Month Nine

It’s been nine months since my nephew died. At 41 years old, he died in his sleep as the result of a heart attack. The only days he missed working out at the gym was Sundays; however, undiagnosed hypertension caused him to have a massive heartache as he slept the morning of December 9, 2017.

Minutes

Sometimes it feels like it’s been nine minutes since I got that wretched phone call telling me he was dead. I was still sitting on the side of I-20 West shaking uncontrollably nine minutes after I got that call. Or maybe I had started driving again; I don’t remember. Time stood still for me that day and to be honest, I don’t know when it started moving again.

Hours

Sometimes it feels like it’s been nine hours since I got that wretched phone call telling me he was dead. By that 9th hour, I was still fielding phone calls in my sister’s stead, responding to text messages, inbox messages, and emails, and replying to Facebook posts from people across the country wondering if it was true. They wanted to know if he had really died. I didn’t know some of the people who called me on Facebook Messenger, but that day, I wasn’t upset by the fact that they had taken the liberty to call. He was loved so deeply by so many people.

Days

Sometimes it feels like it’s been nine days since I got that wretched phone call telling me he was dead. By the 9th day, we had already had his funeral, but the fact that he was gone was still unreal to me. I sat on the second pew in the center of St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church in Sarepta, Louisiana, so I know it happened, but it was all so surreal. I heard all the beautiful things that were said about him. I heard my family choir sing. I pulled my two cousins aside who were in charge of the music that day and told them to keep things upbeat because I didn’t want any sad songs being sung. We were there to celebrate his life. We sang congregation songs. There was a two-minute limit for tributes to him that day, but who could speak about him for only two minutes?

Weeks

Sometimes it feels like it’s been nine weeks since I got that wretched phone call telling me he was dead. Nine weeks after his death, the numbness had truly set in for all of us. One of my first cousins had died during that time so combined with Arthur’s death, we were all numb. I remember going to her funeral, but for the life of me, I didn’t recognize the woman in that casket. All those years of depression and abuse had turned her into someone her own family didn’t recognize. She is buried near my nephew. I wouldn’t know exactly where because at nine weeks, I still hadn’t gone to the cemetery.

Months

Sometimes it feels like it’s been nine months since I got that wretched phone call telling me he was dead. Today, it is nine months since my nephew died. Nine months is 39.133125 weeks. Nine months is 273.93188 days. Nine months is 394,461.9 minutes. Some of those weeks, days, and minutes have been so excruciatingly painful, I thought I would die myself. Not one time have I questioned God as to why He took him because I don’t question God’s will, but there hasn’t been a second of that time when I haven’t wondered how I can go on with him. I know I have to, but I still wonder.

Years

Sometimes it feels like it’s been nine years since I got that wretched phone call telling me he was dead. It feels like it’s been forever since I last talked to him. It feels like I haven’t seen him walk through the front door of Mama’s house for Sunday dinner in nine years. It feels like it’s been nine whole years.

Today

I’m sitting in my nephew’s living room right now and on this 9-month anniversary of his death, I continue to be sad beyond belief. I’ve fallen back into a somewhat normal pattern of living, but I still find myself lost. I still find myself wondering where he went. A very close friend put it best when he said, “It’s like Arthur went out the back door and just never came back.”

Perhaps one day, I’ll come out of the fog of grief and this vicious level of mourning will subside, but today I’m still underwater. I’m treading water, but not on the surface. I can see the sunlight above, but for now, I’m treading under the surface. Today, I’m still treading.

 

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Things have been crazier than usual. Living in my world has been like riding a tremendous tailwind through the eye of a hurricane after being tossed around by a typhoon.

My life continues to be tilted because of my nephew’s death, but I’ve taken the steps I need to in order to get back on track. Grief is a bully and it’s staunch in its efforts to drag you under. I hate that its taken such a hold of me, but I’m fighting back. I can tell y’all this — the death of a person you’re extremely close to is not one you get over, but at some point, you’ll make it through. I’m getting there. I visited his gravesite for the first time since he’s been gone. I went on Memorial Day and it was surreal. In some ways, I think it was still too early, but I’m okay. Seeing his name on that tombstone was just…

Photo credit: Trease Shine Hinton

I’m getting myself back on schedule, but know that mourning has a way of disrupting not only your calendar, it’ll destroy your very being. I’m doing my best to get back to blogging and writing consistently, and living a good life. It’s so hard. It’s no longer about taking one day at a time for me; sometimes I strive to make it one hour at a time.

