Darryl James

*I’ve dealt with death before.

But as I grow older and acquire more experiences and more wisdom to place those experiences in perspective, death takes on new meaning.

Death takes on a new feeling—a passing sadness for those who I do not know and gut-wrenching sorrow for those I love and have to bid farewell.

This past weekend, I was literally knocked to the ground with news of my older brother’s passing.

My brother, Dwight Leron Madison, was not just a big brother. He was a friend and the standard bearer for what I realized through him that I could become—a stellar father, a wise counsel for family and a loving friend.

Dwight Leron, or “Ronnie,” as he was known to family and friends always tried to find something good about somebody and took time to point out the goodness if you were willing to listen. Willing to listen was important because he never pushed his views on you.

And he didn’t have to push anything on me. I wanted to be like him, so I listened and as I grew older, I discovered that I was very much like him.

Ronnie was the standard of cool for me. As I grew older, I adopted many of his mannerisms, his expressions and even his manner of speaking. I can recall one time I was staying at his house and his daughter, Ronnette thought she was speaking to her father instead of her uncle when I answered the phone.

Ronnie became my very close friend as I matured. We shared a love for music and even made a few songs together. But we also shared many views, particularly when it came to family and family values.

Ronnie was a proud husband and a proud father, even when things went differently from his plans. He was a teen father and his first daughter, Antoinette was born out of wedlock. But he fought life and all of its twists and turns to keep himself ever present in his firstborn’s life and to keep her connected with Ronnette as well as his youngest daughter, Jeannette.

I needed his views on fatherhood when I became a single father. I’m glad that he was around long enough to be proud of his baby brother for changing his life to become an ever-present father.

But I’m also glad that I had him around to share some very great times, including the male bonding trips with our brother Preston and my youngest brother Martez.

I’ll hold such memories as I work through the pain of losing him. A loss I could not have seen coming and so was laid low by the shock.

But it’s not as if a departure ever comes at a good time.

And if we don’t see it coming, the pain and anguish that it brings can lay us lower and render it harder to move on with the daily grind of life than if we prepared for it.

We can act as stoic as we think people will expect or believe, but in the midnight hour, or during the most inopportune time, reality will come crashing down upon us and force us to deal with the harsh and cruel reality of a disconnection from a portion of humanity.

You see, part of the beauty of the human experience is that we can be connected to other humans in a variety of ways–physically, emotionally or mentally.

Those connections are part of what makes life worth living.

The thing is that the act of living can be a voluntary experience to be cherished as it is experienced, as well as in retrospect.  But when life is filled with trauma and madness and mayhem, it can become an involuntary act, filled with numbness and darkness, and only the faint hope of reaching a piece of light at some corner of the darkness.

I’m sad, and selfishly so, for no longer having my brother and friend to talk to and laugh with. And I’m sad that his daughters have to say farewell to a father who was also their friend. And for my other siblings who are dealing with the ugly shit that has been tearing at the core of my being.

But I’m also sad that Ronnie will no longer be able to enjoy a life he worked hard at enjoying, even though I keep reminding myself that I believe he is now in a better place.

For many of us, our lives are so filled with traumatic experiences–poverty, relationship turmoil and disconnection from the milk of human kindness–that we sometimes find that life isn’t really worth living at all.

Ronnie didn’t have that. He enjoyed his life, even through all of the pain and turmoil that he had lived through and overcome, including the Vietnam War, the death of our mother and the death of his wife.

He had turned his pain into lessons and his darkness into light.

We all have darkness at some point(s) in our lives.

Ronnie had his and I certainly had my own.

My childhood had been filled with the traumatic experiences of poverty. To add to that trauma, I lost several loved ones within a small span of time.

In the seventh grade, my best friend was taken by Leukemia.

Within a one-year time period, lasting from the end of ninth grade to the end of tenth grade, I lost my oldest brother, my grandmother and my stepfather, who had raised me as his son.

As a selfish and short-sighted teen, I never imagined the heartache and blinding pain my mother must have felt to lose her own mother, as well as her first born son and husband within one year.

But how could I imagine her pain when I began to close my own pain out of my life?

Darkness began to surround me and threatened to engulf me several times over the next two years.  By the time I graduated from high school and had to face more loss, I was prepared to face it with the only coping mechanism I had–disconnection.

And for a while, I was disconnected from everything.

But, eventually, I began to climb out of my darkness and make connections to warm, living human beings who would help me to shape and develop an understanding of life.

My big brother Ronnie was one of those.

He helped me to find an understanding that nothing is forever.

We can keep alive those with whom we are connected, if we keep them in our hearts and minds.  Even if those places are the only places where the connection thrived in the first place.

We hold on to memories, to photos and to other mementos which trigger memories of the connections we made.  And in doing so, bits and pieces of those people live on us.

Many of us are still maintaining the connection to loved ones long gone, but still alive in our hearts and minds.  Some of us are still holding on to friends, spouses and lovers long gone from our lives but not this world.

At some point in life, you will find yourself saying goodbye.  You will have to say goodbye to lovers, to friends and to family, as they leave you alone in this world with disconnection or when they move into death.

It’s difficult to say goodbye, but the end of each relationship is a natural part of life.

I am reminded of the film Lion King which I have now seen at least one hundred times with my four-year-old son.

The father, Mufasa, who eventually dies, explains life and death to his son Simba, with the metaphor “circle of life.” Essentially, we all live and we all must die in order for the world to make sense.

I know that Ronnie’s passing has a greater meaning. I can’t identify that greater meaning now, because the pain of losing him is too fresh.

But I will eventually find it, embrace it and find strength in his existence, even as he makes the transition into memories and a spiritual presence.

And I’ll do it with the words to a song I loved to hear him sing, GC Cameron’s “How Do I Say Goodbye,” originally from the film, Cooley High: “And I’ll take with me the memories, to be my sunshine after the rain.”

Farewell big brother. Long live your memory as you complete your journey in the circle of life.

Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.”  James’ stage play, “Love In A Day,” opened in Los Angeles this Spring and will be running throughout 2011. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at [email protected].