Hey RLD Family! I took a bit of a summer hiatus..but I’m baaaack! It’s time to explore the importance of wills, especially for people of color. This is my first piece published for the blog The 94 Percent.
Aretha Franklin. Prince. Bob Marley. Barry White. Marvin Gaye. Tupac. The list of celebrities of color that have died without a will goes on and on.
As we grieve the latest loss of musical icon, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, we should also take the opportunity to learn some lessons. Many in our community seem to think that wills are for white people. As a result, they do not seek the protections they need and often die intestate (without a will).
I’m struggling with my emotions this morning. Late Sunday night, I discovered that a friend, George Cholakis, suddenly passed away while at a Miami Dolphins football game. I’m completely saddened and stunned. Not more than 2 weeks before, we laid another friend to rest, J.C. Dugue. He passed away from a massive heart attack just before Hurricane Irma hit.
These gentlemen were attorneys that were a few years ahead of me in my legal career. J.C., who was a defense attorney, knew me pretty much my entire career as a prosecutor. His sense of humor always added levity to tense moments as we stood across from each other on opposite sides of the courtroom. Just looking at him sometimes would have me in stitches. He was just that way.
George was helpful to me as a young prosecutor, as I was floundering (as we all did) to stay afloat with the heavy caseload. He’d often have words of encouragement, or the right answer when the judge was grilling me. He was senior to me, having tried intense homicide cases. He was kind, always pleasant, down to earth, and a fun guy. A few years ago, a really tragic incident occurred that pretty much cost him everything. George took responsibility, and started from scratch to rebuild. He began his own legal practice, and brought the same personality that he always had to his new line of work. I had such respect for George in doing so. Sometimes when folks fall down, they never get back up. He did, which showed the strength of his character.
What bewilders me is that they were not old. I know, the definition of “old” tends to shift as one ages upward, but I’m talking maybe 10 years older than me. I get it — when you hit your 70’s and 80’s, you expect to lose friends. Not in your 40’s.
Earlier this year, we lost two more members of our legal community to suicide. We all were devastated, and started work among our voluntary bar organizations to address depression. We lost J.C. and George to natural causes. Now, it’s time for us to talk about self care of not just the mind, but the body as well.
It takes wild horses for me to drag the men in my life to the doctor. I joke that for my husband and my dad, if an arm fell off, they’d pick it up and keep going, still refusing to go to the doctor. We have to be more forceful about getting the ones we love to the doctor, and heeding whatever warnings are given.
And, we ourselves need to take responsibility for our own health. Taking on too much, unmanaged stress, and ignoring what our bodies tell us is the formula for a fatal disaster.
We have to take care of each other. The pain of those left behind is immeasurable.
I can’t even get my mind around the fact that she’s gone.
It doesn’t make sense; one minute she’s here and we’re joking around, the next minute her heart gave out, and in a few days she was gone.
Cecy was my assistant at work for close to five years. She was my right hand, and my confidante. She was the cool auntie you had drinks with — a few years ahead of me in age, filled with life experience and great advice. Not only did she keep my cases together, she kept my head together during some very challenging years of my life.
What I adored about her was her good heart. The love story she had with her husband Tony, and the journey to love the second time around inspired me, giving me hope when I was in a dark place before meeting my husband. I was working through the aftermath of a destructive relationship — she was an amazing support. She had the ability to have me in stitches, while simultaneously telling me to get myself together. She was an amazing mom, and so thrilled to become a new grandma. I will never forget the unabashed joy on her face at my wedding — that mental picture will stay with me forever.
Although I was frightened, I went to see her at the hospital. Through the tubes and machines, I saw my friend. I kissed her, told her I loved her, and cracked a few jokes about the fun things we were going to do after this scare was over. I tried desperately to keep a brave face in front of her husband and family. I got into the elevator with my husband, and an uncontrollable wail came from the depths of my soul.
Because although my mind said that she can get past this and be fine, my heart already knew the truth.
