Today I would like to share a reflection on “memento mori,” which is a Latin phrase meaning “remember that you have to die.” This injunction is a powerful reminder about the inevitability of death. According to some accounts of the Roman triumph (i.e., a traditional public ceremony to celebrate and sanctify the success of a Roman military commander in a war campaign), these words were whispered from time to time by a companion or public slave into the ears of victorious Roman generals as they were feted in a procession through the streets of Rome. In so doing, the general was reminded of his own mortality and compelled to ‘look behind’ himself.
As I contemplate this Latin phrase (which by the way is the title of part four of my upcoming historical fiction novel – Children of the Ocean God) what comes to my mind on this day in particular is my grandmother, Nellie Dellimore. The mother of my father was born on February 28th, 113 years ago. I know this since during my recent trip to my father’s homeland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I visited her grave site. There, I ‘met’ my grandma for the first time in my life. My father never talked much about his family, let alone his mother, so I didn’t even know her name until I saw a photo of her tombstone (that he shared mundanely via WhatsApp). All I knew was that she had died of a sudden, mysterious illness when he was a young boy (just over 5 years old). According to my father, it is alleged on the official report that she died of pneumonia. However, this was likely not the truth since in those days, the local health inspector would often just record the cause of death that he was told by a family member, without conducting a proper examination. So it is unclear what might have led to her untimely demise.
My grandmother died in 1948 at the too young age of 38 years old. In her short lifetime she bore five children – three girls and two boys, including my father. Her mother was Jewish (nee Wiseman), who had married a Black man with the last name Gumbs. Yet despite this snippet of personal information she remains an eternal mystery to me. I have to this day never even seen a picture of what she looked like. I wonder: Does my father take after her? And do I have any of her traits? What did her voice sound like? Deprived of the chance to meet her in real life, since she passed away 31 years before I was born, I am left to just imagine what she was like. Yet all that emerges in my mind is an amorphous, indistinct imprint of her. Thinking of my grandmother, I am reminded that life can be tragically cut shot. That death can come of it’s own choosing, and strike swiftly. And that we must not take even a moment for granted. I wish I could have met her even if it was just for a day or an hour. Deep down inside I know she somehow lives on within me. So on this day I just want to remember and honor my grandmother. Memento mori!
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