Over the past few months, I’ve had to let go of a relationship that was so toxic, it was slowly draining the life out of me. The person that I finally released from my life (for good, forever, for real) should have been a source of peace and relief; instead, he only added to my pain and grief. He was deliberate in his decision to include me in his life knowing full well there was no room for me there. He claimed an addiction to me, one that has been around for nearly 30 years. There may well be one, but what I refused to be was his 50-year old side chick. Nah.

Be careful who you let in. Selfishness is a bitch and I finally accepted the fact that I have no room in my life for anyone who is only around for selfish gain. Was it hard to let go? Yes and no. Yes, because we’ve known each other our whole lives. I once considered him my soulmate. I loved him with everything I had. He didn’t appreciate it. Therein lies the “no”. He wasn’t always an ass, but he allowed himself to be morphed into, well, an ass.

I think the poorest excuse a person can have for being bitter, angry, or any other selfish thing is that someone made them that way. No, that’s not true. You control who you are. You control how you react. After a bad relationship is over, it’s up to you to become a better person in spite of the pain. You don’t have to become the person who hurt you. I refuse to become jaded because of my past relationships. Just because they were stupid doesn’t mean that the next man will be. I will always believe in true love. I will always believe that I deserve it.

I’ve made some final decisions as to where I plan to live. I’ve also made some other decisions that require me to spread my wings and fly. It’s time to make a move.

I’m coming back, y’all. I’m coming back.

“Who Were You Looking For?”

Even before my childhood friend asked me that question, she knew the answer. We both knew the answer. There were so many people at my nephew’s funeral.

he family processional was huge. For every one person who considered him- or herself a friend of his in that church, there were 2-3 blood relatives present. I’m not talking about “play” cousins, sisters, or brothers, I mean the blood-related real thing. I actually ended up sitting on the far end of the second pew next to one of my younger cousins. I ended up there because some of my first cousins sat on the first pew with my sisters. It didn’t matter where I sat. It just didn’t matter. My heart was annihilated so I could have been swinging from the church bell and it just wouldn’t have mattered.

The Question

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Photo credit: www.pixabay.com

A few weeks after the service, a very close friend of mine who had been at the service asked, “Trease, who were you looking for? You kept looking around the church during the funeral. Who were you looking for?” She knew the answer before she asked, but in an effort to help me come to terms with Arthur’s death, she needed to hear me say it out loud. She wanted me to say it out loud so that I, myself, could hear the answer. We’ve known each other since we were children so she knew exactly how close I had been to my nephew.

I had gone to my doctor and asked for something to help me through the service because I knew that at some point, I was going to lose it. It didn’t happen at the service and it hasn’t happened yet, but I digress. My doctor prescribed Valium and told me to start with a half-tablet so that I wouldn’t keel over should a whole one be too strong. I took that thing around 9:30 that morning even though the service wasn’t set to start until 2 PM. By 11 AM, I knew that I needed to take the other half of that tablet because as my family members began pouring into my mother’s tiny house, I found myself getting agitated and extremely upset. Believe me when I say mind over matter is a thing — it’s a real thing.

Nearly every other person in my family is either a nurse or a doctor so I let them know what I was going to do in case something funky happened. By the time we, the family, walked down the center aisle of St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church, I was a little calmer, but I was still extremely agitated. My mind began to wander. I remember looking around two times. My friend told me that I looked around more than two times — way more than two times. When she asked me who I was looking for, I calmly said, “Arthur.” She knew that already.

Only twice before had Arthur and I gone to funeral services without one another. One time had been my uncle’s funeral who passed away in July 2017 and the other had beenScreenshot_20170320-093621 that of a family friend a few years back. We always maintained eye contact during those services in case we needed to come to one another’s aid. I was looking for him on December 17, 2017. I know that sounds crazy, but I was looking for him. I knew he was in that casket, but I was looking for him. I needed to make eye contact with him even though I knew he was in that casket. I just could not fully wrap my mind around the fact that he was in that casket. My friend said, “I knew you were looking for him. We all knew.” Since my little talk with her, three other people have told me the same thing. They knew I was looking for him.

