On June 14, 2008, my sister called me from upstairs in her usual annoyed tone. I slowly trekked up the stairs, wondering what I had done this time to annoy her (was it my pigsty of a room? or did she find out about the headphones I somehow forgot to ask if I could borrow?). None of my ponderings could prepare me for the words she would say. As I stepped into the dim lighted room she said “she’s dead”, “who”, I asked, “Ms. Chin, she died this morning.” At first I laughed “You’re joking, right” I said, seeing the stern expression on my sister’s face I knew that she was being serious.
After, I had had a few minutes to grasp the reality of my first cousin’s death; it felt as though the room became dimmer and suddenly I just collapsed on the floor, bawling. How could my twenty- six year old cousin be dead? She was perfectly healthy; in fact, she spoke to my sister the night before. All that raced through my mind was my cousin, Suzanne, I could only imagine how she must feel, her older sister was the only immediate family that lived in Jamaica, and now she was dead.
During, the next few days my house was silent, the only time we spoke was when going over flight arrangements. We were all dealing with our grief in different ways, my sisters with their planning, and me with my solitude. Soon, we were off to Jamaica “the vacation destination”, but this trip would be anything but a vacation.
As soon as we arrived on Jamaican soil, we visited our aunt to give her our condolences, but I, on the other hand wanted to be with my Susan to comfort her. We stayed with my aunt and cousin for a few hours until our jet lag kicked in, and we had to call it a night.
The next morning, during breakfast my mother, sisters, brother and I talked about Ms. Chin and the different ways in which we remembered her; whether it was for her scholastic achievements, her entrepreneurship, or her blunt honesty. For those few hours we relished in her memory as a family, laughing and crying– together. When night came we all headed to my aunt’s house for “dead yard” or “nine night” (which is a kind of wake; where friends, family and community of the deceased come to pay their respects and eat, drink, play music and dominoes). It was my first “dead yard,” it was like a party; I never thought a wake could be so fun. (That, is when I realized that death doesn’t have to be so frightening, it’s apart of life, no one is promised a long life that is why it is important to do the best with the time we are given. My cousin was a great example of that; she achieved so much in such a short time. ) I didn’t fall asleep until 2 a.m. and it was still going on strong. The next morning, my mother, my siblings and I went home to prepare for the funeral that was only hours away.
As we all assembled into the church, I could see the coffin, where my cousin lay lifeless. I began walking towards it, my head high and my back arched, confident that I could make without crying. With each pew my confidence lessened, I was only three pews away when my feet became wobbly and my eyes began to tear, I needed to sit down. From my seat I could see the face of my deceased cousin, and I began bawling. I stayed in that seat throughout the service, just wishing that somehow this was just a dream that I would wake up from, but it was not.
After, the burial we all headed back to my aunt’s house for the last “dead yard”, this time I knew we were officially saying goodbye. I walked outside with Susan to the almond tree; we just stood in that spot under the night sky looking at the long asphalt road which lay ahead.
It was time to go, we had said our goodbyes, but none of us were truly ready to move forward, at least not yet. While on the plane, I took one last look at Jamaica and said “good bye.”
In conclusion, my cousins’ death and burial has brought home to me the necessity to take advantage of all the opportunities that are presented in life, it has also taught me to understand and appreciate that death is apart of living. Life has no certain expiration date; it is what you make of it that matters.