My Adopted Mother, your death was not on our agenda when we celebrated your 92nd birthday in January of this year. It wasn’t even on our agenda when we celebrated the birthday of Louise Merriwether—the only person known to be older than you in our immediate family of friends—as she turned 95 in May of this year.
The day before my mother’s death, I was sitting next to her hospital bed playing a Nigerian song with the lyrics “sweet mother, I’ll never forget you for all the great things you have done for me” from my iPhone. She loved this song and I danced with her when the song was played at her 70th birthday. Even though she had not opened her eyes or acknowledged anyone’s presence in a week to that moment, she did open her eyes and looked at me for 3 seconds and then closed them again. At that moment, I knew she could hear voices and I started mentioning names of people she knew and loved – Antonio, David, Beth, Sam, Max, Phyllis, Danny, Nathan, Felicia, Louise, Leo, Aldo, Cecilia, Sue, Tony, Andrea, Gregory, Linda, Nina, Steve, Rhoda, Dean, Peter Wickham, Jean Stubbs, Pedro, Sahnet, Evan Marshall, Paule Marshall, Maya Angelou, Debra, Catherine, etc. I expressed how much we all loved her and how much we looked forward to having her back at home and having a big celebration for her. It suddenly dawned on me to play some of Miriam Makeba’s songs, which I knew she liked. Twenty minutes into playing these songs, she opened her eyes to look at me for the second time and closed them after 3 seconds. I felt the chill all over my body after seeing her eyes open for the second time; they were so beautiful. At that moment, I kissed her forehead, hoping for her eyes to open once more, but it never happened. That was the last time I would see those beautiful eyes. The moment was precious and magical to me.
The following morning, which was Thursday, August 23rd, as I was heading out to the hospital to see her as I would normally do, my cell phone started to ring. The caller ID showed David Sutton, but it was Nathan Weiss’s voice telling me that his Aunt Connie just died. I became lost, disoriented, and felt a profound emptiness in me. I decided to continue my journey to the hospital to see her regardless. I got there within 20 minutes, but the selfishness in me was hoping the doctors were wrong about her death. I placed my right hand on her forehead and watched her chest to see if she was breathing. But, she wasn’t. She had passed away 45 minutes before I got there.
My adopted mother, Constance Rita Sutton, was a legend and she was blessed with 92 plus years on earth. It is not how long one lives, but how well. She used every minute of her time on earth wisely and well. She lived a fruitful life that benefited all who were fortunate enough to come into contact with her. Everywhere she went and everything she touched all over the world (Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, the Americas, etc.), she left better than she found them. She added and never subtracted. She made and never destroyed. She was a powerful, progressive Anthropologist in her own right. Her life demonstrated that character, integrity, loyalty, commitment, and fidelity are the loftiest values and principles in life. She always expressed her concerns for climate change and the damage being done to the environment without regard for the future generations. One always knew at any point in time what my adopted mother stood for. The spirit by which she lived and instructed others continues to live in the hearts of the people she touched. Without her guidance and tutelage, I could not have done what I have been able to accomplish in my life.
She was not only my adopted mother. She was my hero for over three decades. She was truly the best and I will forever miss her.
May her gentle and loving soul continue to rest in the bosom of her creator… until we meet again. Love forever, Tunji