A Glimpse into My Story The call I’d been dreading for months was finally here. My mom told me it would be my last chance to talk with my nana. I was stuck in Mississippi taking classes and couldn’t make the trip home to see her in person. She had been battling lung cancer for a year and a half. She was the grandmother we never thought would never go first, always the unshakeable anchor of our family. She and my papa had been raising my cousin since he was five amidst parental issues of drugs, incarceration, fraud, neglect, and mental illness. They were the hot glue holding the clunky, asymmetric wooden planks of the family together. Not always pretty or completely sturdy, but a floor to walk on nonetheless. And even if the floor of stability broke, they always built a safety net underneath. Now my nana had lost her safety net. She insisted my cousin lived with her until the end. He was her vessel of life and her redemption story. She wanted to protect him until her literal last breath.
“Make sure Damon gets his school uniforms on time, promise me.” These mundane words are never meant to be last words. They are never meant to be words weakly uttered in between laboring breaths. They are meant to be the words of a middle-aged parent in the prime of their life. Not a dying grandmother. But, that’s the reality of grandparents raising grandchildren. They are the safety net when nothing else is there. No matter how holey or weak or frayed, they must catch and coddle a child with whatever they have and with no back up plan. Every aspect of their life and death becomes interwoven into the complex, tangled ropes of this role.
With tears streaming down my face, I promised her to take care of my cousin’s uniforms. I never expected our last conversation to go like this, but I knew this simple promise was much more than uniforms. It was the partial passing of a baton. A life-giving and entirely sacrificial baton of kinship caregiving that both gives life and drains it at the same time. It’s like trying to fill a bathtub with the drain open. You just hope the amount of life-giving water spewing out is enough to beat the open drain sucking money, health, energy, and stability. My nana was grasping onto her last drop of control realizing the drain was about to win. We exchanged “I love you’s” and hung up. That conversation is forever a copper statue in my mind, rusting green with profound compassion. Why did it have to be this way? Why couldn’t I have done more?
With the beep of the phone hanging up, I knew immediately that I couldn’t end the conversation there. I knew I needed to help facilitate a larger conversation around kinship caregiving. A conversation where the mundane and divine-level sacrifice clumsily dance along the lines of stories in an inseparable manner. I hope to bring awareness to the victories and struggles that come along with kinship caregiving and to connect kinship caregivers to one another. When thinking of strategies and resources to provide, I don’t see it as an analytic process but rather see the faces of my grandparents and parents, who are now caring for my cousin. With compassion, I want to understand kinship caregivers' needs and do my best to provide a supportive network to better face these needs.