Updated: Apr 29, 2020
I never had a chance to know my grandparents. Three of them died before I was born and my maternal grandfather whom I did meet, died when I was 8 years old. My most vivid memory of a grand parent was my maternal grand aunt whom we called Dabo. Dabo, which literally translates to “old lady” ( not offensive in African culture) in my native tongue, Bassa completed our family.
Dabo was an advisor to all of us and a carrier of stories of my mom’s family. Dabo kept us grounded in our culture because she only spoke Bassa to us. She played Bassa games with us and made us laugh in her attempts to speak English. The last time I saw Dabo was the Friday before Easter in 1996 . We’d gone away for the weekend when a phase of the war in Liberia broke out. Dabo escaped the house with members of our extended family and was ok but when we returned to the city, we could not get to her as parts of the country was unstable . Things remained that way and we came to the US without a proper goodbye. She died tragically in a car accident in 2001 when the public bus she was in collided with a truck exploiting Liberia of its natural resources via the permission of warlord Charles Taylor.
From being adopted by 2 couples in their 80’s while I worked in Maine at a summer camp one summer, to assuming Pastoral care roles that allowed to me sit with and hear the stories of people in assisted living and hospice care as they transitioned from this this life to the next, Dabo’s death stopped stinging as I attached myself to the elderly and befriended them . However, the pain of her loss and that of the grandparents I never met began to sting again in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak and the way it has particularly claimed the lives of the elderly. It stung even more due to the absurd comments made last month by Texas Lt. governor , Dan Patrick who suggested that grandparents sacrifice themselves for the sake of bringing the economy back in wake of the virus that called for a shut down of all non essential economic activity.
Old age does not diminish the value of life and nor does it signify an untimely end to it.
To grow old is a natural phenomenon to look forward to. Where I am from in Liberia, West Africa, only when one has an elder status can they settle major disputes in our palava huts ( as pictured in the cover photo) a hut in the center of any community where conflict transformation occurs. In black American culture, honoring the matriarch and patriarchs of the family who'd survived the turmoils of life brought on by inequality and injustice and thrived have always been an underlying inspiration for family reunions and while old age doesn’t always mean wisdom, many can attest that it does correlate to a carefree nature to tell the truth, no matter the repercussions. It is a practice that can serve all of us well no matter what phase of life we are in.
For Christians ( particularly mainline protestants) the day before Easter, is a liminal space known as Holy Saturday. One Holy Saturday, there is an unplanned, but observed contemplative silence and commemorative mourning of the loss of a savior who over 2000 years ago descended to the dead but, it is also the verge of a celebration that death no longer is the end all be all because Jesus conquered it. However, in light of the grave loss we have experienced and continue to experience especially in this time, we who subscribe to this belief must accept the fact that the pain of loss is so great that many will not be able to cross over this liminal space. Knowing this, it is our presence void of religious platitudes, prayers and service that truly matter.
Those we’ve lost are irreplaceable and their loss will sting time and time again but we rest in the assurance that the grief of that loss will never take over us. I believe pain can be transferred into something beautiful and each time it does, the Easter message abounds. No matter how long it takes and how it manifests, may this be your story to share with the world or quietly in your heart in time.
Janjay Innis is the Founder of The Africa Expo
She is obsessed connecting black people globally.