barry-jenkins-if-beale-street-could-talk-vibe-feature barry-jenkins-if-beale-street-could-talk-vibe-feature
Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

Barry Jenkins Proves Love Is The Great Equalizer In 'If Beale Street Could Talk'

'If Beale Street Could Talk' director Barry Jenkins discussed the many love languages depicted in his James Baldwin adaptation.

Inside Manhattan’s Essex Hotel, Barry Jenkins sits with his legs crossed in a sparsely furnished room on the third floor. The Academy-Award winning director is in town to promote his latest film If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaption from author, essayist, and critic James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name. Jenkins, wearing a royal blue knit sweater and a gray T-shirt, offers a hug and promises he’s not contagious despite his sniffles. It’s a chilly late November day but before the interview begins, he gets up from his seat once again to turn off the heat.

The warmth, love, and intimacy albeit with a splash of naivety by way of the film’s lead characters, cannot, however, be turned down or off. It stays with moviegoers long after the film’s credits prompting them to question their own beliefs and boundaries about love. Is their love strong enough to withstand the pressure of being young parents from warring families? Or could they weather the unforgiving storm of the prison system? More importantly, have they ever experienced a love, tender yet resolute, like the one depicted on screen? Jenkins forces those questions.

If Beale Street Could Talk centers around Tish and Fonny (Kiki Layne in her first feature film, and Race’s Stephan James) who in the middle of their unblemished doe-eyed love come face-to-face with America’s lust for imprisoning black men. This isn’t the first love story Jenkins has tackled. The Florida native earned a buzz for himself with 2008’s Medicine For Melancholy and then became Hollywood’s darling in 2016 with his Academy Award-winning Moonlight. Jenkins’ ability to cinematically depict the beauty and complexity of relationships among black people has been at the heart of his work, and he continues that pattern, at his highest artistic level to date, with Beale Street.

But any talk of his own love life merits an adjustment in his seat, a crossing, and uncrossing of his legs, and a readjustment of his Oliver Peoples glasses.

“Yeah, of course, [I’ve been in love],” he says slightly high-pitched and bashful. “Of course.”

Jenkins is down-to-earth, chill and open but he politely, yet assertively discontinues any questions about his personal life at the onset of our discussion. Want to discuss his art? No problem. His heart? Well…no. He does allow for one last intimate inquiry: What lesson is love trying to teach you that you’re not learning?

“Oh, that’s interesting. I think love is trying to teach me to love myself. I feel like I’m really having a hard time learning that which is something that I think—

“Even at 39?” I interrupt.

“Yeah, even at 39. Thank you for pointing out that I’m 39,” he says with a chuckle. “I think that who we are as people for the first 10 years of our lives stay with us for the next 60 years of our lives. I know that I’m capable of loving myself, and it’s something that I have to constantly work at. I think because I’m working hard at so many other things, that I lose sight of that quite often.”

Jenkins uses the words “interesting” and “man” regularly. When he’s thinking of how to respond to a question he begins with “it’s interesting, man” or “oh, that’s interesting.” A telltale sign that he’s mentally buying time before responding. When asked how he first came to know Baldwin’s work, interestingly enough, he was introduced to the writer through a past love who wanted him to arrest his unyielding definition of black masculinity.

“It’s interesting, man, she gave me the one-two!” Jenkins says reminiscently. “It was Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room just so I could become a little less rigid in how I carried myself and what I thought a black man should be, you know? And then I started reading Baldwin for myself and realized how wide the breadth of his work was.”

At 5-feet-8 inches tall, Jenkins is brown-skinned and bald with a perfected nerd appeal. Not  nerdy in an awkward way, more like he can wax poetic about a number of French foreign films, but isn’t too high-brow to understand the emotional importance of say, The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly.” For Jenkins, using the famous Roberta Flack remake for the film’s third and final trailer acted as a musical bed for Tish and Fonny’s affair.

“It’s always been a song that’s resonated with me and it felt like this love between KiKi and Stephan, I mean between Tish and Fonny, there was something not tragic about it but very pure and at the same time brutal about it.”

In Beale Street, there’s a scene in which Tish and Fonny look directly at one another. There’s no dialogue, just a young black couple in love gazing into one another’s eyes. A smile eventually creeps over their faces, but not for a moment or so. I share how a few audience members shifted in their seats at an early screening I attended. Jenkins surmises the reaction is two-fold.

