I was heading into the airport, on my way to Montreal, Canada to give a presentation. In my excitement, I nearly forgot to wave goodbye to my youngest child, Malcolm. He was the only one of my five children who came from my body. I had suffered three miscarriages before I was able to carry him full-term, but I had to spend the first five months of the pregnancy in bed. I will never forget the moment I first saw him, just as black and beautiful as he could be. He was a miracle, for I had been told that I would never have children of my own, after suffering a beating that put me in the hospital as a teenager. I called him my little “Black Prince.” He was such a delightful baby, and his two brothers and two sisters loved him. I tried very hard to show no distinction between the children, raising them as full siblings.
Mac had received a heart transplant seven months earlier, and he asked to drive us to the airport, so that he could keep my car. He had put 25,000 miles on the car in just four months. Boy, did he love cars! It was a passion for which I was responsible, as I had been taking him to car shows since he was two years old. He and I would sit in the cars just like we had money to buy the cars, especially Corvettes. He became a car mechanic, loving to work on and restore old cars. I knew that the car would probably get no rest while I was gone, but I also knew that he would take good car of my little red Kia Rio.
As I rushed into the airport, Douglas called to me to say goodbye to Mac, so I turned and waved at him and said, “Mama loves you so much!” He smiled that gorgeous smile of his, and he responded,c”Love you, too, Mommy. See you on next Tuesday!” I thanked Douglas for not letting me forget to say goodbye to my child. Then, we flew to Canada. I was so excited, because I had just received my PhD, and Mac and his two girls and the other children had attended, and he had told his girls that they were next to reach this educational milestone. He kidded me about hoping the doctorate was my last degree to obtain. I assured him that it was, and we laughed.
Having him at the graduation, although in a wheelchair, was so special to me, especially because I had came so close to losing him at the beginning of the year. In December, it was discovered that he needed a new heart, and, praise be to God, the doctors found him one within three days of his being on the transplant list, a real miracle! I had prayed for a miracle, and I received one!
He had such a difficult time coming from under the anesthesia that there was damage to his feet from lack of circulation. He remained in the hospital for three months, and there was a great celebration when he came home to my house with his two daughters. He was to remain with us, but when I spoke to him about not keeping his girls up late at night, he decided to move to his own apartment, upset that I had tried to tell him how to raise his daughters.
Where Douglas had made sure that all his medications were separated in a way that he would not miss them, I worried that alone he would not be diligent about taking his anti-rejection medications, as there were a lot of pills. But, there comes a time when as parents we have to let them go, recognize them as adults, and put them in God’s hands. So, I left him that Tuesday morning thinking that I would see him that next Tuesday when he picked us up from the airport, and, hopefully, on time, as Mac had an internal clock that made him always late to the party.
From Tuesday to Friday, I just enjoyed myself, never thinking about anything being wrong at home. Montreal is such a beautiful city, and because I was there for the annual Sociology conference, I spent most of my time going to different sessions and preparing to give my own presentation. Douglas took the time to tour the city, something to which I sometimes envied him. I called Wanda, the youngest daughter, to let her know where we were staying and how to reach me in an emergency, but you never expect to get a call.
On Saturday, I was preparing for an interview for a job that was scheduled for Monday, and I had plans to meet faculty and other graduate students from my university for dinner. The call came around 4:00p.m., and it was Angela, the oldest of the children. She simply said, “Can you come home?” I asked what was wrong, and she would not tell me, just repeating if I could come home. I asked again what was the problem, and finally she said it was Mac. “What is the problem?” I asked, and she said that he was in a coma and they needed us to come home at once.
I called Delta Airlines and explained the situation and told them that I needed to get home as soon as possible, and I was told that there were no flights available to Atlanta that night. I said to the woman, “Just get me anywhere in the United States, and I can get a flight to Atlanta from anywhere.” But she responded that there were no flights headed for the United States, but that they would put us on the first flight to Atlanta the next morning. Angela called back and I told her that I could not get a flight, and she said that he was still in a coma. I said tell him that Mommy is trying to get home and to hold on for me.
About 6:00p.m., I sent Douglas to tell my friends what was happening and that we would not be joining them for dinner, not wanting them waiting in vain for us to show. While he was gone, Angela called me back, right at 6:30p.m. to tell me that my Black Prince was gone! He was 30 years old, and he had run out of miracles! I started jumping up and down, just screaming and crying in frustration and anger.
