Her Death Taught Me To Live
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” ― Rose Kennedy
This past April, I wrote the hardest piece I have ever had to write. It was my Uncle Moses’ eulogy. Moses was my favorite uncle and one of the dearest people to my heart. He succumbed to cancer of the liver at age 51, less than a month before his birthday. But his was not the first eulogy I wrote, nor was he the first loved one I lost. I have lost too many loved ones to count. Death is never an easy thing to handle, especially for someone as sentimental as me and as a person who loves HARD.
From my early 20’s to now, I have lost several loved ones ranging ages 16 to 72 (my grandfather included) to various types of cancer. When I was 26, I bade farewell to a close friend from childhood, Lemuel – the first person to teach me tolerance and an unconditional love for anyone regardless of their sexual orientation – to AIDS. A couple of years later, my beloved 14-year-old cousin Alex died of a heart attack – two weeks before Christmas. Yes, I have had many moments of donning black dresses, signing books of condolences and being in a funeral march. But the one that haunts me most is when I lost my best friend. At the time, we were giddy teenagers high on life. She was three months my senior and to this day, I have not met another person with whom I’ve shared more in common.
Hers was the first eulogy I wrote, or rather co-wrote with her relative and one of our favorite teachers, Addison Cadogan. She was the first loved one I lost. This Tuesday, Oct. 2 will mark 19 years since that fateful day. And today, the pain is almost as raw as it was on that night I got the call that Nikole Leslie Christine Greenidge was one of three victims who died in a horrific three-car collision on the ABC Highway, Barbados. She left us in the month in which she was born.
From the moment our mutual friend Kelly gutted me with the news of Nikole’s death, it was as if something inside me also died. I lost a certain joy that I don’t think I ever regained. I felt as if my “childhood” ended there and then. My carefree spirit, hopefulness, belief that I could become whatever I wanted to be and that safe haven of knowing there was someone just like me rooting for me and on the same journey – all shattered. I went into shock for what seemed like forever. I was angry with God. I couldn’t fathom that it could be His will to take Nikole away from me. After all, God knew that we were both fascinated with the English language – a passion arguably unsurpassed by any of our peers. He knew: we loved the same type of literature; shared a delight for cooking; sang together in the school’s choir; took extra care in grooming our hair; were both neat freaks; talked to each other on the phone for hours; and that we were inseparable both at and away from school.
God knew that we had both decided at about 13 or 14 years what career we wanted; Nikole to be a lawyer, and I to be a journalist. He knew our plans to achieve these goals: Graduate secondary school, go to the Barbados Community College, then to University of the West Indies. Surely, God knew how totally happy we were at that stage of our lives, how we loved a great joke and how Nikole would laugh till tears streamed down her cheeks. Most of all, God knew that I was an obedient Christian girl who’d spent much of my secondary school life trying to get Nikole “saved.” While she was a regular churchgoer, one of the few things we didn’t have in common, was that unlike me, Nikole was not “born-again” for the most of our friendship.
So yes, I was furious with God for taking Nikole away from me – so soon after she was finally “saved” albeit not just to my credit. My hurt and bitterness overpowered my faith and I stopped going to church. I even stopped paying attention in classes and my usually stellar grades started turning into “F’s.” I also became petrified of sitting in the back, center-seat of any car, bearing in mind that’s where Nikole was when she was thrown from that speeding vehicle.
In the year following Nikole’s death, I met Cassandra and Jennifer. The former was a dedicated born-again Christian and in some ways reminded me of Nikole. Cassandra was of the same complexion, also slightly bow-legged, similar slender size and height; she spoke just as eloquently and sang as beautifully. She too had a love affair with the English language and interestingly enough, like Nikole, was from the parish of St. Peter. Cassandra quickly became a loyal confidante. Her bubbly personality, kind deeds and humility showed the “Jesus” in her and helped to restore some of my faith. Jennifer was equally inspiring. Hers was a warm spirit, a jovial nature, she was selfless and up to now; I have yet to see her lose her cool. Jennifer and I would each begin our first job as a reporter with The Barbados Advocate, just months apart. But as wonderful as Jenny and Cass were, I was hesitant to fully let them into my grieving heart.
It was while at The Barbados Advocate that I had an epiphany. One day, Nikole’s mom stopped by for an interview with one of our reporters to discuss problems that had been plaguing the family since the accident. One contentious matter was that the driver of the vehicle in which Nikole was traveling, was their church pastor. He’d survived – physically unscathed. The relationship with him and her relatives deteriorated from there on. As I heard Nikole’s mom pain, it was as if she were waiting to wake up from a nightmare. Here was a heartbroken mother, who seemingly had not and could not move on with her first-born daughter gone. I realized that in part, I was grieving in a similar fashion. I remembered then how Nikole and I had declared our dreams. I thought of how ambitious she was, all she could have offered this world and how those dreams would never come to fruition. In those moments, I knew I had to honor her memory and LIVE. I had to go after my dreams and even though no one could replace her, I had to open up my heart to new friends and I finally had to accept God’s will.
Every October, I remember Nikole. Yes, it’s with a sense of sadness and even tears. But that is outweighed by my conviction that if she could see me now, Nikole would be happy to know that many of my dreams have been fulfilled and I am LIVING LIFE; that whatever challenges come, I put up a fight. That Jenny is my closest female friend and Cassandra continues to hold a special place in my life. That as a journalist, I strive to write stories that can help people, be it through effecting positive change, providing valuable information or offering gratifying entertainment or upliftment. Nikole would also be glad to know that as a Christian, my faith in God, long fully restored – remains unrelenting. During her short life, Nikole kept me “alive” but it was through her death that I learned the true value of life and living. And I love her today just as much as that little girl sitting before her so many years ago in class 1S1, Roebuck Secondary School where she first told me, “You’re my best friend.”
~ I Keep it Irie ~