Death has been much on our mind lately. Famirie Wikkeling has suffered much loss. There was Tante Olga, Neef Andro then Tante Joke, Nicht Cisca, Oom Charles and now Nicht Jennie. The deaths of our aunts and uncle made us reflect on the rich lives they had lived and loving children they have left behind. They all lived long lives surrounded by family and many friends who cared for them. What troubled us was the feeling that their stories, family history, was taken away with them too.
The passing of our cousins was more difficult to understand. We were lost somewhere between fog, confusion, numbness, waiting for a light to shine. It made us question our expectations for life and longevity. How were we supposed to accept death and what was the perspective that would allow us to do that?
We considered a viewpoint of life that is about fulfilling a purpose and not necessarily staying on beyond that. Perhaps the ones we lost had completed this part of their journey and it was okay for them to go on to the next one. They had all been parents who loved and cared for their children as best they could. They had all had an impact on their community of friends and their family and we would remember them for that.
We wanted to stop seeing death negatively, stop with the mourning and the sadness and move toward more of a celebration. Especially where there had been a release from illness which was the case for all three. Why do we feel we know the proper time line for life anyway?
These thoughts presented themselves again with Lady Sings the Blues. What a film; and such chemistry between Billy Dee Williams and Diana Ross, still magic. The way we were, and may never be again…Prior screenings of Lady Sings the Blues always left us sad, always the word “tragic,” stamped in our minds. This time we had an entirely different view.
First we were just amazed at the ability of a people to face each day filled with hardship, oppression, inequality, indecency, prey for all manner of injustice. How did we, under these circumstances and duress, maintain our faith, raise children lovingly, still have laughter and find joy in so little? How did Billy Holiday, portrayed by Diana Ross, fight to leave behind poverty and prostitution and use her gifts to create music?
What makes more sense to us now is that her pain was so deep she had to escape to be able to survive it. An escape into drugs and death at a young age seemed not so tragic this time. Rather it seems the only way. Why, when she was not able to gain licenses to perform where she wanted and when her talents were going to go to waste, why live a long life full of regret and resentment and ugly memories of rape, abuse, racism and a life incomplete?
Now we feel Billy Holiday did not die tragically, but that she was released when she could face no more pain. Her burdens taken away when she could no longer manage to carry them. And how magnificent that in her short life, she did leave us her gift that 50 years later still survives and inspires and is admired. We want to celebrate that. Maybe it’s not about the time spent on earth, but it’s what you leave behind…