 

Answers, Solutions, and More Questions

I know he’s gone.I know I won’t hear his voice again in the present. True enough, I have a ton of videos of him laughing, making people laugh, dancing, jet-skiing, and other stuff, but I’ll never hear his voice again in the present.

I know I’ll never receive another one of his foolish texts. I know I’ll never get another text asking me what his mom cooked for Sunday dinner then telling me to fix him a couple of plates.

I know he’ll never call again telling me something weird has happened to his phone, swearing he hadn’t done anything to it. I always knew he had.

How am I supposed to move forward? I know I don’t have a choice because, for one, he wouldn’t want us to be sitting around mourning. Secondly, I have stuff to do.I’m going to keep pressing even though there are still many mornings when I just don’t want to get up. I have to, though.

Handling the death of a loved one is never easy. If it’s someone you’re extremely close to, it’s even harder. The heart will mend, but the pain will remain.

Fridays, Saturdays, and a Month of Sundays

 

Arthur and Mia
Photo credit: Trease Shine Hinton

 

That Friday

“Hello? Whatchu want, Big Sexy?” I answered my phone at exactly 2:16 P.M. with that playfulness we’d shared all our lives.

“Trease, tell my mama I need some antifreeze for my car” my nephew, Arthur, said.
He said a few more things before we ended a very short conversation that day, including the fact that he was running late for work and needed to get off the phone. It was the last one I had with him. The last thing I said to him during that 2-minute call was that I was leaving for Dallas as soon I got off work that day; he simply said, “Okay.”

It has been 122 days since that little chat. It has been 122 days since I last heard his voice. The date was Friday, December 8, 2017.

Just as I told him I would, I left for Dallas right after work that day. My spirit was restless. Even though I had had a lot of coffee and soda that day, what I was feeling wasn’t caffeine jitters. My soul was vexed. Friday evening exit traffic didn’t make matters any better. I just could not settle down. At one point, I turned my radio off and prayed to God to still me. That prayer lasted two hours. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just knew that something was off.

My nephew died the next morning.

That Saturday

He went to bed somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 AM the morning of December 9, 2017. That would be the last Saturday morning he would sit outside on the porch of his home in Cotton Valley.

As usual, he had sat on his porch smoking those Black & Mild cigarillos and drinking his homemade peach vodka (he was cheap – he’d mix peach soda and vodka). The last thing he told the guy who was staying with him was to leave the sliding door unlocked because a friend was coming by to make sure he was up for work later that morning. She would find him shortly before noon, still warm.

They tried to call me four times before I finally answered. I did not recognize the number so I didn’t answer. It was an Arkansas number and since I had received three calls from it, I figured I should answer.

Before the young woman said anything, I could hear my sister wailing in the background, saying, “I’m never going to see my son again! Arthur’s dead! Trease, Arthur’s dead!” I had slowed to a crawl and finally pulled over to the side of I-20 East. I kept screaming, “What are you talking about?? Who is this?? Who’s dead?? Who are you talking about??” That’s when the young lady said, “Ms. Trease, Arthur is dead!”

It has been 121 days since he died. It has been 121 days since he drew his last breath. The date was Saturday, December 9, 2017.

That Next Sunday

We knew there would be many people there. We had no idea the church would be packed for both the wake and the funeral. As is pretty much standard in the black community, funerals are held on Saturdays. I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is. Arthur’s was held on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at 2 P.M. We did that for two reasons: my cousin, who delivers the eulogy at the funerals of all family members couldn’t be there until that Sunday; and the employees at International Paper wanted to be there. The entire plant wanted to be there but wouldn’t have been able to had the service not been held that Sunday.

I remember the service. I remember the fact that my son, who was immediately in front of me with my granddaughter, stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Arthur lying in state. There was a kind of domino effect because I had my head down and bumped into him. My son started screaming, “No!!” Although I had taken a prescription Valium, I remember every single thing that happened during the service.

I remember my sister’s dedication to him. I remember all the people who got up and paid tribute to him. I remember that I didn’t cry a lot. I don’t think I did. Maybe I did.

It’s been 113 days since we said goodbye to Arthur James Wade, Jr. The date was Sunday, December 17, 2017.

A Melding of Days

For the longest time following his death, the days all blended into each other. There were no weekdays; there were no weekends. Holidays were just…days. Easter was not hard this year, it was just another day. In years past, just like Christmas and New Year, Easter was a huge deal for the family. There would be a lot of food and pictures. This time around, it was just another day.

