll never have enough time.” It made me think of this news clip from a few weeks ago, about a 80+ year-old man who’d been struck and killed in a hit and run, while riding his bike. He and his wife had been married for what I believe was 67 years! Can you believe that?! 67 years! But she was distraught. He was her best friend. Her numero uno, for more than two-thirds her life. The irony, that the more time she spent with him, the more it seemed like time was not enough.

There is never a right moment to say goodbye. There is never a right moment to let go of the most dear people in our lives. There will never be a right moment for Aunt Edith to go. I’m praying so hard though, that it can be so much later, than sooner. Nonetheless, I keep reminding myself that I have no hand in this game of cards. I am simply a player, hoping to work a better hand, than what was expected for my family and I, too many years before I was thought of.

I need to know that my family will be stronger, not weaker, if this blow comes. I need to know that her work here is done, when God calls her home. That we won’t continue to be selfish, asking her to stay longer. Forcing her into the limbo of being stuck on earth, waiting for the chance to go into that white light, many of us dream of going into one day. She’s given us 46 years! That has to be enough. Because, like Mer said, there will never be enough time. Aunt Edith deserves to feel light, when she does get called home. Whether it be as soon as the next few weeks, or as long as the next ten plus years. She deserve a better exit than what we gave to Nicole, and the amazing aunts, uncles and grandma who left us, before her.

I wrote this post, in as daring spirit, as I’ve ever gathered to have. Who knows how my family will take it. Who knows how Aunt Edith’s or Nicole’s children (my cousins and second cousins) will take it. If they even read it. I’d be the first to say, for perhaps the first time in my life, I truly don’t care. This is bigger than them. This is bigger than me. This is bigger than all of us. The one thing we’re all guaranteed, when we enter this world, no matter how rich or poor, big or small, right or wrong we are, is that we will all surely leave this earth, indefinitely. That’s an age-old fact. One that has survived humankind, for as long as there has been humankind.

How we deal with that fact, is what shapes our life. We must do better folks. Not just my family. This world. The people in it. We must do better. We must own up to our end of the deal, to live on for those who can’t. It’s only right. It is the most fair thing we can make out of all of this mess, we call life. So, do it. Be fair. Breathe for those, who can’t breathe. Laugh and smile for those, who can’t laugh and smile. Remember for those, who can’t remember. Do better for those, who can’t do better. Take second, third and fourth chances for those, who can’t take second, third and fourth chances. Live for those, who can’t live. Live people! LIVE! For God’s sake!