“I think when you watch a movie you don’t ever expect to have to look someone in the eye. It’s interesting. Movies can be emotional. People cry in movies all the time, but they cry without directly connecting to the person on screen. So I think the idea of having to look the character on the screen directly in the eye is unnerving because it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m not outside I’m within it.’

“You asked me earlier about love and all that stuff and I don’t like to talk about my personal life in these interviews, but I have a girlfriend and sometimes we look at each other. We talk a lot but I feel like when we look at each other, like how you and I are looking at each other right now, that’s when it’s like real. There’s no avoiding…

“No escaping,” I chime.

“Right, no escaping whatever’s between us. And I feel like carrying that emotion, that feeling from my personal life into the work has been something that’s been a blessing. I wish I was there to see the people move and squirm,” Jenkins admits. “And that moment comes way late in the film, in like the last five minutes, those direct close-ups with KiKi and Stephan, at least the ones that I love the most. And yeah you should [squirm] because all these things you’ve been feeling, you’re not going to be allowed to shake it off when you leave the theater. You’re going to have to take that sh*t with you.”

Jenkins accents “take that sh*t with you” by slapping his index finger on the table, so it sounds like take (slap) that (slap) sh*t (slap) with (slap) you.

Tish and Fonny’s union isn’t the sole relationship that holds center stage. The camaraderie between Fonny and Daniel Carty, played by Brian Tyree Henry, also captivates. The Atlanta actor enters the frame while running into Fonny and Tish on the street. He’s smiling, joking, hugging his brother and from the outside looking in, everything is everything. But as Carty’s character blooms viewers begin to see life isn’t all peachy.

“You know, it’s interesting. That brotherly love and then that vulnerability, it’s one of those things where I feel like the way I interact with my homeboys back home and with all the cats in my frat, just the black men that I know, I don’t often see those kinds of interactions depicted,” Jenkins says. “For one, I think it takes a bit of time for us to get to that point. When I say us, I mean black men to get to that point where we really reveal ourselves to one another. And in a movie, typically, you’ve got to get there in two minutes, three minutes. But I feel like with this book and with this film, there was an opportunity to create a space where over the course of 10, 12, minutes you can really see Brian and Stephan act out this dynamic that I’ve seen whether it's between my uncles, whether it’s me and my homeboys at the family cookout or whatever.”

That dynamic Jenkins speaks of is the slow undoing of “I’m fine” or “I’m good, I’m okay” that often occurs between black men and may require a drink, a smoke, or a drink and a smoke to journey to the heart of the matter.

“To me, what I think Brian and Stephan are doing in that scene is going through this whole wave of progressions where they’re trying to really understand and figure out: ‘Am I comfortable enough to truly go to this place?’ And I think they both do such a wonderful job because Brian’s character shows up on the sidewalk cracking jokes, talking funny about the art, hugging his lady. She’s going out to buy groceries, everything is cool and then literally, within the span of eight to 10 minutes, you see this dude is hurt, deeply hurt,” Jenkins says. “And the journey Fonny is on theoretically could end up in this place where Brian’s character ended up, so it was really important to me and the book. It's one thing to intellectually experience that as you’re reading a novel, but to see Brian Tyree Henry ride the wave in the course of one scene, that to me is cinema.”

Jenkins’ road to film was a wave in itself, yet during the middle of my 15-minute interview, five of those minutes were hijacked by my mother who called as I recorded from my phone. Before I could hit ignore, Jenkins, thrilled the caller ID read “Mommy,” picked up, put her on speaker and began chatting away. Despite his nerdy demeanor Jenkins isn’t short on charm and gracefully wooed my mom with his “Ask me a question, my dear.” Taking the bait, she giggled and queried him about his path. Jenkins spoke truthfully and humbly about growing up in Miami’s projects and not feeling he had the technical skills his white college peers had. “But they didn’t have my voice,” he said speaking into the phone.

Jenkins’ voice and his dedication to showing the beauty of blackness, black bodies, and black lives while making our stories universal has catapulted the filmmaker. But if you ask him how he manages those tasks, he’ll tell you he doesn’t even give it much thought.

