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Your senior year of college can be the most exciting and terrifying stages in a person’s life. Preparing for the real world is stressful — but having three family members pass within four months can take make even the most stoic person lose their mind. My comedian uncle, my tough-as-nails father, and my soft-spoken, God-fearing aunt — all gone in that order.
It all started with my uncle and aunt, both diagnosed at the same time with pulmonary fibrosis during the middle of 2014. Lester, my uncle, had a common cold that turned into pneumonia. With much concerned nudging, he finally went to the doctor. Diagnosed in September, he was gone in November at 67 years old. My family was thought he’d be able to see Christmas or New Year’s, at least.
Two months later, my father retired after 26 years with the sheriff’s department. He was so excited, but deep inside, something was wrong. This feeling was gnawing at me for about a month, like something bad was going to happen. After my uncle’s death, my father changed; despite being tight-fisted with this money, he started buying my mother and me breakfast. He started calling to see if other relatives were alright.
On December 3, 2014, after my brother’s birthday dinner, we were in the car when my father said, “I want this gal," meaning my mother, "to take care of money when I’m gone." My mother and I shrugged it off like it was nothing.
Dad started coming down with a cold the day after Valentine’s Day. Mom and I waited on him hand and foot, looking at each other and laughing at how he was overreacting to a little cold, not knowing that his body was shutting down. He tried going to his part-time job but came back a few hours later, feeling worse than before.
The next day, I was off from my job when asked me, “Nikita, baby, can you take me to the hospital?” He had NEVER asked for that before. He strolled into urgent care at the hospital where I work, and he collapsed from a near cardiac arrest.
A day and some antibiotics later, he felt worse, to the point that mom was bathing and dressing him. Before we took him back to the hospital, he canceled hotel reservations, payed bills early, and got everything "in order." Family and friends were visiting him that day, like the end was near.
Later that night, the doctor called to say dad went into sepsis shock; he coded and was put into a medically induced coma. We wasted no time getting to him, and when we arrived, the staff was working on him. Seeing him like that made me literally sick.
The next day, Mom called: “I think you should get here."
On Saturday, February 21, 2015, my father passed away at age 61.
It didn’t hit me until the day of his funeral that he wasn’t coming home. His service reflected his life: law enforcement, his motorcycle friends, and life in the U.S. Marine Corps. The American flag covered over his casket, beautiful yet disturbing. I couldn't help but think about my Aunt Ruth, who couldn’t attend the funeral due to being sick.
I regret not seeing her when she was sick, since she was a little farther from home. A couple weeks after my dad died, I made plans to visit her, but it was too late. Friday, March 6, 2015, my cousin called crying, “My mama."
I didn’t go to work that day because it was too much, reopening the scab of the last two deaths. Her service was big and beautiful; she looked like an angel.
The hardest part has been learning how to cope. Every day of 2015 was a bad day, even if I chose to have a good day. The grieving process isn’t in order — one week is acceptance and next week is denial. I’m just amazed at how this even happened, out of nowhere. They’re on my mind 24/7, but I’m now able to compartmentalize my thoughts about them.
I live very close to my grandparents’ home, the farm where my father, aunt and uncle grew up. Just two-and-half years ago, it was full of life. In the South, it’s very common to have a family plot on or near family land; my family is buried there, so I don’t feel alone at times.
I’m grateful they were in my life. Dad loved motorcycles and kicking ass, Uncle Lester loved cracking jokes, and Aunt Ruth loved the Lord and playing piano. I know they’re together, getting on each other’s nerves, A they’ll be in my heart forever.