I’ve spent most of the weekend writing thank you cards to everyone who attended my mom’s memorial service back in June. One thing that I’ve learned about losing a loved one is that, if one chooses, there are several tasks that one can perform to assuage (if not, prolong) the grieving process. Writing thank you letters is one of these things. While writing these letters, I can’t help but think about my mom and her relationship to the recipients of these cards. Most are family, and many are friends. Within these relationships, there are friends who are like family.
One thing that I’ve learned is that, while death is devastating, the person’s life doesn’t have to end with their death. As one of her surviving loved ones, it is now my duty to keep my mom alive until I die. I fully understand George Eliot’s quote: “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.”
One of the beautiful things about life is that no one ever plays just one role. My mom was a daughter, sister, friend, cousin, student, and co-worker to many long before she had me. People who knew her longer than I did took the time to tell me stories about my mom in the first few days and weeks after she passed away. It was incredibly comforting to go to the store and have someone, after giving their condolences, share a story about my mom that I didn’t know.
I think, in many ways, my community, the Black Seminoles of Brackettville, Texas, has always found ways to honor one’s death and keep their memory alive. One of the first properties that we could call ours is the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery, which was founded in 1872. The land on which the cemetery was founded is located three miles away from Brackettville and was where the Black Seminoles were allowed to bury their loved ones. And often when our loved ones died, it was an opportunity to make sure that they were buried “in style,” meaning they were dressed in the finest clothes and the nicest caskets that their families could afford.
Just about everyone buried at the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery has a family that keeps their memory alive. We are still telling stories about the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts, who served in the US military from 1870 to 1914. There is no one alive today who personally knew any of these men, yet the stories of their heroic actions have persisted through several generations. Each grave, whether a person is directly related to them or not, is loving cared for because we hope that, when our time comes, someone will do the same for us.
As we age and lose loved ones, we are almost forced to constantly (and consistently) reexamine our relationship with death. How fearful are we? How prepared are we? The interesting thing about this constantly reminder of death that looms over us is that we don’t let it consume us. We must go on living. We must keep loving because we know it’s what our loved ones would want us to do.