“You know, I take that sh*t off the table,” he says nonchalantly. “Only because I’m black. I’m a human being. Black folks are human beings, you know? I think the spectrum of experience among human beings is pretty singular. We all love. We all yearn. We all hurt. We all suffer. We all experience joy. The feeling of my joy should be just as immediate and accessible and quote end quote universal in its specificity as anyone else’s. And so the idea I’m trying to create imagery surrounding blackness that is then relatable to someone who is not black, that sh*t just doesn’t occur to me,” Jenkins said.

“To me, I’m trying to tell as truthfully and as authentically the experience of the characters. In a certain way, if you want to come and meet that, you have to come and meet that on our terms.”

From the Web

More on Vibe

Carlos Perez

Anuel AA Breaks Free

In 2015, an entourage of close to 30 men drew guns among one another during a traditional Christmas parranda in Puerto Rico. The scene turned into something straight out of a movie when a pair of gangsters clandestinely attempted to kidnap local rapper Anuel AA. After a brief scuffle and flagrant shouting match, however, the man born Emmanuel Gazmey Santiago went on to finish the evening’s holiday spree in the boisterous company of his loyal posse.

Months later, after ushering in the new year on a promising note by featuring on one of Latin trap’s first global hits – De La Ghetto’s sex anthem “La Ocasion” with Arcangel and Ozuna – someone delivered Anuel AA a divine premonition of sorts: “If you keep talking about this stuff in your songs, something really ugly is going to happen to you.”

A Puerto Rican music legend, Hector “El Father” of reggaeton-turned-son of God, paid Anuel a visit to share his foreboding message. “He and I did not know each other,” explained Anuel, who prides himself on waxing poetics about the real-life experiences Hector was concerned with, “but God spoke to him and Hector felt he needed to reach out to me. When he warned me, he said it with so much conviction that he even cried.”

Having forged a legacy of his own as one of the key trailblazing reggaeton entertainers of the ‘90s who later signed a deal with JAY-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Hector – now a devoted Christian – understood life imitated art when it came to Anuel’s lyrics.

“My lyrics talked a lot about God and the devil, so when he told me that,” Anuel continued, “I knew I needed to make some changes. Those themes, good versus evil, they were my mark and what separated me from the rest.”

On April 3, 2016, just two weeks after meeting with Hector, Anuel was arrested and held in Guaynabo’s correctional institution on charges of illegal gun possession. Following his biggest musical break yet, just as he was touching the cusp of international stardom, a court judge sentenced Anuel to 30 months in federal prison without bail.

Raised east of San Juan, in the Puerto Rican city of Carolina, Anuel AA has a lot in common with many of my favorite MCs: he’s charming, resolute, and lyrically gifted, yet marred by a criminal past, complicit misogyny and the constant struggle between right and wrong. “I had no choice but to carry those weapons with me, because of the issues I had on the street,” the rapper said to VIBE Viva over the phone, while quarantined in Miami. “I thought to myself I’d rather be locked up than found dead.”

Indeed, Anuel had evaded his probable demise when he was nearly abducted and landed right behind bars months later, fulfilling a prophecy that cost him both his freedom and a flourishing start at the tipping point of trap music en Español. “I was being forced to reckon with all the bad things I had done for money in the past,” Anuel expressed, regretfully. “I started reading the Bible for the first time and realized that my talent and blessings came from God, not anywhere else.”

Anuel had begun to take music seriously around the same time his father, José Gazmey, was laid off from his coveted A&R position at Sony Music. With his back against the wall, a scrappy Anuel left home at 15 and began to engage in felonious activity to help provide for his family and finance his music endeavors.

Like many rappers on the island, Anuel was influenced by popular culture and trends on the mainland, most discernibly by contemporary trap. Anuel understood the genre’s synonymy with street life and the drug enterprise and immediately took to Messiah El Artista, a Dominican-American rapper VIBE profiled for championing Spanish-language trap music all over New York.

“I figured if Latin trap was doing well in New York, it was for sure going to pop in Puerto Rico,” said Anuel, who had signed with the Latino division of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group the year prior to his arrest. “I spent about a month in New York before I returned to Puerto Rico. Then I started to release all the songs I had, one by one, and they began to gain popularity.”

