East Flatbush Journal: On the Death of an Aunt


Death may be as certain as rain or winter coming, but that doesn’t mean it helps or heals the living. To those who have lost grandmothers, moms, dads, grandfathers, uncles, aunties, cousins, siblings, children, and even neighbors and friends, I don’t have much wisdom. I can’t tell you how to grieve but writing has always helped me.

I usually type these things on a small red computer littered with graphic stickers. In honor of my auntie’s legacy as a poet, I went back to the little royal red embroidered notebook I have hiding in my desk, the one with shoddily written poems and pressed rose petals in it:  

Hey Auntie,

With your awesome collection of books and arts, I thought you’d like being tucked away in there with Nana.

Your body was the wrong color at the funeral. There was no rosy, light brown to your skin, and honestly, because that wasn’t you, I didn’t cry too much. Me and Pops sang songs.

My comfort is knowing that in this year you leave us in good company to join so many other souls. At least we got to complete the ritual of saying goodbye.

Death is bizarre to have to think about often. In May, on my birthday, I thought about how old I’d get. What age I’d actually make it to. Would I make it another 30 years retired with a PHD and a home in the corner of Brooklyn like you?

Then, a few days later when George Floyd was kneeled on, I thought about my uncles, dad, brothers, and cousins, who could die the same way. I thought about the deaths of my friends and co-workers during the lockdown, worried I’d never see them again. And considering how sick you were, I knew it was definitely the last time I’d get to visit you in Clinton Hill.

We spoke on the phone. 

You waved from outside the house once, but we never got to hug again. Or sit down and gossip about the news while Unc made us a soulful dinner and brought it up on those old TV trays.

I know death is certain. 

From the moment we’re born, we are aging and dying. I think the fear of that makes some people reckless and others cautious. I like that you lived out loud at a time when it wasn’t popular to be a Black woman in academia, who loved to play cards with her sisters, drank like a sailor, and was always ready to help someone find their way.

I know death is certain but it still drags you into the undertow all the same when grown men and women stand unable to speak without crying at a wake. I do know this, sometimes you just have to speak and treat people like it could be your last or theirs.

Thanks for your time here,

Your niece.