The Funeral

The white open sided tent that housed chairs for the family and other mourners at the cemetery appeared to trap the heat instead of provide shade. Charlotte recalled what her grandmother would say on similar days. Days when a friend or family member was laid to rest and the sun seemed to be measuring its strength against the wail of the mourners.

“My God, ain’t it hot? She must’ve bust hell wide open,” she would say absent-mindedly while fanning herself with a programme booklet.

Surely that was not the case with her grandmother. Charlotte tried to block the thought from her mind. The woman took every word in the Bible as law. Calling the Lord’s name in vain was a sure sin that would guarantee you a seat next to the devil. Not to mention speaking during a thunderstorm.

“Girl shut your mouth? Don’t you hear the Lord speaking?” She would scold.

Grandma was certain that the good word said you hear the voice of the Lord in the thunder and saw him in the lightning. So when that thunder cracked and that lightning flashed, the entire world should be silent before him. Charlotte could actually hear her grandmothers warning like it was just yesterday that it all happened.

She slumped down in the chair and took her own programme booklet and began to fan herself furiously. If they didn’t get on with the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” custom, they’d be burying her next. She was sure she’d passed out any minute from heat exhaustion. All of the theatrics from her family and her grandmothers friends at the church, mingled with her own downpour of tears had left her spent and emptied out by the time they got to the graveyard. As if reading her mind, her friend Summer handed her a bottle of cold water.

Earlier at the church, it was not until she had left the casket, heading to her seat, through fits of tear jerking sobs and a vision blurred by sheets of tears swinging from her eyelashes, that she noticed her two best friends, Summer Saint-Claire and Mindy Rogers. Summer gave a quick wave of the hand. Mindy displayed one of those, I-wish-there-was-something-I-could-do, smiles. Charlotte admitted to herself that she had the best friends ever. She thought it odd that she felt embarrass that they saw her in this moment of weakness. She surprised herself even.

Charlotte hadn’t cried during any part of the two weeks leading up to her grandmother’s funeral. She had watched Alzheimer’s disease take the woman, who once nursed her bruised knee and walked her to school on her very first day, and turned her into a 5’7” baby. However, when she saw the shell of the woman who acted as mother to her for so many years, lying lifeless in a casket that would close to take her out of sight, leaving behind only memories that she could not touch, it was too much. It was more than she could bear. The weighted emotion in her chest and the pressure of a lump in her throat produced a slow leak. First it began to fill in any space they could get into under her eyelids. She tried to blink them away but they worked their way to the hinges of the door of her tear ducts. Doors that had been rusted shut for years to shut in any sign of weakness. Crying was a sign of weakness and she was raised to be strong.

Against all restraints Charlotte lost it. As far as she could tell she was the only mourner there. Everything else became obscure, a haze. She could barely see her way to the casket on display ahead. Someone held her hand. Then more bursts of sobs, some whom she didn’t recognize. She looked for her mother in the crowd ahead of her but couldn’t make her out.. There was a shriek and what seemed like a howl.

“Oh Lord, Marie gone, Marie gone!” Someone wailed.

A hand was gently rubbing her back. She had no idea who it was. She must’ve arrived at the casket because she had stopped. Wiping her tears away with the back her hands she looked down. In that moment it was evident to Charlotte that things would never be the same again.

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In The Mirror

Charlotte stood in front of the floor length mirror lying slanted against the wall instead of hanging from it like it should be. She fussed with her once wooly hair, which were now limp brown strands on her head from years of straightening. It never looked right to her and seemed to look thinner after each chemical process. She was in 7th grade when she begged to have it relaxed. All the kids would tease her for having “baby hair” and she didn’t realize how much she needed to fit in. Her grandmother was a stickler for presentation. She always made sure all of the kids were clean and well dressed before they left the house. Even now that she was no longer with her, Charlotte felt the need to be just right at her funeral. Impeccable.

