My friends and loved ones have been transitioning at a very fast rate lately. My aunt who lived to be 100+ had a sense of humor about her friends who kept getting to their exits before she did. She would say, “My friends are now beginning to leave like a bunch of bananas.” I am beginning to lose very close friends almost on a weekly basis — like the bunches of bananas spoken of by my Aunt Tee. It is not the losing that bothers me now. Transitioning is inevitable for us all. Philippians 1:20–21. So, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Out of the 20 or more homegoings that I have sat through with tears rolling down my cheeks this year, only a few have stood out as unique and served as a blessing to my soul. Just last week I attended the homegoing celebration of a former neighbor. The eulogist took a very different approach when he chose his message. The neighbor who died was born with cerebral palsy and was a little older than my son. His case was extreme in that he was never able to walk and his speech was extremely impaired.

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the fetal or infant brain. It occurs when there is neurological damage before, during, or within five years of birth that prevents the brain from developing properly. Damage to the parts of the brain that control motor function causes children with CP to struggle with posture, balance and movement all of their lives.

The wonderful thing is that the eulogist knew the family and the long history of what the mother had gone through over the last 56 years. The mother gave up her life and adjusted her needs to care for her child. The young man was a twin whose brother had died earlier this year at the same age. It seems that the Father/God had allowed the Holy Spirit to speak to the eulogist about the emotional, physical, economical and spiritual cost of caretaking for this mother — and for all others who have had this experience. His message was definitely directed at us, the living, who sometimes take normalcy of life for granted. Even family members sometimes ignore the sacrifice being made by the ones who give up their ambition and goals to care for the needs of the loved one.

The eulogist went into details about the specific care that must be given ... Diapers changed, meals prepared, meds on time, doctors’ appointments, bathing and dressing ... And as the child gets older he becomes too heavy for another to carry. This particular mother, however, never realized that she had to stop carrying her son until it was too late. Her body has broken down and she is now unable to carry herself.

As I sat and listened to the message, I began to realize that he was speaking profoundly to us all. He said that everyone is affected when CP or any major handicap visits a family. Another life has to be placed on hold, delayed or deferred completely.

My mind went back to 3 years ago when my mom transitioned. Later we concluded that she was holding on to life for fear of leaving my sister Ernestine, handicapped from birth. I thanked her for holding on until I arrived in Florida at her bedside, but she was still holding on as we all stood holding whatever part of her that we could touch. My sister Geneva figured out what she was waiting to hear. She leaned over and said, “Mom, it is OK for you to go. I am going to take care of Teen.” My mom took her last breath at 97 years of age. Teen had always been taken care of by Mom. The siblings helped, but the real burden was on my mom. That day, Geneva decided to put her life on hold to do what Mom had done for 72 years. The burden was on the mother of David, my former next-door neighbor, for 56 years.

The eulogist was on a mission to call our attention to the needs of others around us — even those who are not handicapped but are just in need of a reason to live. Those who need us to share laughter, share joy and share a little love. He spoke about their personalities, how they look for faces that have smiles and they gladly return the smile. David had become a face-watcher just as my sister has become. It does not take much to add a little sunshine to their lives. Every mother in the building could not keep back tears, for ourselves and for every family with a handicapped child or individual whose life is totally dependent on another.

Cerebral palsy just happened to be the cause of this young man’s handicap, but the point of the sermon was for us to be more compassionate as we navigate through this life. We should be more observant of the needs of others. Many times, that need is in our home or just next door. We do not have to go searching too far. If we would just open our spiritual eyes, hearts and minds to the needs in our surroundings, many problems will be solved in our homes, churches, and community.

I have attended many home-goings, but this was the first time hearing the preacher take the cause of death or condition lived with as the topic for the eulogy.

Many have transitioned from diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cancer and other illnesses, but for the eulogist to preach on the cause was unique. Sometimes the message delivered at the homegoing service is all about the life of the individual as if those of us present are not familiar with the person’s life. Most times we are there because we are familiar with the individual’s life and can bear witness to it.

That was a most blessed message, and I found it most refreshing to the spirit.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc.

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