While artists like J. Balvin helped breathe new life into the reggaeton genre in Colombia, Anuel wanted to spearhead a movement in Puerto Rico with a sound all their own. “I recorded the ‘Esclava’ remix with Bryant Myers and it might not have taken off worldwide, but it became a huge trap song in Puerto Rico.”

Akin to the heydays of reggaeton, an Afro-Caribbean genre-fusing hip-hop and reggae that originated in Puerto Rico, trap music was considered lowbrow and was heavily criticized for its vulgarity, violence, and explicit lyrics. Puerto Rican critics and artists alike had very little faith in the music’s potential and therefore denounced it. “DJ Luian, who is like a brother to me, couldn’t understand why I wanted to put all my energy into music that none of our artists wanted to sing.”

“Reggaeton went dormant for years,” he continued. “It was necessary to make trap music, because it felt like reggaeton was stuck in another era.” A self-described student of the late and oft-controversial Tupac Shakur, Anuel thought reggaeton had reached its pinnacle and believed Latin trap would be its successor.

Songs like “Nunca Sapo,” where Anuel channels Rick Ross’ Teflon Don ethos and spits a grimy slow-tempo flow over a sinister 808-laden instrumental, helped put a face to Anuel’s little-known name in the US. On cuts like Farruko’s “Liberace,” Anuel speeds up his delivery for fun and plays on the “Versace” rhythm popularized by Migos, who all hail from Atlanta—the widely credited birthplace of trap music.

For Anuel, whose life mantra “real hasta la muerte” is now a famous hashtag, music aspirations had little to do with radio play. Anuel, 27, was largely concerned with dominating the digital space, especially while incarcerated. Despite his arrest, he continued to release music from behind prison walls while his team fed his massive following up-to-date content.

Hear This Music CEO, DJ Luian heeded what Anuel was trying to accomplish and began to work with Bad Bunny, the Latin Grammy-winning artist and star voice of the current Latin trap movement. “When I was locked up, Luian helped develop Bad Bunny and he basically became in charge of keeping trap alive while I was away,” said Anuel, who ironically came under fire recently and was accused of throwing shade at Bad Bunny for the video treatment of “Yo Perreo Sola,” in which the rapper-singer dresses in drag as a stance against toxic masculinity.

“I couldn’t believe something like this was going viral,” Anuel interrupted anxiously before I could expound on a question concerning their relationship. “It looked like it was something that was edited or put together to make my Instagram posts read that way. I immediately texted Bad Bunny about it and he was like, ‘Don’t worry, people are always going to be talking sh*t.’”

Anuel considers Bad Bunny a genius at what he does and maintains that despite not knowing each other very well, he and his fellow compatriot are friendly collaborators with a working rapport: “When he and I do a new song together, what will people say then?”

Today, the collective jury will reach a verdict upon listening to Anuel’s newly-released sophomore studio album Emmanuel, where fans will find a track titled “Hasta Que Dios Diga,” a sultry, mid-tempo reggaeton number. Fans can expect to hear a star-studded project riddled with guest features, including Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee, Enrique Iglesias, J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Karol G, to name a few.

Discussing life during a global pandemic, Anuel spoke fondly of his partner-in-rhyme, Colombian singer-songwriter Karol G. “She’s the love of my life. She’s been there with me through the good and bad. People who really love you are the ones who stand firm by you when things are bleak. In my toughest moments, Karol was there. She’s shown me how to be a better man,” he gushed.

“Karol comes off as super feminine—which she is, but Karol also has a really tough masculine side,” Anuel laughed heartily on the other end of the line. “She rides motorcycles and likes taking them up these crazy hills. She rides jet skis too! She’s like a dude, haha. We work well together and we give each other advice all the time.”

The pair are making the most of quarantine life in South Florida, releasing a self-directed and self-shot music video for their joint single “Follow,” a reference to flirting over social media in the era of social-distancing, the idea that shooting one’s proverbial shot can lead to a budding romance.

On July 17, 2018, Anuel dropped his debut studio album, Real Hasta La Muerte, hours before he was released from jail. By September, the RIAA certified his introduction to the game platinum, garnering the attention of Roc Nation artist Meek Mill. When the Philly wordsmith released his fourth studio LP in November of the same year, followers were geeked to learn Anuel had earned himself a place on Meek’s highly anticipated Championships album with “Uptown Vibes.”