However, some things could not be changed. Like the cocoa bean shade of her skin, which always seemed to work against her. It was the first thing all of the other kids pointed out to make her feel small in an argument. It was the last thing all of the boys looked for when they chose a girlfriend. Here now, standing in the mirror, it was the one thing overpowering the thin image, adorning a white, jeweled Ann Taylor shift dress. Choosing pearl earrings from the green mosaic jewelry box her mom had passed down to her, Charlotte watched herself in motion as long, bony arms reached up to touch her ears like a tree branch void of life, but still moved by the wind. Sitting down on the bed, she slid her feet into a pair of black Nine West sling backs.

She stood to inspect herself. I love my legs, she accepted of herself in thought. They were skinny like the rest of her but long, falling down like waterfalls from under the dress, which highlighted them by stopping short of her knees. Weren’t men supposed to love long legs, she mused, and wondering why no one seemed to like hers? Her grandmother thought she was too skinny also. However, she never made her feel ugly for it. She especially loved Charlotte’s smile.

“Oh child, you have a pretty smile. You’re a beautiful dark skinned girl,” she would say with tenderness in her eyes whenever she caught Charlotte in a wide grin. She always wondered if grandma only said that to make her feel better about herself. How could anyone love her smile? She’d always have to be careful not to show her crooked bottom teeth when she smiled, to avoid giving anyone another imperfection to use as a dart.

“Char! It’s time to go! Her mom yelled. “The limousine’s here!”

“I’ll be right out! She yelled back. Her mom had a way of making her anxious. Everything always seemed to be hurried with her mom and meticulously planned out.

She took one last glance in the mirror. She felt like screaming. “Why can’t I look like, like…someone else?” She said through gritted teeth. Sighing, she left her room and headed outside to join the rest of her family who had now assembled at her house before heading to the church.

Living After Dying

This Happened…

 

How DO you live after dying? Especially when you’re not expected to return from death, generally. At least not in this age. Yet, this was a question that plagued me for weeks when this happened to me. You’d think one would know right away what to do, how to live. Of course, live life to the fullest, right? You see that would be all about me! How do I live like I’m suppose to after January 18th, 2014? Ok, so lets back up for a minute. And I promise I’ll give you the edited version to make this short.

On January 17th, I lay prepped and ready to go, for a surgery that should have been very simple. After all, I had one five years ago so I was totally prepared for this one. I had suffered for over a year and was ready for some relief and to live a “normal” life. At about 11 am after a series of questions and me pointing out where on my arm I wanted the IV and what vein should be used (I promise, I am not controlling), I was sedated and wheeled into the Operating Room. I expected to wake up groggy from a successful surgery and well on my way to recovery. However, I was awakened, groggy nonetheless, but with my doctor in squinted-eyes-view saying that they couldn’t perform the surgery because I had become very unstable. Their plan was to close me back up and try to stabilize me before attempting the surgery again. Realizing in my foggy mind that this was not turning out to be like my previous surgical experience, I gave him permission to remove the entire organ if necessary stating that I would be ok with that. I was once again put into that sweet sleep where nothing exists but rest. My next memory will be the most lasting of my life to date.

I opened my eyes. I am on my back propped up on my elbows under the glare of the most bright, pure, amazing light. I still cannot not find words accurate enough to describe this light. I’m alive and well, SO well. Two extremely happy people all dressed in white then captured my attention. Beaming down on me they said, “Charmaine, it’s time to go. Are you ready?!” There was nothing spoken of death but I just had this knowing of things. I knew that I was not where I used to be and that if I went with them, there was no coming back. Most of all I sensed that none of the people who I cared about most was there. So, in short, I told them that I could not go because I wanted to go back and encourage my friends and family to follow Jesus so that they could be with me again one day. To which they replied, “But you could’ve done that already.” Well I couldn’t argue with that statement so after what seemed like forever of me back and forth with them insisting I couldn’t go, I did what I do when nothing else works. I called on Jesus. Screamed more like it and fought with all of my might when they reached down to pick me up. During this struggle, I recall the two people and the light beginning to fade out. Actually more like being sucked in somewhere. As they went out, in came this impenetrable darkness that swallowed me up with it.

