Today, the oldest daughter of my late son, Malcolm, gave birth to a baby boy, and she named him, Malachi Dewayne, a slightly different first name but the same middle name. The picture I received of young Malachi touched my heart and sent it reeling in joy and thankfulness. I also cried today, and as I prayed to God the Father for strength to get through this day, I hoped that somehow Malcolm in heaven can see his namesake. Please, be patient with my post today. I need to remember Mac on this day which would have brought him much joy, and I hope that this post will encourage you to speak of those gone too soon, something I failed to do for my granddaughters.
Malcolm would be thrilled at this new life, for he loved his daughters and was always with them. Even today, after all this time, when old friends of his see me, the first question they ask is, “How are his girls?” They talk about his great love for his daughters and of how every time they saw him, he had his girls with him. I have to remind them that those “girls” are now ages 23 and 19, with the oldest married and about to be a mother. They have grown into two lovely women.
I have thought a lot lately of Mac-a-Doodle, my nickname for Malcolm, as I talked with his daughter over the last few months, as she sought to know him more fully. She had told me that she was going to name her son after her father, asserting that it was her way of keeping her father’s memory alive. She could not handle giving her son the same name, because she is still dealing with her loss. She was 12 when he died, and her sister was just eight. She said that his death turned her world upside down, and, as I listened to her words, I realized that her world was still not right side up. It is my hope that becoming a mother will bring her some semblance of peace and start the process of making her life less sad and more joyful.
When Malcolm died, the girls’ mother unexpectedly took custody of them, as I was out of the country. They were supposed to be raised by Douglas and me. But, by the time we returned to Atlanta, they were with her, and they wanted to remain with her, having missed being with her, for she had given Mac custody of the two girls in their divorce. Having lost their father, they did not want to be away from their mother any longer. We understood and, because there were no legal papers signed, their mother had the legal right to take physical custody.
About a year later, we moved away for me to accept a teaching job at a university in Illinois, and subsequently over the years, I have lived and taught at universities in California and Tennessee. I stayed in touch with them, making sure that their physical needs were met, but I rarely discussed their father with them, believing that they did not need to be reminded of his death. I did not want to project my sorrow and tears on them. But, now, I know that that was the wrong way to go. They needed to hear my stories of him and together we would have mourned him, and just maybe, her world would have not stumbled so far away from normal.
It has been since she married and became pregnant that she and I have talked a lot about him. I have told her stories of his childhood and of the things he loved, stories she did not know. I related a story about a visit to see the Sesame Street characters at the local arena. He was about 3 years old and he LOVED Sesame Street. When it was on, he would sit still, staring in fascination at the characters, repeating the lessons. So, he was overjoyed to go to “meet” them. From where we were sitting, Mac could see a little behind the stage. So he was one of the first to see one of his most beloved characters hiding behind the curtains.
The announcer asked for quiet, and thousands of little kids went silent. Then, all of a sudden, we all heard this small voice scream as loud as possible, “I love you, Big Bird!” You can imagine my surprise when I realized it was Mac! Big Bird came out earlier than planned, because Mac kept repeating his declaration of love, and the other children joined in to declare their love as well. I was alternately embarrassed at the change in plans caused by my young son and so proud that he could feel a love so deeply. What a great time we had that day! He was so happy to see his Big Bird.
My granddaughter laughed at the story, and she talked about how she always knew she was loved by her father and what a great dad he had been. She wanted to know if there were times he got in trouble, because we tend to only focus on good things about the dead and keep the bad to ourselves, wrongly thinking it helpful to the grieving process. So I told her of the time that he and I nearly ending up fighting.
It was Valentine’s Day and a school night, so I gave him a 9:00PM curfew. He was about 16 years old at that time. Well, the curfew ended, but no Mac. By midnight, I was a nervous wreck, calling his friends’ homes and waking up everybody, trying to find my son. By 2:00 in the morning, I was calling hospitals. Then, just about 2:30AM, I hear a car stop in front of the house, and he gets out smiling and as happy as he can be, oblivious to the pain and fear that he has caused.
I was both elated that he was not lying dead in the streets and angry that he was so inconsiderate of my feelings. As he came through the door, I just started hitting him with a belt. He tried to get away from me, but I kept hitting at him. He stopped and looked at me as though I had went crazy, and he said, “You are hurting me.” I responded, “I am trying to do just that.” So, he balled his fists at his sides, and when I saw that he looked as if he wanted to hit me, I said to him, “If you put your hands on me, one of us is going to jail, and one of us is going to Hell, and I don’t plan on dying tonight.”
That defused the situation for us both. We had never been at that point before, mainly because he had been sick a lot of his life and I would just let him do whatever he wanted, as the doctors had told me that he would not live past age 19. But that night, I just lost it thinking that he might have died, and I felt I needed to show some modicum of discipline. He went to his room, tore up the Valentine card that he had bought for me, and he did not speak to me for days. But, he never missed curfew again! And he never balled up his fists at me again, either.
She said that now she understood why he was not a strict disciplinarian, as he worried that they would not speak to him if he were “hard” on them. As we both cried, she talked of all of the times that she and her father had cooked together and of staying up late at night on school nights watching television with him while they were living with me. I told her that I had scolded him about keeping them up so late until it was hard to get them up for school the next morning, which was my job.
I noted that, although he smiled and agreed to give them a nightly curfew, it was the impetus for his leaving my home and taking them with him, a decision that hurt us all and, I believe, led to his unexpected death. She never knew why he suddenly moved from my house after his heart transplant, especially as he was progressing so well with us around to help him.
I said he thought that I was interfering in his parenting decisions, and I guess I was, as most grandparents do at some time or another. But, I meant well and it was heartbreaking to see a divide grow between us. Thankfully, before he died, we had reconciled and he had been the one to drive us to the airport. It was the last time I saw him alive.
Today, as this new life has come safely into the world, I thank God again that Malcolm lived past age 19, living long enough to marry and become a father. Looking at Malachi Dewayne with his little cap on, I just wanted to hold him and keep him safe, for his birth means that Malcolm’s life continues. Whenever his mother looks at him, she will remember the man who held her and loved her, and in her heart, her father will live again. And each time I see Malachi will be at first bittersweet and bring tears, but eventually I will be able to look at this beautiful child without such great sorrow. That, at least, is my prayer and my hope, O Lord.
Hold your children close to you, and let them know you love them, even as God does for us through His Holy Spirit. Life continues after a loved one dies. We must speak of them to those who need so desperately to know the parts of them that existed before they entered their lives, including the good, the bad, and the ugly of their lives, if the living are to heal and began to exhale again. I wish that I had known back when he died that Mac’s girls needed to hear my stories. I will continue to tell them stories of his life, and I will be sure that his grandson hears them as well, so that he can “know” the great young man who loved Big Bird so deeply and truly.