Coming to Terms with Sickness and Death

A poignant re-telling of a personal story, poetry included, of loss and the final acceptance of that loss.

(This is piece is for a future choreographed performance)


In memory of Hendy

Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form. — Rumi

At age 58, I have finally acknowledged and accepted that death is the great equalizer. Over the past six years, after confronting hard truths and coming to terms with the fact that I am a survivor of childhood domestic violence and childhood sexual trauma and that damage is considerable, I can better understand all that has happened in my life. Instead of running from my truths, I am finally embracing all and working on healing and recovering the reparable areas. Finally, I have come to terms with the inseparability life and death.

In moments of most profound reflection, I ask for forgiveness for all the pain I caused to those who loved and helped me in the past. I know I have left many hurt feelings and anger behind because of my once inexplicable actions. However, I must move forward. Every day, in my prayers, I send those I left hurting blessings and prayers of protection and peace because there is not much more I can do.

To all those people

I hurt

No excuses

To all those people I hurt

In my ruptured place

— -my desperation

I am sorry

No vagueness



How were you to know the depth of

My painful delusions,

— -absurd willfulness

People who have fought all their lives sometimes come back together in the last moments of a loved one. However, my father, who abandoned us, never returned to see his son on his death bed. Hendy, my younger brother, died from AIDS in 1998. Witnessing a loved one passing and feeling the helplessness it brings can be debilitating — closets filled with their clothing insipidly hanging serve only to sharpen the pain.

My self-inflicted


Illusions and hauntings?


Leaving me lost

Abandoned upon a

Rocky shore of


Disillusion and


How were you to know?

Forgive me for

These transgressions

An empty bedroom with all of their memories hanging on walls or standing on tables and bureaus reflects the coldness that one can feel in one’s heart. Cold bed sheets remain made atop a bed that will never feel their body’s weight ever again. The tears tend to come unchecked at the most inappropriate times. The cycle of birth, sickness, old age, and death plays itself out from moment to moment, whether we like it or not.

Brother, you leaving me?

Brother? Would you please not leave me?

Oh, God!

It is time

Call the ambulance

Brother, you leaving me?

Brother? Are you taking leave?

Breathe girl, breathe

It is time


Like it or not, there is nothing we can do about death. We must accept love and loss as a part of life’s drama. Lately, I have been thinking about death, not only mine but how my younger brother faced his pending death over twenty years ago. Every time a movie star or musician I admired in my youth passes on, I meet my mortality and that of the people I love. I knew my brother’s death was approaching, but it was still a shock, and the loss reverberated through all aspects of my life when it came.

In the United States, my clock alarm sounded at midnight, jerking me from a deep and sound sleep where I heard my brother calling my name far away in Barbados. I landed a mere six hours before from a twenty-one-day trip to Senegal, West Africa. Exhausted and worn out, I stumbled to the bed in my college dorm and fell fast asleep. Little did I know the alarm clock was signaling a moment that would forever change my life’s trajectory.

The waiting almost over

Call the ambulance!!!

Is it coming?

It taking so long

Brother? Are you dying?

Did I say it all?

Is there more to say?

Your wasted body

— -Bedridden — -

Unable to move

You struggle to breathe

I wish I could — -

— -Share your pain

My brother was admitted to the hospital when my alarm sounded in the USA, with AIDS-related complications. His days finally numbered. We spent most of our lives apart since he was kicked out on the streets by our father when he was twelve. Yet, our connection was still strong and pure over miles and miles of ocean and air space. Our karmic bond allowed the universe to send me his message through the ether. I carried him with me in spirit.

Your skeletal frame all

Hard and bony

Green pajamas


Your blood tainted

Same as my blood

Red with life

But yours is


Mine is


But blood all the same

Days later, I was on my way to my birth country without any time to assess the impact of my trip to Senegal and my visit to the slave houses on Goree Island. I landed and headed straight to the hospital. Two months later, he was dead, and I stood alone with only memories and unanswered questions. Our mother broke down in uncontrollable screams and tears at his funeral as I gave the obituary. It was the first time I saw her so broken. To this day, I still feel a part of me has gone missing.