“Ms. Smith you’re awake!” Announced a nurse surprisingly amidst a lot of hustle and bustle around me and whispers of shock at my consciousness. A doctor rushed in and exclaimed, “ Charmaine you’re a miracle!! You died TWICE! You’re a real miracle and don’t let anyone tell you any different.” I’m also made aware that it is no longer January 18th (when I should have woke up from surgery) but rather Wednesday, January 22nd as I had been in a coma in the Intensive Care Unit. After they left the room, my mind immediately thought of The Light and my conversation with those two cheerful people and I thought to myself, “That really happened?”

Now I‘ll be honest. I have tried to discount this experience for a while but I cannot forget the realness of it and that LIGHT! I’ve had dreams that seemed so real. You know the ones where someone is chasing you and you actually fall out of the bed in reality? Well maybe it’s just me. This was not one of those dreams. I felt like I was there. I WAS there and I was different, felt more like the real me. I can’t fully explain but I wish I were skilled enough to vividly pen my feelings or the experience for you.

…But Why?

 For years, after I decided to commit my life to the path of Christianity, I prayed and asked God to use my life to glorify him. I just wanted to live a life worth living, one more purposeful and not all about what I want. Well, be careful what you ask for because I can say without a doubt that God was glorified in that hospital through my experience. The next few days in there I’ve had doctors and nurses come to my room day after day to tell me how amazed they were by what happened. Day after day they came in and told me they never expected to see me leave the OR let alone be in ICU and then walking around so quickly. They all exclaimed it was an act of God. Several nurses told of how when they saw the state that I was in, they went to the chapel and prayed for me. My own doctor, who is voted the best among his peers and was practicing since I was a baby, sat at the foot of my bed saying how afraid he was because he had never experienced that before. He sat there with his Buddhist pendant hanging from a chain around his neck and told how me being alive is an act of God. “A miracle…” he said. Yes, I believe God was most certainly glorified through my life (and death). This may not be a big deal for some persons and that’s ok. For weeks the gravity of the situation hadn’t struck me also until I sat at my friends dining table, my entire body tense and soaked from head to toe in sweat as I read my medical report. I had to know exactly what happened.

In the OR, when they cut into one of the fibroid tumors they cut an artery and I bled out. They couldn’t get it to stop so I bled to death. The rapid response team came in, pumped 6 pints of blood into me and was able, after a while, to resuscitate me. My doctor decided to take another route and remove the entire organ. When they attempted this, I died again. After another resuscitation they decided to leave the organ in and proceed to remove the tumors. After surgery, I was taken to ICU where after hours of being there someone noticed my blood pressure was almost non-existent. They rushed me back to the OR, re-opened me to find that there was another severed artery. I had bled out again and was given another 6 pints of blood after catheterizing this artery. Now back in ICU I suffered from a damaged lung, liver, kidneys and upper digestive tract caused by the rapid blood transfusion. Your organs just can’t deal with all of that blood and anti-biotic coming at it so fast. There at the foot of my comatose body, my doctor told my family that I would be in the coma for at least a month and that I would most likely have extreme brain damage. Well, I was in the coma for four days, when I came out of it I could answer all of their questions that checked for brain damage and by the time I left the hospital that following Saturday (another shocker) all of my damaged organs had completely recovered and functioning normally. Glory be to God? Yes indeed!

How DO you live after dying?

 It’s embarrassing to reveal that I was a Christian for years and didn’t believe that God truly loved me. Despite the fact that he had shown me in so many ways over the years, too many to tell of here, I couldn’t accept it. And yes, I believe John 3: 16 but my wicked flesh would say, “but he did that for the WHOLE WORLD, He didn’t want his creation to be lost. It doesn’t mean he loves YOU.” Even with my death experience, I didn’t see Gods love. I know, it’s crazy. But what that showed me was GODs GRACE. I never understood grace until then. I didn’t deserve another chance. I had so many years to do what I asked to come back and do. Yet, he granted me His favor and gave me another chance. That’s grace, available to those who ask, even in death!

