Forever Young

This is dedicated to my friend and brother, Azal Lockett; to our friends who’ve become Ancestors young; to Black mamas and babas who’ve buried their children; to the entire Lockett Family; to Oyá who governs change and assists us in transitions; and to those who remind us of the yumminess that is love.

I am not unfamiliar with death. Since I was a little girl, I have stood at my Mother’s side as she bereaved the mourning, held hands of the elders and family members transitioning. I have been to tons of funerals, home going services as we call them, and cried tears for people I have never met. I have watched people take their last breathes. I have felt their spirits leave their bodies. 

I have known when the moment was coming. 

My Daddy and my maternal Grandmother are my closest Ancestors. I was there when they both transitioned. These experiences don’t haunt me. They are great honors.

I didn’t know that I was meant to be a death doula until the last few years. I had intended to become a birth doula for a while, but wasn’t empowered with the language around helping people transition. I didn’t know it was a calling. 

Even though this ushering, this stewardship is an honor, it is a heavy one. 

On December 16, 2020, I was reminded of my friend, my brother. I played a song that has made me think of him for over a decade. I played that song over and over and over again as I was driving. I thought of him every single time it played. I felt his spirit come over me. I remember smiling. I remember going home and saying to myself, “I miss him. Let me send him a text,” but getting caught up with the day and never finding the moment. 

I remember when my Mother told me that I wouldn’t get that moment. She said, “My heart is broken.” I asked with confidence because I am used to her saying that, I am used to her heart being broken by the news of someone passing, “Who died?” She said, “Azal.” 

I felt heavy. I felt overwhelmed. How could he have passed when I was just visualizing, remembering him so vividly. He lived in my mind and on my heart, in my spirit all day. How could he have passed? How could I really never have a moment to text him again. 

It was then that I realized why he had been on my spirit so heavily. It was then that I was reminded that my Mother always had “that feeling,” “that sense,” but she couldn’t always put her finger on it either. I wondered, what time did he begin his journey into Ancestorhood. Was he taking that last breath that I had seen before while I was smiling and remembering him? 

I felt the need to cry. Deeply. But, I didn’t. I was just…stuck. My 28-year-old childhood friend was now my Ancestor. I had a graduate research paper do the next day. I couldn’t even work on it. I was stuck. For hours. I showered with Florida water hoping it would help me feel better. It didn’t. It only made me feel like I needed to cry more, to purge. I didn’t have the time to intentionally pause. If I started crying, I’d weep. I’d exhaust myself. So, I lit a white candle for my new Ancestor and felt the weight of his transition. My friend, my brother, Azal Lockett died in Atlanta, Georgia December 2020. I lit that candle and it became real for me. I returned to my body, leaving the out-of-body experience of a silent panic attack behind and realized that this was real. Very real. 

I hadn’t seen Azal in years, but we touched base every now and then. If we had run into each other, it would have been all love. His eyes would have slanted, and if this were pre-Covid, I would have seen all of his little teeth when he smiled. He would have hugged me too tight around the neck and said that he loved me and I would have known it to be true. That’s who he was, always. 

We probably met when we were toddlers. We had memories that we couldn’t even remember. He was family to me, to us. He was full of life, personality, talent, promise, and he just had this way of making people feel special. Beautiful. Bad. *lip smack*

I loved the way he loved and showed affection to his mother, Mama P, one of my favorite people on the planet. I loved how he was a heart first kind of man. I loved that I didn’t even realize that he too was a Virgo, because I never thought him to be preoccupied with over-thinking the way most of us are. I love that he just did him. 

When I began to process his passing, I had to hold space for Mama P. I prayed for her comfort. I prayed that she would be kept. I was pained for her. I looked at my daughter’s face and said a prayer that I compulsively say, “God, please. Let my children bury me when I am old and gray and have given them everything that you would have me give them. I pray to never bury my children.” I meant that prayer even more as I stared at my baby girl’s face knowing that this was, is, and will be the reality for some mothers. You share your body with these tiny humans. You use your entire essence to shield them, protect them. You share them with your village and recognize them to be their own beings but you KNOW in your heart that they are and will always be your babies and it makes the possibility of grief taste even more of vinegar.

His passing reminds me of physical mortality. It reminds me that we are not invincible. It reminds me of the violence and suffering Black people continue to endure. It reminds me of the many pandemics we’re facing, that we must be more concerned about a global pandemic while also navigating global anti-Blackness, health conditions, gun violence, car accidents and other “regular shit” as my brother would call it. His passing reminds me of Black mothers whose hair isn’t gray and who bury their children. His passing makes me full of energy. Just full.  

But oh, his passing also reminds me of joy and life well-lived. It reminds me to be present. It reminds me of divine assignments and the everlasting impact of those like him who embody love. His passing reminds me that God is. 

Mama P wears God all over her. Her faith is something I’ve never experienced before but she is a testament that peace is possible, healing is possibly. 

A tiny woman, in height and size, she is also a mountain. She is an elephant. She is an ocean, a majestic mother of many. Her fortitude and faith reminds us all to rise in the love that she so powerfully poured into Azal.

But Azal’s passing reminds me that though our bodies won’t be young forever, our spirits can. Wiser, stronger, but still young and full of life. His passing reminds me of intentionally pausing, allowing ourselves to be overcome with spirit. 

Azal was effervescent. 

Azal is eternal. 

Azal was an is an embodiment of love. 

His eldest brother recently shared a powerful meaning of his name, “the foot of the mountain.” I’ve searched for others and I’ve found: 

-Eternity

-That which does not have a beginning

-Very near

Love transcends and that’s who I knew Azal to be, love. Its transcendence makes it eternal. Because of his expressed love and his family and community’s love returned, he will live on forever. May we remember his light and keep his love very near. 

To the Lockett Family – Mama Portia, Baba Walter, Asa, and Ankur – I love you. I am grateful for your family. You have my sincere condolences and I thank you again for sharing Azal with us. May God’s peace reach your hearts. 

2020 has been filled with grief, loss, tragedy. But it has also been filled with joy, love, the strengthening of spirit, and the realization that people have fulfilled their assignments, purposes. 

On this fifth day of Kwanzaa, Nia, I celebrate Azal’s purpose and leave you with these words from another brother who embodied love, Chadwick Boseman. 

“Purpose is the essential element of you. It’s the reason you are on the planet at this particular time. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill…. Remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” 

Thank you, God, for friendship, for love, for purpose.

Azal, I love you, brother. Thank you for being you, and you know exactly what I mean. 

I promise to do my work. I won’t run away from it. I will walk toward my purpose heart first.

Published by Raina La'Shea

Mother. Writer. Social Justice Champion. Lover. Orator. Liberator. Marvel Fan. Delta. Abecedarian.

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