“My shit is deep, deeper than my grave G;
I’m ready to die and nobody can save me.” -The Notorious B.I.G.
I think my dad had been in and out of the hospital and rehabilitation center for maybe eight or nine months when he gave me the letter. He would improve and then he would have a setback, which would usually place him on a vent machine cutting off his ability to speak. It was a confusing and heartbreaking time. Confusing because he could never seem to get completely out of the shadows of what was ailing him. Heartbreaking because my father, Kurt Moore, did not want to die and the doctors for all their degrees and research, just couldn’t seem to pin down exactly why my dad was ill. Instead, many of them offered us– my mom, sister and I, what I guess they deemed sage consolation: My dad had lived a full life and at his age there is usually a decline in health. This was not an acceptable answer for me and most definitely not for my father. My dad didn’t have high blood pressure or diabetes. So what, he was 84– his curly fro was lush as ever, he still had his sense of humor and all his teeth! He felt like he still had some living to do and surely did not want to do it hooked up to some damn breathing machine:
I am disappointed. I prayed to God to please let me be able to speak. This would make me very happy. I don’t want to die now…
These are just a few sentences of the 1-page letter my dad wrote me on a scrap of unlined white paper one dreary evening while I sat at his bedside. It was a heartbreaking time. Now almost six years to the day of his passing this letter still haunts me, everyday. My father was no punk though. He was an air bomber in WWII. He had killed and had seen death up-close and wasn’t afraid of transitioning to the Hereafter. He just wasn’t quite ready to depart at that point in his journey. It’s one thing to know you’re going to die and to be able to prepare and get ready. It’s another thing entirely to not be sure and not want to die.
Last month I watched former NYC Mayor Ed Koch’s funeral on TV and listened to his friends remark how he knew last December would most likely be his last time hosting his annual holiday party and how he joked that everyone wanted pics with him not because he was so good looking, but because they knew it would be their “last shot with Ed Koch.” He had even purchased his plot at a nondenominational cemetery in 2008 and had his gravestone inscribed and installed shortly after. Whenever God would call his name, Ed Koch seemed ready to go.
Valerie Harper also seems ready to put on her long white robe. Two weeks ago, coincidentally the same week that marked the 16th anniversary of my favorite rapper Biggie’s untimely death, I saw Valerie’s video on People.com where she shared with the world that she has terminal cancer. I was stunned by her easy exuberance yet oddly empowered. “Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral,” she stated, with a smile no less. She’s dying, but she’s ok. Life is okay? Death is okay too? I wonder as the bullets ripped through the metal of the GMC Suburban and cut through his flesh was The Notorious B.I.G. okay with Death riding shotgun with him in LA that night? Was he ready to cross over so early on March 9th? I know he had said a few years earlier on his debut release “Ready To Die” that he was, but still, I often wonder.
Like most people with near-death experiences, I remember clearly when Death came a’ knocking on my door in 2000. I wasn’t ready to turn the knob, but somehow, I was okay if Death still eased on through anyway. My appendix had ruptured, I had an abscess that had shut down my lower intestine and infected the lining of my stomach. The only thing I had eaten in about two weeks was a handful of ice cubes and it was maybe my 11th or 12th day in the hospital and I just felt a light, emptiness ease inside my being. I felt like I was drifting somewhere and I did not want to go. Not at that moment. I didn’t think I’d see the next day. I called my mom and asked her to come see me immediately and she did. While hoping my mom would make it to me before Jesus I wrote my thoughts down. I felt like writing what I was feeling would somehow make me heavy and slow my spirit down to stay a lil’ longer. So I wrote:
Never in my wildest dreams or even in my dullest of nightmares had I thought that I could die… NOW! That mumbo jumbo about ‘if I should die before I wake’ is very real and very much a possibility to us all at any time. I look out my hospital window at the trees moving with the wind and I cry because I can’t remember how I felt when the breeze touched my own cheeks. And that is what living is all about. So I guess I must be dying.
My doctor told me I was lucky to be alive the day after my surgery, but almost two weeks later I felt like I was slipping away. I hadn’t gone to Cuba yet, I hadn’t had a baby and hello, I already had my tickets for D’Angelo’s summer Voodoo concert and I surely wasn’t about to miss him doing “How Does It Feel” live. I had some more living I wanted to do. My good friend Cleo from Girl Scouts and also my cut-up buddy in Sunday School had already passed away 11 years prior. I know she wasn’t ready to die, but she had also confided in me that she no longer wanted to be in the immense amount of pain that her frail body ravaged in from having cancer. My best friend from college Alanna had also crossed-over. I don’t even think she ever knew she was dying until the rare form of meningitis she caught had already snatched her to the Afterlife. In less than 36 hours she was gone. By the time her organs completely failed, I like to believe, Alanna, being the Piscean fish she was had already detected the change in current and knew it was time to get the party started upstream in the great Beyond. I wasn’t ready to die, but lying in Mount Sinai that critical morning 13 years ago, I made my peace and felt okay if it was time to reconnect with my homegrrrls again. It was a confusing yet heartbreaking moment, but it was okay.
Four days later I was finally released from the hospital. Apparently, heaven wasn’t ready for me yet. In the years since my hospital stay I’ve been to Cuba. Africa too. Not only did I see D’Angelo’s Voodoo Tour, I went on that tour to six cities as the marketing rep for his opening act, Amel Larrieux—one of the best summers ever! I still haven’t had a baby yet– something to live for besides D’Angelo’s follow-up to Voodoo. Seriously though, there’s actually so much to live for. Now, so completely aware of how thin, low and near the line between life and death lies, I remember and live for the gift of speech, of breath, of the breeze against my cheek, of God’s grace and of second and third chances at Life. So many of my beloveds have died, many way before they got to do a whole lotta living. I think for this reason I think of dying a lot. I think death, as unprepared as most of us may be for that moment, it’s probably the easiest thing for us to do. Simply roll over and die. Living is the real challenge. Being present, even and especially in those confusing and heartbreaking moments and being unafraid and still okay is hard as Mississippi muck. So everyday, several times a day, to keep me focused, to keep me thoroughly alive, I ask myself, “Am I ready to live?”
** Dedicated to my father who transitioned on March 22, 2007 and to my bestie Alanna Haywood who was born on March 23rd. **