Wednesday, August 07, 2019

How I Overcame the Distress of Death

It's the way Sula dies-- sorry to give away this bit of the story, but I assure you, it won't spoil Toni Morrison's "Sula" for you. The way that woman dies changed my life. It shifted something in the core of me; helped me resolve death and dying in a way nothing ever had.
For most of my childhood and teenage years, I had a very difficult relationship with death. I knew what it was but I did not understand it. It unnerved me, disrupted my mind's balance.
Whenever it was whispered that someone close enough had died, I would observe the unsettling transformation of affected adults. A strange sorrow would descend, a shroud of darkness, a hollow wind hanging about.
It all caused my body to break out in reflex mild tremors until I would fall asleep, exhausted, my mind tired of trying to make sense of something no adult had ever bothered to explain to my child's mind. Looking back, it was an intriguing manifestation of the psychosoma. My husband would say- that's just the Mk brain.
In later years as a grown-up, I got to telling some of my friends who became parents to make sure they have the death talk with their kids. Whatever your beliefs, have a nicely packaged explainer speech for the young ones, especially those with extra-sensory emotional perception.
Tell them what it means for life to end, why adults cry, what to do when you hear a primal scream or the haunted mourning of grief-stricken grown-ups.
Because if you don't introduce them to death gently, your child's mind will touch the rim of that terrifying hollow and spiral down a bumpy black hole. This used to be my young mind's constant spiraling.
The most shattering I remember was when a schoolmate died within 20 minutes of getting bitten by a black mamba. On a gorgeously lazy Saturday afternoon as girls "beat stories" under Mwarubaini trees. She had gone to get a comb from her locker so her friend could braid her hair, and on coming back, the mamba struck. The school van came quickly, but a mamba is a mamba. That night, I had a very difficult time making sense of death and its attendant darkness. It seemed as if my mind blew a gasket.
Then one day I read Toni Morrison's "Sula". I had a habit of reading books left lying about by older humans. I saw Sula die beautifully, unspectacularly, a death astonishingly ordinary. As if she had simply paused to think. Sula dies and her thoughts never stop. She opens her eyes on the other side with an ordinary thought. Wow! If I were to pick my five life-changing moments, coming to the end of Sula's life would be one of them. Awesome!
I never got tremors again when whispers of death came visiting. In fact, I clearly remember following dad to see a beloved pastor's wife who had suddenly died. I was nearing the end of my teens then. Again, the compound was filled with that dreadful mourning that felt like a bottomless pit. Only this time I had no fear of it. I looked at the peaceful lady and wondered what she was thinking on the other side. I stood there in total composure as dad wept with the women.
Morrison introduced me to consciousness when I did not have a word for it. That realm of becoming god if you dare, if you dream, if you die. It was a gift of sanity.
Gelede Masquerade of the Yoruba - A celebration of the power of female ancestors and women elders. Photo credit: Unknown. Asé