As I write this, my neighbor and three dear friends are dealing with parents in Florida suffering with COVID-19. I light candles for them, next to the ones I light for my own deceased parents. I am aware of how many more people have lost their parents, children and lovers suddenly and unexpectedly. I’ve never been a big news watcher, but now I’m avoiding it outright, which is a new phenomenon for me. And while I love seeing the outpouring of love and passion and commitment to shouting from the mountaintops that Black Lives Matter, I stay away because I am weary of seeing governors and other elected officials saying and doing reckless things that end up killing people.
Then there is the nagging question: Am I doing enough? This question comes to me in my air conditioned Brooklyn apartment with rooftop access, with a sizable savings, and two well adjusted small children and a partner who rubs my feet when I am really anxious. I think about more insidious times in American history, when enslavement and human trafficking was the biggest driver of this economy, as people sat at home with their cool air, their coffers, and their nuclear family. Did they ever ask themselves if they were doing enough?
Part of my life’s work is assisting people with their end-of-life plans — support that didn’t exist for my ancestors. Banks and insurance companies allowed landowners to take out policies on those they forced to work to death. Today, many communities lack access to financial instruments and knowledge that would enable us to support our families and build generational wealth. So I go hard.
My husband often reminds me how vital my efforts are. Most of my closest friends and family wouldn’t have a will, life insurance, or advanced directives were it not for my educating and encouraging. And to date, the most extraordinary conversation I have had about end-of-life planning has been with a group of teenagers who take part in a program that uses international travel as a means of helping them give back and consider their legacy. In that conversation, talking about Nipsey Hussle, Tupac, Sandra Bland, and Gianna Bryant, I came to a new understanding of the value of talking about our lives “after.” The students and I talked about the ways we remember the dearly departed and the impact that our lives have beyond our living. Our conversation made us all think deeply about how we are living each day. Are we loving? Are we passionate? Do we make a difference? Do we stand for something?
My conversation with those young people inspired me. I said a little prayer for Sandra Bland, whose life was much like mine. I lit a candle for her and the countless others whose deaths we didn’t see coming — state sanctioned murder from 1619 to today. Then I called my homegirl’s mom to follow up and see if she’d gotten her end of life documents notarized. After our pleasantries she said: “Do you know you’re going to live a long time?”
I’m counting on that.