Sunlight and Gems


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Life tests us in ways unimaginable and it is during these times that we find our true strength and we also discover who is in our corner and has always been. Life is a journey with twists and turns and sometimes we seem to lose our way. What is important is to find your path and stay your course, find your rhythm and dance to it. We sometimes find that what we have been looking for was always there, right in front of us.

It’s a good feeling to relax at home on a Saturday evening with family and friends, feasting on Red Snapper, Sea Bass, sipping wine, chatting about the shenanigans we got into growing up in Jamaica disagreeing on topics too much to mention but laughing and vibing anyway. John Holt is singing, “drifting on a memory,” and my husband chimes in. Thanksgiving is around the corner and the focus turns to family as plans are in full swing to vibe together come Thanksgiving Day.

I know that our lives can change in a minute and as we laugh and vibe thoughts of my family members who perished in a car accident years ago popped into my mind. They are no longer here to hear our laughter and our voices. When death comes for you, it comes for you and on August 4 1990 it came for the Smith family, three generation of Smiths, a terrible accident, four people dead. Four people from my family, my aunt and Uncle who were twins, who in a twist of fate were born together and died together, my Aunt’s son and his young three year old with two survivors, two of my cousins. They were all dead in a motor vehicle accident that everyone at that time tried to understand and rationalize. I realized long after all this that we all react in different ways to tragedy and to things gone wrong. Some things you will get over in life, such as broken relationships with a friend or a disagreement with a girlfriend that led to malice. It’s easy to forgive and mend fences but with death and disorder that’s a whole different ball game.

This traumatic event taught me that it is important to appreciate each day and to place value on life. Life is a gift and it is important that you find purpose in your lives so this Saturday evening we as a family made time to vibe together and to celebrate a birthday.

What should have been a fun weekend spending time with family and friends, hanging together at Caribana on that August day in Toronto turned deadly. I was not there to watch the carnage happen because I was already in Toronto with my then boyfriend laughing and joking around and sipping tea, happily ensconced in his family home. When the blow came it was eased by those around me, my man and his loving family. My aunt was the quiet one and my Uncle was pretty cool. Rue my cousin was a standout for me, tall and handsome and a really decent guy. The deaths in itself was a black hole but the fallout was worse With four swift and unexpected deaths lives were interrupted and fractured and hearts were shattered. Conflicts between ex- wife and current wife, not quite ex-wife, girlfriend, uncle and niece, family members threatened to rupture and explode and in so doing pull others into the spiraling and deep abyss. While we were trying to cope, while I was trying to cope with the deaths of loved ones; the support system that should have been there had crumbled, kept crumbling and disappeared. The family was in chaos. Blame was been assigned, fingers were being pointed.

I didn’t engage. I didn’t want to. There was a dark feeling rumbling around inside of me and the rumors flying around about the accident didn’t make it any better. I didn’t want to explore, didn’t want to talk about. I wanted to go on about my business as always. I remember clearly feeling like I was standing outside the ropes looking at the ring with people in different corners waiting for the bell to ring before they would come out swinging. I felt like I was standing outside the circle drawn in chalk while others stood in the circle ready to kick dirt in each other’s eyes.

My father was in the middle of everything. Whether or not he wanted to, he was in touch with ex wives, wife, mother of children, sweethearts, sister’s husband, and nieces. As the days went on funeral service was organized by the family with my father playing a part while jealousy and rage bubbled beneath the surface. I didn’t know when it would happen but I knew things were bound to blow. Already there were altercations, arguments which were unbelievable with everything that was happening.

As the day of the funeral came around, things became tenser because the finality of it all was sinking in. Now there were arguments about who would get what and who wouldn’t and who was entitled to equal share. People it’s important that no matter how young have a will or a living will. There was a lot of money at stake and things were about to get hotter. The day of the funeral service there was not an empty bench, chair or stool. The church was packed to capacity with four caskets sitting at the front of the church, three generations, mom, son and grandson. I watched everyone, bending forward to look at faces and at times standing up to be better able to see expressions on people’s faces

This was no cheerful service where you wear bright colors and sing happy songs. The preacher preached about love, kindness and forgiveness buy also hell and damnation, shouting in God’s name, real dramatic in front of the crowd. He preached about the frailty of life and why we needed to stay close to God, to be good to each other because death can come at any time. He preached about forgiveness and loving each other and not to stay mad at others because we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. There were moans and screams. I watched as people crumpled to the floor in despair but most of all I watched my father. He didn’t stay in one place. He walked into the church, back and forth outside. He didn’t shed a tear but I could sense a storm coming. I wanted to leave but my boyfriend said no, we had to stay so I didn’t. I wanted the service to be over. I couldn’t wait. I didn’t want the storm to break.

It was my sister who was playing peacemaker not me. I stayed in the background, not exactly being a pillow of comfort. I had a shoulder to lean on. I had my man who was there and had my back. I felt bad that I had left them behind and gone ahead. I felt bad that I wasn’t reaching out to my cousins who had lost their dad. I felt bad all over. A stronger person would have been a better leader in these events but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to. When there is loss, trauma or death people sometimes present a smiling face, a façade that says I am dealing with it or I am okay. Emotional fractures does not present the same way as a physical injury where you are able to see broken bones, or a bloody nose. The broken pieces are inside hidden away from prying eyes and people deal differently with trauma and death.

