Death leaves you in a fog. It’s hard to see anything else. At first, I couldn't shake the denial and the pain would strike out of nowhere once I remembered my new reality. It's an emotional roller-coaster that at times leaves you questioning your sanity. The sense of loss gets overwhelming. The lack of sleep, which leads to a lack of energy, can easily turn your emotions into anger. Especially as you search for understanding of something so unfair. While I'm still navigating this tricky space, it does become easier with time. I’ve been fortunate to not lose anyone close to me since my grandmother, but man did this one take the air out of my lungs. I felt sick.. afraid.. defeated.. Everything in me wanted to shut down, but I knew my strength was needed to support my sisters, mother and the rest of his family.
Gerard St. Aubin Mitchell, Jr., what a legacy you've left. Your entire community mourns your loss, letting me know without a doubt you were walking in divine purpose. Such a well-rounded, impactful, God-fearing individual. With each event, the crowds grew larger. Your Nine Nights/Dead Yard celebration at the West Indian Social Club was beautiful. Indescribable. Your spirit is still strong as ever. We cried, ate, prayed, then danced the night away in celebration of you. The music connected me back to you. At the funeral, Luke Bronin, the mayor of Hartford and Suzette DeBeatham-Brown, the mayor of Bloomfield shared beautiful words and presented you with 2 posthumous certificates. You built bridges that extend beyond the West Indian community you so loved and poured yourself into. My favorite moment during the service was when Mayor Bronin said in Heaven they're now calling you "Hartford" - an ode to you receiving the nickname "Boston" after relocating to Hartford, Connecticut, because of how often you spoke of your previous life in Massachusetts. Your repast was another beautiful, lively event. Filled with food and music that made me oh so nostalgic. You see, it's you who provided me with my solid foundation of Jamaican music. Something I hadn't realized until your passing. Since I've known you, there wasn't a car ride without you blasting your carefully curated playlists, paired with your heartfelt singing. I can still hear your raspy, off-key voice assisting Sanchez, Buju, Beres, Mavado, Bounty Killer, Vybz...to name a few. Little did I know these habits would foreshadow what was to come. Your very own Caribbean radio station. I put together this playlist in memory of you - GSAM, Jr. 👼🏿
I'm aware that everyone's stepdad story isn't as glamorous as mine. I was fortunate enough to meet mine at the early age of 3, but to me he was "Ron". I now can't remember life without Ron in it. At 19 years old, he was so full of life and always on the move. We'd frequent Albany Avenue and Blue Hills Avenue in Hartford, while he babysat me during the day. I was his little road dawg and our outings were always so exciting to me - it always felt like an adventure filled with Channer's fried chicken or McGregor's stew chicken. I remember him delivering me Golden Krust beef patties with cocoa bread and kola champagne while I was in the salon chair getting my hair done. Ron treated me as his own well before he became a father to my younger sisters and when the first one arrived a few years later, that didn't change. I could still depend on and bug him..something any man with girls knows all too well. In my older age, I now see it was the ultimate measure of his character and love for my mom. Her strength throughout this process has been flooring but when you're a mom you don't get the luxury of falling apart; she's continued to be graceful. After we relocated to Florida, Ron shortly followed and was still a constant in my life, despite him & my mom ending their relationship. He'd often pick me up from middle school, right after work. I never got to thank Ron for coming into my life and strengthening my foundation. For not disrupting my routine. For adding to my support system. For embracing my own father and respecting his boundaries. For gifting me with siblings whom I love unconditionally. For allowing me to grow up not knowing cohesive, blended families aren't the norm. For giving me a class act, bonus family who truly loves me, because.. It Takes A Village. So, thank you, Ron.
I was starving and tired when we arrived in Hartford. As we landed, I quickly became emotional realizing the same familiar face wouldn’t be there to pick me up and immediately bring me to get authentic Jamaican food. Regardless of the time of night. I had just been in Connecticut 6 months prior and that's exactly what we did and it was well past 10 pm. Reality finally started setting in. I was overwhelmed once again. Just this past July, I stayed at his place for 4 days. That Friday, I nagged him to take me to his radio station, Busy Radio Hartford, where he was founder and CEO. Being a communications major, I was intrigued about the operational side of things. I met the legend Mykal Rose of Black Uhuru, which I discuss in Circle of Life. That Saturday night, we went to the West Indian Social Club. It was my first time there. I was finally old enough to see inside of the place him and my mom got dropped off at, as I curiously gazed from the backseat as a child. I got a drink from the bar and Ron couldn't believe I was old enough to be in there with him, drinking at that! When I told him I'd be 30 soon, he chuckled, responding "oh shucks" with his deep voice and heavy Jamaican accent.
I remember my last morning in town so vividly. Myself, my mom and auntie Christine were getting ready at your house while you cleaned your sneakers. When it was time for us to go to the airport, I asked "You gonna miss us?", to which you jokingly replied, "I'm gonna miss you", as you chuckled to yourself. Now, I'm left missing you. I'll miss that sense of humor but most of all, being able to annoy you as we so often did. You were always cool like that. You had a soft spot for us girls. A giant teddy bear.
What I didn't know is that life had been preparing me to lose him. It's no coincidence that I was able to run those same streets with my stepdad and see him in his element before God called him home. Since moving to Florida, I could count on one hand the amount of times I visited Connecticut. I returned to the West Indian Social Club with a heavy heart, but I was glad it now felt familiar. It made me less anxious. Having to say farewell the week of my sister's birthday and my birthday weekend seemed like a cruel joke, especially after losing him on Christmas Eve. I was spent and even in writing this today, I feel as if a month of my life has just vanished; I was a zombie for a while. Once I could finally step outside of my grief, I was able to see that his final gift to me was a new perspective on life. An awakening.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm a birthday fanatic. I usually celebrate a birthmonth, not just birthday, but death shows you how trivial most things are. I woke up an emotional wreck on January 13th, my actual birthday. Celebrating a day after his funeral didn't seem appropriate nor fair. His sister, Kisha, somehow found the strength to throw us a birthday party at her house. She's a well-balanced woman who continues to inspire and amaze me by just being. I hadn't spent a birthday surrounded by family in 18+ years and we were now celebrating 5 birthdays! 2 the same day as mine! What usually consisted of meaningless dinners, brunches, and outings, turned into a family-filled day. After much food, drinks, great conversation, yummy cake, and a champagne toast with Ron's drink of choice, I was more grounded and grateful than I'd ever been.
"From you have life, you have everything" -Mavado
In light of his death, I've learned many necessary lessons:
Don't play it small
Follow your passion
Work hard and tirelessly
Serve your community
Live a life worth celebrating
Leave an impactful legacy
We can endure much more than we think
This sudden loss has also taught me not to take the adults in my life for granted. To see them. Hear them. Check on them. Love them. Reciprocate all that they've given throughout the years. I'm left with regret and many words unsaid, as we so often are in death, but I'm thankful for the cherished memories. The side of Ron/Boston/Gerard that I knew was the family man, so to see his reach extend well-beyond that was heartwarming and comforting. His work here was done. After Ron's home-going services, I now see him in a different light. We rarely encounter spirits that bright.
There’s no parting in death. We simply gained a guardian angel. Rest easy.