I always wanted you and anuel aa to make a track together bc i feel like he’s the meek mill of spanish trap , how was it working with him ?

— Nagga (@naggareports) December 17, 2018

“Recording with Meek Mill for me was like when Allen Iverson played with Michael Jordan for the first time,” Anuel said, singing praises about their first-ever partnership. “I’m a huge fan of Meek; when his music took off I was still in the streets, so I related and identified with a lot of the things he was saying.”

“Meek doesn’t understand a lick of Spanish,” he mused in jest, “but he’s always with a bunch of Latinos. When I speak to him he says, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying, but my Spanish [speaking] ni**as tell me you be talking that sh*t!’”

Anuel leveraged his knack for storytelling and released “3 de Abril” earlier this year, an emotional freestyle about the day he was arrested and a graphic snapshot of his trials and tribulations.

“I did things without caring about the consequences. I thought I was a man because I was street smart. Now I know what it’s like to lose everything, so I wanted to talk more about my life and the experiences of me and my family,” Anuel described the inspiration behind the song.

Following the release of “3 de Abril,” Anuel again turned hip-hop heads when he and Lil Pump shared a fiery audiovisual for their collaborative effort “Illuminati,” stamping Pump's first new song since summer 2019. This year, Anuel also has songs with Colombian pop empress Shakira (“Me Gusta”) and with the late Juice WRLD (“No Me Ames”).

Albeit Anuel and Juice WRLD never got to meet in person, Anuel learned about the Chicago rapper from listening to his singles on the radio in jail. “The same year I won Billboard Latin’s Artist of The Year award, Juice WRLD won New Artist at the American Billboard Awards. We ended up recording the song after that but held off on releasing it for a bit because he and I had respective singles coming out at the same time,” Anuel explained.

“By the time we were finally ready to premiere it, Juice WRLD had passed away. We were never able to record together in person, but at least we got to feature him on the video. I know the tribute gave his fans and family some needed strength.”

Less than 30 minutes have gone by and already I am forced to wrap my conversation with Boricua’s burgeoning superstar:

Anuel, explain “real hasta la muerte” for me. Why exactly is this mantra of yours so important? 

“I can’t betray anyone. I don’t know what it’s like to really betray someone. I’m very loyal to my circle, my family, and those I hold close to me. Being real is what keeps me humble. It doesn’t matter how much money I make or how much I accomplish. What’s critical is staying real to myself and keeping my feet on the ground. That’s what helps keep me going.”

This interview was translated from Spanish to English and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Continue Reading

Exclusive: BBD's Mike Bivins And Ricky Bell Speak On Funk Fest 'Garage Concert Series' And George Floyd's Murder

The early '90s wouldn't be the same without Bell Biv DeVoe's style of hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it. Even as a stark departure sound and style-wise from their New Edition group days, BBD  literally ushered in a new tint to the already hot sounds of Teddy Riley's "New Jack Swing" of the mid to late '80s. Their universal party anthem single, "Poison," cures any wack wallflower growing jam and will forever be the barbeque favorite of your aunt and uncle to sprain an ankle to while dancing.

So today, May 28th at 9 pm EST on FunkFestTV.com, it's only right that the crew known as BBD brings that same energy to the comfort of our homes, with "The Garage Concert Series" during these quarantine times via a streaming deal with the 19-year-old urban music festival, Funk Fest. The series is billed as a jam session that comes to you with the flavor of a bare-bones home garage performance that gets to the organic feel of the music. Joining BBD in this landmark event will be recent Verzuz social media battle stars, Jagged Edge.

Tonight's festivities will be in honor of aiding those in need through the newly created charity by the trio named BBD Cares. This community initiative focuses on the seniors of Laurel Ridge Rehabilitation Care Center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Proceeds from the moderately priced pay-per-view performance will go to those impacted by the grip of Covid-19. "We’re proud to launch the Garage Concert Series and our BBD Cares effort to raise money and awareness during a time when our communities, our culture, and our society need healing," said Ricky Bell.

