Honour and Remember

It’s 2007. After a year of sleepless nights while Nardo served in bomb blasted Iraq, I’m grateful he made it home alive. The fact that he’s now away with his unit for two weeks seems a small inconvenience in comparison. And now we have another blessing. My belly is finally showing after three months, and we are so excited. “He’ll be home with me again in just two days”, I think as I lay down for the night. I go into a peaceful sleep. Suddenly I am sitting straight up in bed, screaming. The dark of the room seems to split open with lightening and the sound of thunder fills my ears. I immediately feel that something is very wrong. I call his cell phone. No answer. I call the hotel front desk. “Please” I beg, “go check on him”. But she says she is not allowed to do that. I call repeatedly for the next two days. Silence. Finally, that evening the phone rings. “Nardo, is that you?!” “What? What? NOOOOO!!!” I crumple to the floor in a heap. My then 8 year old Jada runs over, grabs the phone and shouts “Who is this? What did you say to my mommy?” I’m too weak to move. The next several months are a blur of moving between pain, suffering, and total anguish. My sister Jasmine moved in with me to take care of Jada, and to make sure I ate so the baby growing inside of me could live. There are a few moments I remember however. I remember falling down on my knees from the overwhelming torture of losing my best friend. I could no longer carry the burden. I cried out “God, I don’t understand any of this. But I trust you.” And although I still felt pain, the suffering from not accepting his death was lifted. That’s where I learned my first of three lessons – in acceptance of change, no matter how difficult, suffering ends. I found my power.

During that time not only did I lose the love of my life, but Murphy’s law kicked in. Murphy camped out on my doorstep. My health deteriorated from the mental and emotion stress. I lost my job, my car, and my home. The weight of it all was just too much. There were many days and nights that I felt I couldn’t go on. Some days I still felt that all I could do was remind myself to breathe in and to breathe out again. One day, I heard Nardo’s voice saying “I’m sorry Mami for what you’re going through right now, but you’ve got stuff to do”. I cried determined tears and began to fight back the only way I knew how. Nardo never would have let me quit on life. So every book on overcoming grief, motivational video, uplifting songs, and the support of loved ones became my deliberate environment. That’s where I learned the second of three lessons – giving up would not honor his memory. But getting stronger, becoming my best self, would. So I shifted my focus to kicking Murphy in the teeth every day. I still cried, and I still hurt, but I moved forward anyway. I found my passion.

In the beginning of December that year, I received an early Christmas present. We taped pictures of Nardo all over the delivery room. My sister Jasmine looked on lovingly as the nurses prepared. My 9-year old Jada stood next to the doctor, and delivered her little sister, Alejandra Simone Riley, into the world. As Alejandra emerged, I heard a unified gasp from the room. “oh no. I can’t take any more challenges” I thought. “What? What is it?” I fearfully asked. “She looks just like him! Oh wow. She’s amazing.” As I held Ally for the first time and looked into Nardo’s familiar face, I cried tears of joy. I learned a third lesson – even a tragedy can have a happy ending if you keep living. Ally is the best of me and the best of Nardo. The family and friends that loved him so much, still get to remember him in her eyes, in her smile, and in her laugh. I found my purpose.

Everything changed the night I received that fated phone call. And, at the time, I thought I couldn’t survive it. But I did. By accepting that Nardo was gone, my suffering came to an end. Even though I was still in pain, and sometimes I felt like giving up, I instead focused on honoring Nardo’s memory by getting stronger and becoming my best self. And I’m so glad that I did. Every night, as I hug Ally, and tuck her into bed, I can feel her heart beat, and remember Nardo’s unwaivering love. She is our happily ever after.

I am not unique. Each of you has the strength inside to kick Murphy in the teeth. Remembering to live in that strength, even if you’re crying, is the best way to honor your loved one’s memory. Turn your pain into power. You’re your pain into passion. Turn your pain into purpose.