Make sure you’re present in people’s lives

Make sure you’re present in people’s lives
June 16
09:55 2016

Micha James

Guest Columnist

My grandmother passed away on the 25th of March, which was also Good Friday. I had the opportunity to spend every night with her in hospice the week prior to her death.  It was an experience I pray to NEVER forget.

The conversation, the jokes, the pain, the peace, the staff, her final wishes and her admiration of me have changed me forever.  It has caused me to verify if I am robotically moving through life or if I am actually present.

Recently, I was stopped by a friend’s mother who wanted to invite me to a Happy Hour in memory of him.  It immediately brought back all the emotions I felt with the loss of my grandmother less than 30 days prior, but I held it together because my loss surely could not be greater than a parent losing their child.  I spent all evening reflecting on my relationship with my friend and why I missed him so much.

Derek and I met at Northwest Middle School in 1992 during Open House in what would be our homeroom class.  It was difficult not to notice him because we were two of three black students in the class and he was the only male.  I was usually taller than most of my classmates, and he reminded me of it at least three times a week.

He would call me “Sasquatch,” especially when he would have to take the fall for something all three of us did.  He tortured me, but it wasn’t the bully type of torture; it was as if we were siblings.  We had classes together all throughout middle school, and if he didn’t make enough fun of me in class, he would continue his shenanigans on the bus; yes we rode the same bus, too.

When it came time for high school, I opted for a school outside of my district, which happened to also be the same school where Derek was enrolled, and we ended up in some of the same classes again.  By then, he was taller than me but I was of age to wear heels and would remind him from time to time who was boss as I looked down at him.

We continued to sit near each other because we were still two of the few blacks in class; we continued to get in a little trouble; and he continued to take the fall.

He was an athlete; I worked and was active in other organizations, so we rarely hung out after school.  We vowed to stay in touch while in college and we did – mostly during our holiday breaks.

All of sudden, we were adults and having conversations about our post-college plans.  It was weird; we were no longer joking but attentively listening to each other and actually caring about what was said.

I didn’t know what to do with the information about him being sick.  What kind of sick?  Was it his allergies that always flared with small bumps on his face every year around his birthday?  The only thing that could cause him to not return to school was the flu.  I mean, we were in our early 20s, how sick could he be?  Then I learned he was diagnosed with a dreadful form of cancer.  OK … I was in nursing school, so I’m sure there’s a chemotherapy that could treat it.  What do you mean, he can’t walk?  It all became overwhelming and I needed to talk to him so I could learn all that was happening.

I visited him at home, where his infectious smile was plastered on his face. Somehow he found a way to crack a joke and this time, I willingly acted as the butt of the joke.  Nursing school trained me to recognize signs and symptoms of illnesses but it never prepared me for how to deal with illnesses when they affected my friends and family.

Derek left us in 2004, not long after I gave birth.  It wasn’t until speaking with his mother that I realized he was the first major loss in my life.  But it was also then where I realized how important it was for me to be present in our friendship.  I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience a relationship where we got on each other’s nerves but in turn, assured we each were on track to produce the greatness our parents expected.  I had to be present in order to understand how rare it was for a young black man to be a great athlete and an honor student, yet still remain humble and kind.

My son is now in the sixth grade, and I had to be present to understand why I smile when he works in his “Wordly Wise Vocabulary Book.”  Derek and I would compete to see who could finish the fastest.  He usually won!

I had to be present to know why I give my son specific guidance about how to carry himself.  I watched Derek as he always wore his pants on his waist; his polo shirts pressed and buttoned; he smelled fresh; and his face was perfectly moisturized.

I miss my grandmother and I miss Derek but I’m incredibly grateful I was present because my presence is what creates happy tears.

Take inventory on your life and make sure you’re present because memories of your presence will surely offer comfort during some of the most uncomfortable periods in your life.

Micha James is a writer in Winston-Salem.

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