I had to catch myself, because I had had surgery less than six weeks earlier to remove a portion of my left lung to stop the left lung from continuing to collapse. The stress of finishing my dissertation, going to see Mac everyday, and taking care of his two little girls ages 11 and 7, caused my lung to collapse three times in six weeks, leading to three hospitalizations. I did not want to go through that again. So, something in my spirit said, “Stop before you kill yourself! Your children and grandchildren need you!” So, I just sat down and cried. I did not think I would ever stop! It was the worst pain ever, greater than any pain that I had suffered in my life. I asked God,”How am I supposed to survive the loss of my beloved boy?”
When Douglas returned, I could not even say that Mac was dead, but he knew from the horror on my face and constant questioning, “Why?” I did not understand! Why allow him a heart, if he were going to die within seven months? What do I say to his daughters, and how to I explain the love of God to them when they have just lost their father?
I was inconsolable, and I did not sleep at all, even though Douglas wanted me to get some sleep. I kept wondering if he would have lived if I had been home. Could I have done something to get a different outcome? I have never felt so helpless and out of control. I had to really work to keep my faith intact, and to not let go of the comfort that I knew the Holy Spirit would give me.
I called my daughter back and said, “Tell me everything.” She said that he had a stomachache earlier in the day, and finally his ex-wife took him to the hospital. It was discovered that Mac had not taken his anti-rejection medicines. He had spent the money for his medicines on buying school supplies and other gifts for his girls. By the time he got to the hospital, it was too late to reverse the damage to his organs. Angela said that when she went to see him the last time, she said to him, “Gina is trying to get home!” On hearing that I knew what was happening, he seemed to let go. She said that it was like that was all he needed to know to release his hold on this world.
We arrived home the next day, and I spent the time trying to console my children and grandchildren, starting the preparation for his funeral, and beginning the process of letting go of my beautiful boy. It was not until his wake that I found out that he had learned that the doctors planned to amputate his two big toes, and on hearing that diagnosis, he asked his friends, “What am I supposed to do without my feet?” He made the decision to stop taking the medications.
When I heard, I was furious with him, and I told the doctor that, for me, that was suicide. But, the doctor said that it was not. Mac simply decided to take control of his life choices, and if he had lived, the person inside the shell would have not been Mac at all. He loved living life to the fullest, and he would have hated being a burden on his daughters and family, dependent on people to do just about everything for him. But, you see, as his mother, I was willing to do that for him, but he did not give me the chance!
It has been eleven years since Mac died. That day, Angela asked me why he had to die. I told her that we all have a date for death, and August 12, 2006 was Mac’s day. I got through the funeral with a minimum display of grief, because my granddaughters needed me to be strong. We survive for the other loved ones who need us.
I bought him a gravestone that has his name, that indicates that he was a beloved husband, father, and son, and with a car etched in it, so that everyone would know of his love of cars. He also loved watches and sneakers, and he had lots of both. When I see all the new sneakers in so many beautiful colors, I always think, “Boy, Mac would love those tennis shoes!”
The doctors discovered his heart condition when he was nine years old, and they told me that he would not live past age 19. He could not play sports, and for him to play in the marching band, I had to run beside him down parade routes with bottles of Gatorade. Every time the band stopped, I ran over with the Gatorade, so he would not get dehydrated. His friends called me the Gatorade lady. I brought enough for the whole clarinet section.
The doctors also told me that he could do nothing too physically demanding, but when he was in high school, I discovered that a young lady was pregnant by him. So, I told the doctors that obviously he could do at least one strenuous thing (Smile). They married and eventually he parented two daughters, whom he took everywhere with him. He was a great father!
I have survived the worst pain ever, by remembering all of the moments that I spent with him, looking at his beautiful smile and just loving him, thankful for every event that we shared over 30 years, remembering that I was blessed that Mac lived so long when some parents don’t get even that long. I remember that when they brought him to me after he was born, he had been washed and then greased so much that he was nearly shining! He was smiling and looking right at me, and the nurse said that that was unusual for a child that young to smile like that. He never stopped smiling, even through the many hospitalizations throughout his young life. He grabbed life and he held on until he could not hold on any longer. It was as though he knew he would not live long, so he lived well.
I am so thankful to God for the extra 11 years, and that God allowed him to have a full life, even though it was a short one. Mac was a wonderful, funny, lively, interesting, sweet young man. I am glad that he got to be a father and to know the rich love of a parent for his children. His oldest daughter is married and about to give birth in four weeks to a boy they will name Malachi. I thank Douglas for not letting me forget to say goodbye to him that morning. It was the last time that he heard me say that I loved him.
His birthday, Christmas (his favorite holiday), and August 12 are the hardest days for me, but on those days I survive by remembering the gift that God bestowed on me and the world, a miracle child who brought joy to so many people, and whose life was a testimony to the miraculous love of God. No, parents are not meant to survive their children, but it happens, and I have survived through sheer will power and the belief that one day I will see him again in glory!