My long and colourful life story can be complicated or easy to understand, depending on how you see or look at me. For example, compared to many friends I grew-up with, I have many sons – four actually, two of whom are First.
(But we’ll get to that later…)
My family story is nice to hear (or read), depending on whether you appreciate the unscripted prose of the poetry of life.
(But later for that, too…)
Yesterday (July 13) was four short years since my wife died — in my hands — in Havana. But Tuesday also marked the 35th birthday of one of my First-Two sons, whose birthday I always had a tough time remembering to distinguish from that of my Second-and-Third son, born in November.
My wife Marie quietly went through an excruciating terminal cancer that she kept away from me — until the last too-late moment — and she ended our six weeks between three Havana hospitals at Cuba’s National Oncology Institute (‘Oncologico’) silently hanging-on to life on her very last night on July 12, 2017 — until the clock struck midnight.
A few minutes later, knowing the oxygen hoses and other attached accoutrements were no longer helpful, she watched us, smiled – then shrugged her shoulders and waved us goodbye, half-smiling as she closed her eyes…
I went totally berserk and asked the lifeless body ‘who’ll remind me whose birthday [it] is today?’
Vern, her favourite niece who spent Marie’s last week with us, promised to remind me – and (a few hours later) also reminded me: ‘It’s Carnival Monday and it’s J’Ouvert in Castries this morning…’
A lady of few words, after returning dazed from my earlier tranquilization and heavily-restrained following of Marie’s body from her bed to the elevator taking it to the hospital’s mortuary, Vern safely guided me out of the apartment-like ‘Sandals Hospital-room’ (as Marie often described the upscaled equivalent of ‘a very private ward’ where we were both accommodated by the Cuban state) and promised to transmit bad news back home.
‘Geesabelle’ — Marie’s ‘favourite adopted nurse at Oncologico’ – and in whose mind she’d deeply planted the dream of ‘playing Mas in Saint Lucia with Just4Fun’ (as per the colourful portrayals of successive years of Saint Lucia Carnival parades on Marie’s tablet and cell phone) — was also present for her friend’s last breaths.
After waking-up later, still very-much-dazed, I would learn our first sons Samora Ernesto Gibron and Chad Miriam Mandela and their brothers Jeavaughn Philip Mingus and Amani Kimani Earl, all got the news while jumping J’Ouvert with ‘Just4Fun’ that J”Ouvert morning.
I was very, very glad that all our sons – led by my and our ‘first two’ — had represented her in the band on both Carnival Monday and Tuesday, knowing she and our daughter Charlene in Canada, would definitely also have been present, perhaps even leading the lead truck.
The band having strangely been able to almost every year feature a leading member who’d just died days before Carnival Monday and Tuesday, I remember requesting that Marie’s enlarged, larger-than-life photograph not be so paraded atop the lead truck.
Terminal cancer and eventual death are both emotionally and economically costly, but even more so is arranging to repatriate and bury the body of a wife who died overseas.
It’s a once-in-a-life experience none will enjoy, but thanks to my lifelong contributions to Cuba and Venezuela, flying Marie back home after the best efforts to try to save her was a very tiring one that I didn’t at all regret – from formally identifying the body for release from the state mortuary to arranging her flight home (as cargo but with her passport) through Canada, to choosing the all-white cushioned coffin that would be her first-class cabin on her one-stop day-long Air Canada trip to Hewanorra Airport.
As Marie’s good fate would have it, she was welcomed at Pearson International by our only daughter and ‘first child’; and as mine would, she also landed in Vieux Fort one hour before my flight landed at Vigie from Havana, via Kingstown, St. Vincent.
And as our 38 years together so fashioned, we buried her body on (what was also her birthday, August 2 – and also the 20th anniversary of our wedding in Guyana — thanks to our Christian fiend Doris, who felt that our ‘19 years together in Common Law marriage’ was ‘not right’ and it was ‘Time to put yourselves right in the eyes of The Lord…’
Our wedding was considered a historic event at the Brickdam Cathedral in Georgetown (by way of attendance and representation of Guyana’s politics, races and culture, across all ethnic and political lines and languages) and the reception at the then Ocean Blue Hotel (including cross-party parliamentary and diplomatic representation} also reflecting the diversity of CARICOM’s largest nation that had been our family home for six years.
Marie’s birthday-and-wedding-anniversary funeral (it was also her 56th birthday) was also one of the best-attended at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Castries, thanks to who she was to and with so-many who mourned the unbelievable passing of ‘Auntie Marie’.
It’s hard to believe that she died four years ago yesterday, but we’ve decided to spend as much time celebrating Chad’s birthday arrival as we did mourning her body’s earthly burial and departure for her permanent holiday on the slow boat to The Great Beyond, from whence none alive ever cometh back.
Marie continues to live forever in our eternal memory’s mental hard drives — and none misses her more than our other ‘First =Son’ Samora Ernesto Gibron, who she didn’t born but treated like her first new-born and forever counted among her ‘children’ and ‘our family’ after the sad events of October 1983 in Grenada forced his relocation to the relative safety of his father’s homeland.
And likewise, Sam’s mom Tahirah has also always been seen and regarded by his sister and brothers as their ‘other shared mother…’
A multinational CARICOM citizen today, 39-year-old ‘Sam’ and Chad peacefully co-exist (as much as possible between like like-minded brothers), equally sharing the ‘First Son’ label like an undisputed and unquestionable tribal familial honour transcending skies and borders, parents and familial kith-and-kin.
And laughing at it all — with equally-respective pecking-order lapels and laurels — are our First-and-Only Daughter Charlene (whose real names few know), our Last Son Amani (who prefers the mantle ‘The Youngest’) – and most-of-all — our only miraculous granddaughter Milagra (who everybody knows as Dhezi), thanks to Melida Sasha.
Marie didn’t live to deliver on her unavoidably broken promise that she and Geesabelle would ‘Some Day…’ jump-and-play-Mas alongside each other in Just4Fun, but I did live to survive a near heart attack when, at a formal reception at the Cuban Ambassador’s residence in Cap Estate last year, Geesabelle and I caused a loud but not-at-all-embarrassing commotion when our eyes clashed and we hugged.
She was here as part of Cuba’s 2020 COVID-fighting Henry Reeve Brigade — and as none of us would ever have imagined, Marie’s nurse also visited me at OKEU Hospital, where she was posted and I later ended-up for major reconstructive leg surgery after being hit sky-high-for-six by a speeding car while crossing a Castries street on the same day that George Floyd’s life was snuffed-out of him…
I survived lying on the sidewalk that day, but Floyd didn’t — but so is life, which no one ever designed a template for.
It goes without saying that, looking back at where we’ve all come from that night in 1979 when Marie and I tied the first of our many knots, none of All-the-Above is enjoying it all like me.
I’m still watching all grow-up as adults while still myself growing-up, never to get or feel ‘old’ — far less to ‘die’ — the concept of expiry (to me) only applying to canned foods.
I plan to live on-and-on-and-on, until I go – and come again…
But then, don’t all-of-us?