Both Mike Bivins and Bell spoke to R&B Spotlight founder, Cory Taylor for VIBE on ZOOM to detail the idea and plans for the Funk Fest and Garage Concert series, as well as expound on the turbulent times we are currently experiencing in society. While explaining how hard things are to bare, music being an outlet helps in healing and this digital event looks to continue to flourish in expanding that notion. “The Garage Concert Series, which we conceptualized and named after other culture-shifting brands like Amazon and Microsoft that started in their garage, is our contribution to the global community,” states Bivens.

Be sure to watch their interview with us and log on to FunkfFestTV.com at 9 pm EST for a blast to the past of good music for a great cause. Ronnie DeVoe sums it up best, “our goal is to continue to spread the love while raising money for those who are most in need.”

Continue Reading
Melyssa Ford

Melyssa Ford: 'My Mother Died During This Pandemic And I Have Nowhere To Put My Grief'

Editor's Note: In a heartwarming tribute, former model now TV/radio host, Melyssa Ford details the final days she shared with her beloved mother, Oksana Barbara Raisa Ford (10/12/1950 - 5/19/2020). Understanding that we have all been connected to COVID-19's tragic reach, this essay explains the plight of one person's experience that represents the pain so many are dealing with in these times around the world.

-

COVID-effing-19. This pandemic has been a moment of reckoning for a great many of us. How many of you have been confronted with the hard truth that we took EVERYTHING about our lives and freedoms for granted? The freedom to call up a few friends and go for Happy Hour drinks after a long day at work? The freedom to start our day by going to the gym; the freedom to temporarily vacate our lives by getting on a plane and heading off to some tropical destination? Or the freedom to gather at a burial or memorial service to pay love and respect to a loved one who has passed, as a means of helping to process our own grief? 

My mother died last week. Not from COVID-19, but from colon cancer. But COVID-19 and its endless complications directly affected my family’s lives and, ultimately, my mother's death. 

It was less than a year from diagnosis to her last days. She lived in Toronto (my hometown) and I currently live in Los Angeles. Traveling during this pandemic presented some incredible challenges. Quarantine and shelter in place rules. Closed international borders. Fear and uncertainty. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get to her side in time, since Canada mandates that anyone getting off a plane has to self-quarantine for 14 days (threats of fines and jail time were there to incentivize you to adhere to the new rules). And I knew my mother had very little precious time. 

Months before, when there was still some hope that surgery and chemo would prolong her life, she decided to sell the house I grew up in. I was furious. I looked at this as her giving up; resigning herself to the control of this insidious disease called cancer. But my mother, the truest form of a pragmatist, was preparing for the inevitable and getting her affairs in order. She wanted to leave me with nothing to do except mourn her without the burden of packing up a home with all of her belongings in it after her death. She knows me so well, she knew I’d NEVER pack it up, that I’d have left everything the way it was as a shrine to her and, therefore, never really moving through my grief in a purposeful and healthy manner. 

Cancer ravaged my mother's body but left her brain fully intact. And it was with full cognition, pragmatism and a whole lot of gumption, that she decided to end things on her terms by scheduling her passing with a doctor's assistance via MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) — a legal policy in Canada that allows a terminally ill patient in palliative care to choose the days or weeks remaining in their lives. 

She didn’t want to spend her last months laying confined to a bed, immobile, unable to even take herself to the bathroom. The most basic form of human dignity had been stolen from her and replaced with a catheter and a colostomy bag that my aunt had to drain several times a day. I watched as her skin turned yellow from jaundice, signaling her liver was failing. I watched as her urine went from a dark yellow to crimson, a signal that her kidneys were no longer functional. My mother, the strongest person I had ever known, both physically and mentally, was now frail and seemingly melting into the bed, her skin sagging from her skeletal arms and legs. Her face was gaunt, her head bald, her breastplate visible and bony...in her last days, she was an empty shell of the 5’10” beautiful Viking she had been. With her long blond hair, green eyes, and imposing physical stature, I used to joke that if you gave her a hat with horns, a shield, and a sword, you could send her out to battle. 

