MORTAL THOUGHTS

7 November 2015

Cremation Urn

Each year as the anniversary of my mother’s passing approaches, my mind inevitably turns to contemplation of my own demise. My thoughts are especially poignant this year because it will be the tenth time I will celebrate winter holidays without her. Our last Thanksgiving was on the 25th of November 2005. Three days later, she was gone… forever.

One of the ways I keep her memory alive is through family genealogical research. After being estranged for many years as I globetrotted from America to South Africa and France, I succumbed to filial responsibility by returning home to Chicago to care for her. Ravaged by heart disease, diabetes, and encroaching Altzheimer’s, she lived with me for the last two years of her life. Our heart-to-heart talks not only soothed the breach between us but gave me invaluable information about our shared ancestors. The grains of fact distilled from her stories enabled me to fully reconstruct a family tree that now has more than a thousand members. Her stories provided insights into the people that interacted to produce the she that she was and the me that I am today.

  • Jennie WAYMOTH, her white mother, was disowned by her family for marrying my African American grandfather in 1926. She is the one who presciently named my mother Delores, the Spanish word for “sorrow”, when she was born in May, five months before the global economic debacle of 1929.
  • Ella GAVIN, her grandmother, was left with six hungry mouths to feed when her husband, Wash NICHOLSON, died of yellow jaundice in Mississippi in 1907. Her second husband, William REED, a Jamaican immigrant, was murdered by her nephew in Chicago in 1924. My mother was 10 years old when she died. She recalled a vision of Ella standing at her bedside soon after she departed in 1939.
  • Bettie WARFE, her great grandmother (whom my mother called Bettie WOLF), was seized from her mother and taken from Virginia to Mississippi as a nine year old child. She subsequently had 17 children with the nephew of her slaveholder. The wild goose chase that led me from WOLF to WARFE was daunting to say the least. My mother thought she was Choctaw, which proved to be not true; her origins were in East Africa.
  • Alsey OWEN, her GG grandmother, and Mary OWEN, her GGG grandmother, were not discovered until after my mother was encapsulated in the cremation urn that takes pride of place on a bookshelf in the home office in which I work every day. She is on a separate shelf from my father’s urn because of her caution that I not put her ashes too close to his lest I awake and find them both spewn all over the floor.

Like my mother, I have made conscious prearrangements for my impending transition. I want to be cremated and I want my son to keep ALL of us – me, my mother and my father — in a place where he can see us each day and REMEMBER from whence we/he came. I will be watching to make sure he does 🙂

As American author Bret Harte said: “We begin to die as soon as we are born, and the end is linked to the beginning.” Furthering from that thought, I believe it is the days, months, and years between those two monumental events that REALLY matter.

What I am doing in the incremental time between the “now and then” is promote the resonance I encapsulated in the Our Black Ancestry motto when it was founded in 2007: “We empower our future by honoring our past.”

A Sanskrit proverb says: “…today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

Do you hear me?

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One Response to “MORTAL THOUGHTS”

  1. Sharon, the transitions of two of my favorites teachers in the last weeks, (Carrie Davis and Frauline Miller), has also caused thoughts of my own mortality. I also want to be cremated. My mother broke with her generation’s tradition and wanted to be cremated. I honored her wish in spite of other family members attempts to over rule her.
    My mom has been gone/not gone for 6 years and I feel deeply what you said about your mom. Thanks for sharing, Sharon.

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