I’m better now. I’m still so deep in the trenches of grief that I’m breathless, but I’m better.
He wouldn’t want us suffering. He wouldn’t. I’m trying so hard to push forward, but there are so many days when I just spin my wheels.

I miss him. There are no words in anyone’s dictionary to describe the void in my life his death left. I miss him.

The days are finally separating themselves. I’m glad they are because as of yet, I haven’t been able to. They’re all one big jumble in my mind.

That Back Road

CVOC. I don’t know the exact length of that road, but I know that from Mama’s house to his trailer in Cotton Valley, it is exactly 6.7 miles. It’s ½ a mile from Mama’s to CVOC, but in total, it’s 6.7 miles. That’s the shortest route. It takes about 13 minutes to get there on that back road. It never really takes anybody that long on that road because most everyone travels well above the speed limit back there so in reality, it’s about 10 minutes from Cotton Valley to Sarepta. To be honest, I don’t even know if there is a posted speed limit back there. I’ve traveled that road my whole life, but for the world of me, I don’t know if there is a posted speed limit back there.
I used to take that road 3-4 days a week as an alternate route on my way in from work. The other way, straight up 371 North, is a true 10-minute drive. There was never any special reason for choosing one over the other. Most times, I would decide shortly after I passed the trailer which route I’d take. I haven’t been on that road since December 17, 2017. That was the day of the funeral.
I don’t know the exact distance of the entirety of CVOC from tip-to-tip, but I can tell you that if you travel the entire road, just short of the turn-off to go to Dorcheat Bayou, you’ll find St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church’s cemetery. It’s nothing fancy, just the burial place for many in the black community in our little area. My mama, daddy, grandparents, some of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends are resting out there. My love, Arthur James Wade, Jr. is resting out there.
As I typed his name just now, my heart skipped a beat. I stopped breathing. I do that nearly every time he crosses my mind. I still do that. Here lately, I’ve started to get headaches when I think of him. For a while, I giggled a lot when I thought about him, but lately, I’ve gotten headaches. I’ve actually gotten physically sick a few times in the recent past when he’s come to mind, but these headaches…
Back to that back road.
I used to take that road on my way home from work. I made a point of traveling it when I needed to run to Springhill for something, too. When I would go to Springhill using the back road, I’d get to glance over and see Mama and Daddy’s grave marker, and I’d say, “Hey, Mama! Hey, Daddy!” Sometimes, I’d just wave. I haven’t been back there since December 17, 2017. I don’t plan to go back there any time soon because Arthur is back there.
The cemetery is nearly on the other end of CVOC from the point where I would get on it near his trailer, and to get home, I wouldn’t have to pass his resting place, but for some reason, I can’t get on that road. I just can’t. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like if I get on that road, this little scab that’s formed over my heart is going to be ripped off. It’s not even close to being healed. It’s still kind of bloody and raw, and Lord knows it’s tender to the touch, but if I go back there, that scab is going to get ripped off.
I feel like if I go back there, I’m going to lose it. I’m not afraid of encountering his spirit or anything like that; I just can’t accept the fact that there’s nothing back there except his body in a cold, dark grave. I can’t accept the fact that when it’s raining and cold, he’s lying back there in a box. None of us have been to the grave and back so no one can tell me what’s going on with him. I don’t know what happened after he was buried. I know his body is still there, but that’s all I know.
At some point, I’m going to start the grieving process. I haven’t reached those stages yet and I’m okay with that. People grieve differently so I just taking this thing one day at a time, but I’m still at a complete and total loss. He just isn’t gone in my mind. I know he’s not here, but again, he’s not gone in my mind.

Just a Girl from the Country

I was born and raised in the tiny, northwest Louisiana town of Sarepta. The population is under 1000 and my mother loved that fact.

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We didn’t have running water in our home until I was 12. We got our bath water, our water for cooking, our water for drinking from the well at the end of the road. We shared that well with several families and there was never any discord because even if we weren’t related by blood, we were family. That old well is still standing though it’s not in service.

The road leading to the house that I grew up in — the house that my mom built with her own two hands and only the help of my grandfather — was dirt. That meant that I was an expert mud cake maker and I loved playing in the rain. I spent far more time running around in my bare feet than I ever did in shoes. I almost always caught more light bugs than the rest of the kids as we ran around outside after dark.