The day I arrived in Toronto from L.A., I approached my mother’s bedside after going through a rigorous disinfectant routine. My mother had been discharged from the hospital as there was nothing left to do for her medically except keep her as comfortable as possible. She was sent home to my aunt’s house for the remainder of her days. My aunt’s home was a place of comfort and joy for me, as I’ve spent a great many holidays and family occasions here; this was the best place for my mother to be. With a mask and gloves on, I sat down next to her bedside and tried with all my might not to cry. My Mom had passed on that British “stiff upper lip” mentality to me; it’s rare you will see me expose my emotions. But as of late, I’ve been pretty transparent about it, in an attempt to sort through my competing feelings of grief and guilt. Guilt of not having been the perfect daughter. Grief of being her only child with no one to share the burden of immeasurable sadness with. Guilt of not working on our relationship or attempting to understand her as a person until it was close to the end. Guilt and grief kept coming in waves, threatening to drown me. 

On that first evening, I sat with her for a few hours and we talked more frankly than we ever had about things I had always been scared to ask. Topics such as her tumultuous marriage to my father and why she stayed in such misery. What was HER mother like, who died when my mother was only 15 years old? Was she proud of me and the choices I had made in my life, one of them being never having children?

Eventually, I had to let her sleep. I went upstairs to her bedroom (she was now in a bedroom on the main floor of my aunt’s house since she could no longer walk). Once in her room, I found a journal titled 2019 and began to read. What I read, in between all of the activities she enjoyed such as Aquafit and her book club, was her documenting her disease before she even knew she had it, describing the symptoms that began as uncomfortable that would soon become excruciatingly painful. 

It broke my heart to read this, being on the other side of understanding where this story would end. I found myself wanting to move through the dimension of time and yell, “Go to the hospital!” Reading this only made me wonder if she had caught it during the early days of symptoms, would the outcome be different? Excuse me as I add more guilt and more grief to the already unbearable weight upon my shoulders. 

Our final day was spent much like the last six days I had with my mother, laying beside each other in bed, massaging her, and either watching movies or talking. We would go from walking down memory lane as I showed her old pictures to discussing last-minute details about the Business of Death: the transfer of everything into my name, where certain sentimental pieces of jewelry could be found, who she wanted to receive small tokens of remembrance of her. As sad as I was for myself, my heart broke for my mother. She’s losing EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE. She expressed to me that she was shocked at how quickly her cancer spread throughout her body. It didn’t give her a chance. No amount of holistic remedies or prayers would have changed this (thanks to all my friends who suggested a plant-based diet with sea moss, soursop, and bladderwrack but her colon, GI tract, and bowels had been decimated). 

The few days leading up to her doctor-assisted euthanasia, I found my heart racing in a panic as the end was creeping closer and closer. I don’t know what’s worse, a loved one's death being a surprise or knowing when it’s going to happen with the hours counting down. I know both intimately. My father went the first way, my mother the second. I still can’t tell you the answer.

With plans in place for the funeral home to come and take my mother's body in order to cremate her, I’m left with a feeling of such remorse and sadness. Because of COVID-19, my mother’s friends and I are being robbed of the opportunity to congregate at a memorial service to properly mourn and pay homage and respect to the woman we all loved and admired. My mother deserved that.

I’m so angry. I’m angry at cancer. I’m angry at, as a society, our collective circumstances. I’m angry at the thought that this pandemic could have been controlled if our government officials had reacted swiftly. I’m angry that there are so many people who are experiencing the same thing I am—the death of loved ones, and the inability to gather together for a ceremony that celebrates their lives and sends them off properly.

Trauma changes you. Less than two years ago, I almost died when a truck hit my jeep on a California highway. I spent almost a year recovering. I’m a different person than I was moments before the impact of that crash. And now I’ve got to sort out who I am without my mother on this earth. People report a feeling of disconnectedness after the death of their parent(s); like what kept you tethered to the earth is gone and you are now hurtling through time and space, searching for something to grab onto.

I lost my father many years ago and now my mom is gone. I’m praying that I find something soon to ground me; but for the time being, the search to make sense and meaning of my mother's life and, ultimately her death, shall continue for me, like a room with endless doors or a road that disappears into the horizon. 

-

A native of Toronto, Canada and now residing in Beverly Hills, California, Melyssa Ford is a syndicated radio show host on Hollywood Unlocked via iHeart Media's stations nationwide and also hosts her own podcast, I'm Here For The Food (available on all streaming platforms).

Continue Reading

Top Stories