The day of the burial there were more pomp and pomposity. Family and friends were decked out in beautiful black, representing in style and yet there were drawn faces and angry looks passing back and forth. Current wife was not pleased that ex wife was sitting in family row, children from different mothers were not exactly thrilled to see each other and this was a funeral not a wedding, cousins appeared to be disconnected.

The burial started with some having feelings of resentment, jealousy, fury feelings of who came first and who came second and greed waiting to burn over. I wondered where was the love that this family said they had for each other. When it comes to money and possessions people get crazy. Things almost came to a screeching halt when shouts of anger cut across the preacher’s speech. It was my dad and cousin who were about to kill each other if someone didn’t intervene. My dad was furious, oh my Lord it was bad. My sister was holding back my dad and others were holding him back while my cousin was shouting and taunting him. My sister saved the day because my dad listened to her. I stood there looking from one to the other wanting to laugh out loud because it was the most ridiculous thing.

My father had been seething. My cousin Rue was one of my father’s favorite in the family. Rue actually lived at my dad’s house at the time of his untimely passing. He was one of the few people my father defended and tolerated living in his house. I sometimes wondered if my dad loved Rue more than he loved his own son and he and my uncle were very close.

I knew my father was a seething cauldron of emotions waiting to ignite and burn by that person who was willing to light a match. I thought to myself that no one in their right mind would step to him on that day and time. The wound that had been festering needed to be opened but this was not the time or place. This could wait. Death truly has no power because if it did my aunt would have stepped out of that casket and slapped them silly. I know my cousin is going to read this with a jaundice eye but it is true.

Out of the ashes the family rose. It took some time to mend but the family eventually came to terms with the passing of our loved ones. The blow of losing their loved one eventually was softened, their grief tempered with being able to purchase a three family home in the end, my cousins that survived received thousands of dollars, everyone involved received astronomical sums of money. The deaths haunted me. I didn’t tell anyone that I was having nightmares and so life went on with back biting and disagreements about who should have received and who didn’t. Money and possessions were no substitute for losing loved ones. The price of losing someone you cared about was too high.

I realized that I had changed a wee bit after this tragedy. I started looking back at relationships, at familiarity when I should have been looking forward. You sometimes discover that what you are searching for was already there, you didn’t need to look any forward. But tragedy messes with your head whether you are conscious or unconscious about it. I made the mistake of thinking that this painful and traumatic experience like others could be shoved to the back of my mind but it didn’t happen. I felt guilty for a while there of leaving them behind and not being there but what would I have done. I was scared of what laid ahead of me. After all in the blink of an eye death could come. But time passed and I realized that life could not be lived in a bubble. It was impractical.

People cannot just change the way they feel or think. I healed through time, seeing my father through different eyes and eventually having a better relationship with him, my sister and my cousin. People do grieve differently and eventually I came to grips with the accident that terrible day. Grief didn’t stay with me rather the love and the kinship that had existed between us took over. I smile at the wild stories that they liked to tell. My behavior with myself shifted. I don’t need to look back at failed relationships and failed endeavors and people, thinking that because of death I need to go back in time to what really may have been fake and untrue and not good for me. I didn’t realize that ‘me’ staying out of the circle of grief and choosing not to engage was seen as indifference but at the time that’s what I wanted to communicate. I didn’t want the pain. I didn’t want to put my hands on my head and sink into grief like others. I did wonder how genuine were some of this grandstanding I wondered but then I would have guilty thoughts about what I was thinking. I felt their pain, deeply.

I haven’t changed much about how I respond to and absorb painful situations. I don’t obsess over painful situations but I am better able to let others in. My family is in a better place and has moved on from that moment in time. The healing begun after the family started to talk to each other in softer tones, really talk and listen to each other. Eventually we were able to laugh with and at each other. The broken pieces were coming back together. People mended fences and were able to say I am sorry. The most important thing that came out of this is that we all realized we have faults. Not one of us was perfect. We have not forgotten and it is not possible to forget.

My dad passed, gone from cardiac arrest. My sister and I are closer now which is a good thing. I love her and I love my brother. I have become closer with my cousins, uncle and his wife.

Family is important but so is genuine friendship because in times of need you do need a support system. As much as you love someone you cannot stay buried with them. There are those who are alive who needs us and need our attention. There is still much that we have to do. And when you think all is lost you will be surprised at who is firmly standing in your corner. Sometimes love has everything to do with it.

About The Author

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Dantie Smith-Brown

Dantie Smith-Brown was born and raised in Jamaica, West Indies, where she graduated from teacher’s college before migrating to the United States. Changing course upon arrival, she became a Respiratory Care Practitioner when her father introduced her to that specialized area in health care. She is passionate about educating, diagnosing and treating individuals who suffer from heart and lung diseases to improve their health and well-being.

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