I was sitting in my friend’s living room one day going through all the details in my head. This was about 4 weeks post surgery. I thought of all the little things that happened. There are so many of them like family and friends near and far ( I’m from the Bahamas, surgery was in Florida ) dropping everything and going out of their way to be there and help me, the many people and even strangers praying for me, a few people who went the extra mile at the hospital during recovery, God answering my prayer to restore my sight when it started to go in one eye (another damage from surgery), countless ways where I saw things coming together to make the process bearable, there’s just SO many things that may not seem major but felt major to me. And as I pondered it all, the most AMAZING feeling in the world came over me. Every hair on my body stood up and my heart was never so filled as my lips whispered, “Wow, God loves me. He loves ME.” I cried. I had never felt love so strong and so sure. I vow never to doubt again.

So, how DO you live after dying? I struggled in so many ways post surgery but the spiritual struggle was worse than the physical. For weeks I felt morbid. I died! I hated that it happened but reminded myself that God was glorified through it. Then for weeks, even still occasionally, I wished I hadn’t come back. I mean what was I thinking? No more sickness, no more struggles, only peace! When those days rear up, I remind myself that I am more useful to God alive than dead. Therefore, I live like I should have been living before I died. I make every attempt to live without regrets and to the full. Even if some days are uneventful, I make it full by banishing any negative thoughts from my head. Everyone on this planet gets ONE life to live. I’ve known people who died and weren’t ready yet they didn’t get second chances. They got one. I got TWO. To whom much is given, much is required. I desire to live this life loving God, loving people and being kind to everyone.

I’ve had a tiresome journey with rugged terrain through life. The climb, most times steep. My body is achy and my soul weary but I still hear it say,

 Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Wherever You would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

(Oceans by Hillsong United)

At times I think I’m crazy and like suffering but that’s not so. I’ve just learned so much through them and desire to keep growing and learning. Honestly, I look forward to more highs than lows moving forward. The journey continues and I’ve been prepared to climb so GIVE ME MY MOUNTAIN!

Until next time…

What’s Love Without Tragedy?

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Sara could never quite figure out who she was. Now with the emptiness she’s a stranger. A stranger even in her shadows.

“Ms. Barnes?

Sara felt a light tap on her shoulder and tried to process what it meant before realizing that it was the nurse.

“Ms. Barnes, sorry to wake you but I need to check your blood pressure. You have been taking the sedatives more frequent than is normal. Are you in a lot of pain still?”

Sara nodded. This patient controlled analgesia infusion pump was her only savior. She would press the little red button every three hours before the first dose wore off. Was she in pain? Sara dared not tell the nurse that she was numbing her soul and not her body. It seemed impossible to clear the lump of dark system weighing on her chest and continuing to build and form the great depression of her life.  The way the emptiness rose from the broken cords of her little ovaries all the way up to her core and pushed a heavy grey cloud into her throat was more pain than she could bear. Thank God if only for Percocet and the deep abyss of nothingness it sent her into for at least four hours.

“Your pressure is kind of high. Try to ease up off the medication. The doctor is concerned with the amount you’re having because your blood pressure has increased. We’ll put you on oral medication in a couple of hours.”

Sara resisted the urge to start pumping as much of her liquid savior into her veins as possible before they robbed her of it.  She dreaded the thought of having to deal with her recovery. Couldn’t she just sleep thorough it, she thought? She hated her body. Few people have betrayed her in life. That she had been able to deal with. But her own body?! What a slap in the face. Hadn’t she taken good care of it, always mindful of what she fed it and determined to get a satisfying amount of exercise? Many women had envied her body, not knowing the insidiousness of its insides.

She looked at the nurse. Janet, her name tag read. She couldn’t have been more than 24 years old with a defined Jamaican accent.

Janet met her eyes and smiled.  “While I’m here I’m going to check your bandages ok?”

“Ok” Sara said feebly not wanting to talk at all.