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At the end of that dirt road, across from the well, was Thomasville School. It was the only school available for black children for a long, long time so it is where my mother attended. She had to leave school before she finished the 9th grade, but the education she gained from life afforded her far more knowledge than the books she longed to read from.

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Daddy loved fishing so that meant we spent a ridiculous amount of time on the bayou reeling them in. I can pull them in with the best of them. I still can. I know how to cast a reel and I know how to handle a pole. I’m not scared of worms and I have no fear of crickets. I’m just a girl from the country.

I’m simple. I don’t have to have the biggest house. I don’t have to have the grandest car. I do like really nice purses, but hey, everybody has their “thing”. Purses are mine. Anyway, I’m quite happy with a nice, little home. I’m good with a nice car that will get me from point A to point B. I intend to upgrade my wheels next year, but it will be something I can afford because material things don’t mean much in the end.

I fought coming back to Louisiana like a guerilla warrior. I didn’t want to come back here. I thought I needed the sights, sounds, and convenience of the city, but I’ve found that the quiet, the peace, and the solitude of good old Thomasville Road is good enough for me. 

My idea of the picture-perfect setting will be complete when I build my new home next year. I know Will is going to be off enjoying life on his own and living freely, but I’m okay with being in Sarepta. It took me a long time to reach this point because, in my mind, I was forced to return here. Little did I know it was a blessing in disguise. I love being a country girl.

I Miss Her

Not one day goes by that I don’t think about Cleal Shine. Whether it’s just a little snicker about something she did or said, the near-physical pain I feel sometimes when I think of the pain she, herself, was in during her final days on this side life, she crosses my mind.

It’s impossible for me to even look in the mirror without seeing her staring back at me. That worry crease between my eyes is ever-present. This hair…Lord, this hair. There’s…so…much…of…it!! In all honesty, though, I’m proud to have this head of hair because it’s so much like hers, right down to the gray she tried so hard to hide. I refuse to hide mine.ToMjGpPDRe3cSYKO8Du

I remember how dementia ravaged her mind and caused her to be so frustrated. Mama was super funny. All her life, she made fun of any- and everybody and most situations. That’s why we didn’t recognize the onset of her dementia immediately. As far back as I could remember, she played around about everything, including remembering stuff so it took us a while to absorb the fact that she really was losing her memory.

It comes to me like it was yesterday that I talked to her shortly after I relocated to the Dallas area, and she couldn’t remember whether or not she’d eaten that morning. She kept saying, “I don’t know if I ate or not.” I didn’t give it a lot of thought. It only got worse.

The first time she didn’t recognize me, I thought my heart would stop beating. I had come in one weekend to handle her household bills and when I unlocked the door, she just stared at me. I asked, “Mama, why are you looking at me like that?” She said, “I’m trying to figure out who you are. Why do you have a key to my house?” It took every fiber of my being not to cry in front of her. I didn’t do it in front of her, but when I got back in my car, I let loose. By the time I made it back to her house, she knew who I was, but I was still shaken.

In the end, I had become numb to the fact that she didn’t recognize me all the time. I was so broken to pieces by her condition overall that I had become numb. I was dealing with the breakup with the man I thought was my soulmate so the summer before I lost her was much harder than any I’ve ever lived though including the summer after my divorce was final.

The funeral remains a blur in my mind. I can’t really say it was a blur because I remember everything about it, but it was surreal. I remember seeing her for the last time in that casket. I had made all the arrangements, including choosing a dress for her and making certain that her hair was styled the way she would have wanted it. The thing that I’ve never told anyone about was my own internal fight at the cemetery.

The Burial

It had been raining the whole day and my cousin, who officiated the service, asked if we wanted to do the commitment portion of the service that would have been performed at the gravesite inside the church. Since the weather was so bad and her sisters were older, we decided that we’d do that, but several of us went to the cemetery anyway. My ex-husband, Will, Mama’s baby sister and a few others went so that we could see her lowered into the ground.

Since there was no formal commitment, the handlers went about the business of lowering her down so that water wouldn’t get in her grave. That has always bothered me. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis so she was always cold. It was cold and wet that day. I didn’t want to leave my mama at that graveyard. I know she was dead. I know she felt nothing, but in my mind, I was concerned that she was going to be cold. That still bothers me. I know it’s unrealistic, but it bothers me.

I miss her, but I know she’s with me. I can’t wait to see her again.