My mother and I were sitting in the living room on a sunny Saturday afternoon watching television and gossiping… I mean, chit-chatting like we always do. It was one of those days, so more than likely we were reminiscing on some moment or memory that my mother had of my late father who had been gone from this world about six months at that time. I do not remember it as a sad moment, but I do recall my mother mentioning that she had not received any messages from the other side, nor had any dreams about my father since he had passed away letting her know that he was alright, when out of the blue Alexa brought it upon herself to serenade us with the musical stylings of Mr. Stevie Wonder.
“You made my soul a burning fire
You’re getting to be my one desire
You’re getting to be all that matters to me
And let me tell you girl
I hope and pray each day I live
A little more love I’ll have to give
A little more love that’s devoted and true
‘Cause all I do is think about you…”
Stevie Wonder. Hotter Than July. Tamla (Motown), 1980.
As someone of this era, I was not surprised by Alexa deciding to play a song unexpectedly on her own, but when I looked over at my mother, she was almost frozen in terror. I asked her what was wrong, and with a mystified look on her face she asked me how Alexa knew that song. I tried to explain the concept of Alexa housing several thousands of music categories that are stored in some invisible database, and my mother smooth cut me off asking again how was it that Alexa played THIS song. I did not have an answer for her, and after a few moments of quizzical staring in disbelief my mother said that THIS song by Stevie Wonder was a song that my father always used to play for her. She said that she had randomly heard it on the radio at work a few days earlier and it had almost brought her to tears, and now here this song was again randomly blasting throughout our living room. Now I did not want to call my mama a fool aloud, but in my head, I clearly said, “Fool that’s Daddy!” Instead, I calmly informed her that this moment right here, and this song were indeed my daddy checking in with her and letting her know he was fine and that he was thinking of her.
I am 100% certain that my mother is now terrified of Alexa thinking that she is some supernatural portal to the other side, but I am happy that in that moment my mother was able to receive and accept that incident as confirmation that my daddy was indeed doing well. But acceptance and finding resolve in grief comes in many forms and looks different for everybody. As Black people, we were taught to experience grief from a place of strength, where we are not supposed to wonder what is going on in the afterlife nor dwell on the missing of our relatives. Death has become such a regular occurrence that we do not have the grace of spending much time missing our relatives or thinking about the moments we had with them. For some the conversations are too triggering, it hurts too bad to think of the people who are no longer with us. Then there are others who have convinced themselves that the best way to deal with grief is to try to move on from it as fast as they can. They do not take time to honor those memories or those feelings that come up when they think of the people they have lost. That is not a healthy way to deal with loss.
Honor the memory of your loved ones. Look at pictures of them and discuss happier times. Reminisce on the lessons that you learned from them. Play music that made them happy. Dance the way they did, laugh at the jokes they told you. Find your strength and solace in those memories. When I think about my mother silently searching for some sort of sign, it reminds me of all the people I know who also probably have spent significant time trying to find some rhyme or reason. But by keeping the memories of our loved ones alive, we provide many opportunities for signs to appear. It may not always appear as a song randomly playing, but it could be that moment where you were saved from a bad decision based on hearing their voice guiding you in the other direction. Or it could be seeing the similarity of their smile placed on another relative letting you know that even though they are not physically present they are still here.
This November 4, 2021, marks the one-year anniversary of my father William “Willie” E. Hamilton leaving this earthly realm. In my mind I had no idea how I would feel as the anniversary of his demise loomed ahead. I grieved silently for months until I realized that the healing comes in the reliving of moments, the memories, and the tears. Although my heart is broken knowing that he will not physically be here for this chapter of my life, I am reminded daily that he left us all well equipped to not only survive but to strive on this side without him. Even though a few tears may flow, it brings peace to know that all it takes is one song from Stevie Wonder to not only remind me that he is still present, but he is also still thinking about us. It is not only my duty, but an honor to keep on making him proud.
We owe it to our ancestors to not only remember them but honor them in our daily lives. Grief is a continuous cycle that looks different for everyone, but one common thread I have noticed is the desire to preserve legacy. Grief in my Black experience is love, laughter, tears when necessary, and continuing the course.
Fallon Hamilton, also known as F. Renee Hamilton, is an attorney, author, poet, and intentional writing workshop facilitator living in Houston, Texas. You can find her on Instagram at @notorious_fal or check out her website at www.freneehamilton.com.