“Wow, what a great job he’s done. You can barely see a scar.” Janet stated after removing the bandages. “Take a look”, she remarked.

Sara shook her head.

“You don’t want to see it,” asked a seemingly confused Janet.

With the floodgates about to burst in her head Sara shook her head again and turned toward the window. She wondered if the nurse realized that she wasn’t quite ready to face the evidence of her harsh reality as the woman went on about her duties in silence.

As the nurse exited the room Sara took her last squeeze on the red button to get a last shot of her merciful painkiller, as it would be her last. She needed all the numbing she could get while she could get it. She glanced at the round-faced white clock perched high above the armchair, which was covered in a peach fabric with prints of seashells woven into it. It’s hands told it was 2:03 p.m.  In about five hours Mia would be there to take her home.

Home…did she even have a home, Sara thought glancing out the window. There was always a sense of abnormality about her. Now, she was certain she didn’t belong in this world. She just didn’t fit in. Everyone around her lived “normal” lives where things happened in the order you dreamed they would when you were young. But not for her, her life always seemed to be as grey as the clouds she saw from the view of her window, hovering over a not so normal day that appeared to be waiting for that great voice to command, “Sunny with light winds, no chance of rain”, so that they, puffed up as they are, would have brighter days. Sara understood them so well. Even as her sedated high crept in she wondered if the earth would ever come around for her but she doubted it as she welcomed the deathlike sleep.

Mia arrived just as Sara was signing the last of the release papers. She wore a beautiful smile on her round, plump face as she strolled into the room. Some twenty years they’ve been best friends and Sara have never known this woman to rush or carry on with any sense of urgency. Cool, calm and collected should be all that’s written on Mia’s tombstone at the end of her days. Sara returned the smile to her friend and thought how blessed she was to have her. When her own family didn’t consider her a priority, Mia had. And now during the most memorable moment of her life here she was again, faithfully by her side.

Sara gingerly pulled the soft, pale blue cotton dress over her head with Mia’s help. As they gathered up her items, she barely heard a word Mia was saying about the horror she had in the kitchen trying to make her favorite soup as a welcome home treat. One thought plagued the front of her mind at the moment. How was she going to break the news to her boyfriend? She had met Jonathon Starks after years of thinking she would end up alone, travelling the world like a nomad.  He had been a glimmer of light in her dark world. Sara felt a pang of guilt for not allowing him to see her while in the hospital. She just couldn’t face him. Or was it the idea of losing him that she couldn’t come face to face with? But she must tell him his odds of continuing on with her.

It just wasn’t fair, not to him, to be thrust into a decision like this just as they were climaxing to the next stage of their relationship and thinking of a life together. It certainly wasn’t fair to her having to deal with the thought of losing him after all she has lost already.

There was no way around it. It is what is it she mumbled, climbing into Mia’s glossy black BMW. Her friend looked at her with a clouded, sympathetic sadness in her eyes. It was almost as if she knew what haunted Sara’s thoughts as they made their way onto Sheridan Street.

As the car sped on, so did her heart as she rehearsed how she would tell Jonathan that she would never be able to carry his child. Her heart ached for him more than herself.

“Where is God in all of this?” Sara wondered aloud.

Mia reached over and squeezed her hand. “When you’re down to nothing, God is up to something, sweetie,” she tried to assure her.

Staring straight ahead, Sara was quite annoyed with God at the moment and didn’t want to hear any of those pitiful lines meant to give suckers like her false hope, not even from her best friend.

“Yeah, maybe He is…” she smiled at Mia patronizingly.

Feeling guilty for the undeserved attitude she gave her friend, Sara turned up the volume on the radio. Jonathan once again heavy on her mind, she forced herself to pay attention to the lyrics floating in the air. How could she bring herself to be the bearer of this news to a man who spent the last few months sharing his hopes and dreams for them and their future family?

The lyrics rang out in her head, “What’s love without tragedy…” The artist was right. With her track record, there could never be love without tragedy.