The funeral of Michael Brown today is another chapter in an ongoing tragedy. In moving forward from here, the discussion needs to be had regarding what do we tell our children about how to interact with police? How should we interact with police?
Essence.com published my tips this weekend:
In the wake of the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., as well as the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York, and the others killed by police in questionable circumstances, the question is “What do we tell our children about interacting with the police?” It’s not about assigning blame on the victims’ actions. It’s about arming our young people with knowledge that could help save them in the future.
Pull right over. If your child is driving a car, and sees police lights in the rearview mirror, he or she should pull over immediately. If it is not safe to pull over immediately, slow your speed and signal that you are pulling over. Failure to pull over puts police officers on high alert that there may be a problem (even if there isn’t one). Think about it from a police officer’s perspective. Why wouldn’t you stop? Do you have an open warrant? Do you have guns or drugs in the car? Based on their occupation, police officers are trained to assume the worst in every situation.
It was April 21, 2012. My mother had been battling cancer for three years. I was running errands, and got a call from the hospice nurse. With her sweet Creole accent, she tells me ” Ms. Melba, your mom decided to leave us this morning”
And with those words, life as I knew it ceased to exist.
Sounds dramatic. But it’s so true. Yes, the sun continued to rise and set, life continued, another Bond movie was released, no one else missed a beat.
But I did. My father did. Our close relatives and friends did as well.
There is something uniquely intense when it’s your mom. Soul groups, hip hop artists like Tupac, and country singers have all sung about their love for their mothers. She’s the only person that literally pushed you into this world. And if you were as blessed as I was to have a close relationship with your mom, it’s a hole that never quite gets filled.
Life has a weird way of working. Eight months before, my husband lost his mother. I remember emailing my mom a lot during that time, trying to figure out how to help him. Loss and death is truly something you have NO concept of until it happens to you. She gave me a lot of great advice, sharing with me the pain and sometimes resentment she felt towards others for still having their mothers while she had lost hers, along with the simultaneous guilt she felt for having those emotions.
In a way…she was teaching me how to grieve for her.
It’s been two years now. I remember the kindness that people I wasn’t that close to showed me. I remember being disappointed in those who were close to me for not being as supportive. One thing is for sure: people deal with loss differently, and you need to forgive those who have no clue how to deal with you.
Losing your mom makes you part of this weird kind of club. When you’ve been through it, you get it. When you find out that someone has that loss, you immediately act, and try to comfort them, even if they are practically a stranger.
I still hear her voice, telling me her Mama Pearson-isms. Such as “There’s more behind you than in front of you“, “Can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear“, and the most relevant one to my life at present, “When it’s for you, it is for you, and nothing will stop it from happening.” I love her classic when it comes to advancement in the workforce, “If you can’t jump up, don’t jump around“.
This past Easter Sunday, I kept hearing her voice say “Happy Easter!”, with that sweet upbeat tempo. My mom loved every holiday; somehow I’m a grinch, but appreciated how cute she was. Last month, on the morning of the two year anniversary of her passing, I had a dream. She was running late for work, and said she was going to leave. I asked her to stay a little longer. She said to me “I will stay for as long as I can”.
And I believe it was true. She did stay for as long as she could.
When she was undergoing the awful treatment for cancer, she reached a point where she realized that nothing was going to work. The tumors were not shrinking. Her nurse later revealed to me that they had an understanding– continue the treatment so that she could attend my wedding, and once she came back, she would let nature take its course. To me, that is a true testament of my mother’s love for me.
In some ways, I’ve become my mom. She was classy, responsible, very blunt and had an amazing sense of self that only comes from overcoming adversity. For sure I’m responsible…and have become very blunt!
I’ve also realized that losing your mom makes you that much stronger, because once you’ve been through that pain…there’s not a whole lot (other than the loss of a spouse/partner) that can ever hurt you that deeply again.
RIP Mama Pearson. Love you and miss you. And please continue to speak to me, as well as through me.