A Reflection on Death

Meonne Davis Glenn, 1980-2015

Cassius Ezra Fredd, 1992-2015

April proved to be a difficult month. During the middle of it, I learned that a Howard senior, Cassius Fredd, passed away unexpectedly. The following week, my mother informed me that my first cousin, Meonne, transitioned from this life to glory. Cassius and I knew each other through our affiliation with an organization called GODSC on Howard’s campus; I consider my first cousins to be more akin to siblings, and Meonne was no exception to that classification.

The difficulty of these two deaths primarily presented itself in the suddenness of both. No warning. No chronic illness. No time to prepare. The news of both incidents hit me like a hammer in the chest. To a certain extent, I am still incredulous about the reality of their deaths.

Prior to 2012, my experiences with death had been fairly sporadic. My first tangible encounter with it occurred when my paternal grandmother passed away in 2007. While I was in college, a few students passed away with whom I did not necessarily share a personal connection. I mourned their passings, yet, death remained aloof. My grandmother’s death was certainly a difficult one to endure, but I had several years to grieve and cope with her physical absence.

During the winter break of my senior year, death shed its mysterious veil and entered my adulthood. As I prepared to leave the campus and head home for a few weeks, I encountered a good friend as I walked through my dormitory. His name was Donald Hill, and we conversed for a while. We served on the steering committee for the university’s Alternative Spring Break program, and that was the springboard for the conversation. However, as the minutes passed, the discussion evolved, and we started speaking about our goals, aspirations and dreams following college. After a good twenty minutes, we parted ways. I had no idea that it would be one of my final times seeing him.

During the break, I received a text from the student executive director that conveyed the message of Donald’s untimely passing. I tried to process it, but I could not reconcile the finality of death with the great plans I discussed with Donald just few weeks prior. His dreams of attending Northwestern Law and tackling the issue of gun violence were no more. It simply didn’t make sense.

About a week after I learned of his death, my family and I received news that one of my aunts, who battled pancreatic cancer, was nearing the end of her journey. My maternal grandmother, father, mother, aunt, sister and I jumped in a car, and I drove everyone to Dallas. Approximately three months prior, I learned of my aunt’s terminal prognosis, which carried a maximum life expectancy of six months past that date.

As a man of faith, I took this news with the appropriate solemnity, but I also began praying fervently. As I drove west on I-20, the reality of it all hit me. My mind swirled with thoughts of Donald and my aunt.

He seemed fine when I saw him.

She should have at least until April. 

Why is this all happening so quickly? 

We arrived in Dallas late that evening and stayed for a few days. My aunt passed away on the day before New Year’s Eve. Two tremendous losses occurred within a two week period. Death had never affected me in such a manner – an unexpected passing paired with one that was partially anticipated. In the wake of their deaths, I reflected on their legacies and sought understanding. They both lived great lives, but, even now, I grapple with the void left by their deaths.

Nearly two and a half years later, as I constantly think about Meonne and Cassius, I find myself in the same position. Unfortunately, death is the only constant in an ever-changing world. It knows no restrictions. It can come at the time that one would least expect it to appear. On one hand, I am surprised to find myself in this position again so soon. On the other, I recognize the arbitrariness of death.

Despite this unfortunate reality, I am solaced by the significant positive impact that Meonne and Cassius had on those who they met. I attended Meonne’s wake and funeral in Ruleville, MS a week and a half ago. I was uplifted by the warm stories and left with a true appreciation of the influential life that my cousin lived. Although I could not be there, I heard that a similar outpouring of love was present at the memorial service held for Cassius. Although they both died young, they lived lives that had infinite meaning. Their lives mattered.

If the reader only takes one point away from this post, I hope it’s this: the best thing that we can do is cherish the people who are close to us. This can take the form of a number of easily-completed expressions – a text, phone call, hand-written letter – just to name a few. Tell your loved ones how much you care and how grateful you are to have them in your life. Nothing is guaranteed, and death can enter the equation quickly and surreptitiously. And, when death does come, unapologetically proclaim the impact that your loved one had on your life so that the person’s legacy may continue.

Meonne and Cassius, thank you for blessing me with your lives. As I strive to fulfill my life’s work, I will remember both of you and use your incredible stories as motivation. Love, peace and blessings. Rest well.

 

– Andrew Hairston

About andrewrhairston

Andrew Reginald Hairston is a civil rights attorney and writer. He will soon relocate to Austin, Texas to become the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project Director of Texas Appleseed. He earned his law degree from Louisiana State University in May 2016, where he was a Faculty Scholar. During his time at LSU, he served as the President of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) from 2014 to 2015, as well as the 1L Representative of the organization from 2013 to 2014. While he was the president of LSU BLSA, he served as a member of the Law Center's Diversity Task Force. Mr. Hairston refined his commitment to racial justice work as a law student. He worked as a law clerk for the LSU Parole and Reentry Clinic, and he subsequently served as a student attorney for the LSU Juvenile Defense Clinic. As a third-year student, he was appointed to the Trial Advocacy Board, and he won the Dean's Cup Senior Appellate Challenge during his final semester at the LSU Law Center. Mr. Hairston received his bachelor's degree, cum laude, from Howard University. At Howard, he was actively involved in the Alternative Spring Break program. He worked as a site coordinator to develop and execute the initiative's first trip to Baltimore in the spring of 2013. From 2017 to 2019, Mr. Hairston served as a staff attorney at Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization in Washington, D.C. He began his legal career as the George N. Lindsay Fellow and Associate Counsel at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law from 2016 to 2017. He is licensed to practice law in Louisiana.
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