Your wasted body

— -Bedridden — -

Unable to move

You struggle to breathe

I wish I could — -

— -Share your pain

Unescapable, the time has flown by since my brother’s burial, but his memory is still fresh in my mind, and I cannot believe he is gone. He never left our home country and was never inclined to do so. When I saw him in those last days, he was a mass of anger and remorse: anger at the world and sorrow for a life lost to domestic violence.

He was unable to leave his bed as his frame became weaker and more skeletal every day. My mother and I took care of him to the very end. However, other family members scorned him and would not touch him. They treated him like a leper giving him separate dishes, cutlery, and glassware to eat and drink for his meals. He told me about when a family member would not help him to the bathroom but allowed him to drag himself on the floor as they stood over him; he was in despair.


“Sister? the ambulance?

It here yet?”

“I don’t want to go.”

“Don’t make them take me.”

“Sister? Stay with me!”

The flesh of my flesh

Blood of my blood

Tainted blood

Blood of life

Of death

Brother? Please don’t leave me!

The ambulance finally came to make one last trip to the hospital with him inside. I rode along with him. It broke my heart to see them struggle to fit the gurney through our front door: a front door he once ably ambled through. The ambulance wailed to the hospital as I named each childhood haunt that whizzed by because he could not see them while lying flat. There was a sense of acceptance about him, and he grew calmer as we closed in on our destination. He knew he would not be coming back home.

Yes, brother, it here

It is time

Would you please open the door, mother?

What? Is the stretcher too big?

Can’t it fit?

Force it! Make it fit!!!

It got to

— -fit

Brother, don’t leave me!

It is time

Open the blasted door!!!

We made it!

You inside brother

We are on the way

Potholes in the streets

Remember this road?

See the birds in the trees?

Brother? Can you see?

Please!!! Listen to me!!!

We are passing Carlton Supermarket

Remember? You and me?

We walked these streets together

Brother? Are you dying?

Are you leaving me?

It was the Easter season. My mom and I spent as much time as we could with him making sure he had everything he needed. He had few visitors. His last breath came and went not long after. I got the chance to visit his body in repose on the hospital bed. It was the first time I had seen a dead person hours after their passing. He was cold and grayish beneath his black skin, but his face was peaceful. Holding back the tears, I recited my Buddhist chant three times and prayed for his quiet passage. There was a heaving weight in the room as if he was still there. On his bedside table, the red rose I gave him for Easter was withered and brown. A few dried petals sat next to the see-through glass vase.

Gone you are from my life

Regrets I have for

Not saying

What I only now know and


With clarified vividness

Only Now

Thank you for the time spent

Giving me what you could

Even when in my

Cluelessness, you let me go

I moved on

Unable to fix the fissures

They say time heals all wounds, and I am sure this is true. However, it has been challenging. I still remember my brother before his life shattered. We had so much fun in those days. During our youth, envisaged us aging together, and I did not think of him dying before me. One day I hoped to return home to Barbados and build a home where we could live again together. I only thought of my eventual death but never of his.

Today I find myself praying incessantly for the safety of those loved ones who are still with me. The memory of his loss is still very present and very real. There is a void within that is never filled. I know that is the part he took with him when he passed on. Now I am over the half-century mark of my life, and I find myself wondering if he made it to the other side and will we ever meet again. Sometimes I wish I could hear his voice or see him in my dreams. Maybe one day, before the sun sets on my life here on earth, he will speak to me again through the ether.

Street activity

Hustlers bustling

Look, everybody

It is we!!!

My brother and me

Blood of blood

Flesh of flesh

Red blood

Tainted blood


Close to death

Brother? Please don’t leave me!

Poem excerpts from unpublished work

BEING BLACK: being human