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The Soundtrack to My Life: The unexpectedness of Death, Dying, and Grieving

I'm an avid music lover and always have been. In 1983 it all changed from sitting on the sidelines as a casual listener balancing the music of my parent's generation and the dawning of a new age and genre, Hip-Hop, when I attended my first concert with my best friend. The concert introduced me to groups that would go on to be legends; headlining the show was New Edition but included Roxanne Shante, UTFO, Kurtis Blow, and The Fat Boys, and like a movie, the tables turned, and I began a lifelong love affair with music.

I didn't stop there. I doubled down on my love affair with literature and movies. In fact, I have more disposable income now to feed my desires to partake in them than I did as a teen. But since we're discussing age, have you ever heard the phrase 50 is the new 40? As someone in their early 50's, I genuinely have no idea how I'm supposed to feel, but what I do know is that I don't feel "old." Is 50 the new 40? Maybe not. Maybe 50 feels different than the '50s in the past as we have access to so many things, perhaps looking and feeling younger goes with the territory.

While we’re on the topic of age, Hip Hop turned 40 in August of 2021; the soundtrack of my life. I can tell you what I was doing when some albums dropped or when I first heard a particular beat. It invokes good food, laughter, sunny days, dates, homecomings, liner notes, production credits, and new music Tuesday!

But… Hip-Hop is an adult who is faced with adult challenges.

Hip Hop is experiencing death.

Not the death of an era. Not the music itself dying but literal death, and my heart is breaking.

If this were a relative, colleague, or someone in the community, we would have many folks able to support our grief. Death is natural. They've gone on to a better place. May their memory sustain you.

But what happens when you lose a celebrity? No, not what they represent to the world, but anything that is the soundtrack to your life certainly has implications.

Since last December, we've lost African American artists in my age bracket, the late forties/early fifties, young - not just young to me but young in age, with more life to live and certainly more to contribute to society.

DMX (Earl Simmons)

Eric Jerome Dickey (Best Selling Author)

Markie Dee (Hip Hop Pioneer - The Fat Boys)

Black Rob

Shock G (Greg Jacobs - Hip Hop Legend)

Chi Modu (Photographer- Celebrated for Iconic Hip Hop images)

Biz Markie (Rap and Hip Hop Pioneer)

Paul Johnson (Chicago House Music DJ)

Chucky Thompson (Music Producer)

Michael K Williams (Actor)

These deaths, as they say, "hit different".

I've begun to question my longevity, contributions, health, and assumptions that I will live to a ripe old age. I've questioned the quality of my life as well. Have I set boundaries that allow me to put myself first? Have I explored my likes and dislikes as a Black Woman at this age? What do I want to do next as I'm no longer raising minor children but parenting adults? Should I start dating? What about my friends? How do they feel about aging? Are they ok? Why aren't we talking about this?

My generation, as most generations say, has been at the forefront of innovations. You're welcome for Hip Hop, notable eras of R&B, Gospel, technology, fashion, literature, sports, filmmaking, and television, etc.

But in all of our greatness, yes, I stand by this statement, how are we handling our grief? Does grieving look the same as losing a loved one? In truth, the steps feel different. Yes, there is absolutely shock and denial - Step 1. Certainly a twinge of pain - Step 2. But what about the rest? What about working through this loss? What about hope?

How do we cope? This is real, and I need to put this into perspective, but I also have to say, I'm scared.

The first time it hit me, that I wouldn't be quite as invincible as youth has you believe, was when Heavy D (Dwight Arrington Meyers) passed away suddenly. I was riding along in my car, minding my business, and had to pull over. Heavy D was a legend. Legends of an art form don't die young, do they? That was 10 years ago, and I was shook! How does someone in their 40's die? Who does that?!

Since then, we've lost a few folks here and there, but 2020 and the pandemic brought some heat with its global destruction.

Yet, we aren't really discussing it. Is it denial? Is it that we don't have the tools to cope with a loss like this? They aren't family by blood but that doesn't mean we loved them less.

There aren't any intricate, intimate, or traditional rituals of importance that allow us to say goodbye to them. Nothing for the living to come together and share their memories. No repass. No cousins sneaking away to do what cousins do. The complexity and messiness of mourning them don't exist.

As I was finishing this piece, another death crossed my timelines, AJ Johnson (Comedian), aka Ezel from Friday. I took this as a sign of affirmation and that this piece was apropos. An affirmation that we should discuss this more, that we should develop coping strategies to support each other, that perhaps, I'm not alone in my feelings and that maybe it is time for us to have a collective approach on what we do next.

As I lace up my purple (grape) and black Jordan 1's, (you all can thank my generation for that fashion statement as well), and take my granddaughter to school, I will remain in reflection but also thank those we've lost for what they have contributed to my life.

I couldn't have picked a better soundtrack to my life if I had tried.

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