Rest in Peace, Debbie

Debbie is my cousin: the oldest child of one of my maternal aunts.

I found out today that she passed away last week. We found out today, I should say. So damn sad.

Debbie was talented, kind, generous and she could be so sweet despite the fact that she was in pain, I think. She had some fire to her, too, now. Make no mistake. Some sass and obstinance to make things interesting. 


I hate that I’m talking about her in the past tense.

I have to say that she was troubled. She was fun but if you got a call in the wee hours of the morning or saw a five minute voicemail on your phone you knew that it wasn’t going to be kind and fun. You were going to get the negative pole of the bipolar personality, a not entirely rational force of nature. 

If you ever visit my apartment and see the knitted blankets, she made them. She would take color scheme requests. She made one for our grandmother that has a pocket in it. I covet. At family events, when everyone brought food, she would bring deviled eggs. That was her thing. She tried to get me to watch some of those Madea movies. She went with us to see “Dreamgirls” at a dinner theater and was laughing like crazy. When someone is cracking up for no good reason and it makes you laugh. Okay, Debbie. No more alcohol for you. 

I’m going to tell you a story. I don’t really share other people’s business. But this story is one of my stories, too. I wrote about it years ago before I knew most of you.

When I was a kid — maybe ten years old — I was sleeping over at my aunt’s house with my cousin, Glend, who’s always been like a big brother. We were sitting on the back porch of my aunt’s house in East Baltimore one day trying to decide what to do. Go to the playground? Go to the creek? Go buy some candy? This was back in the day when kids played outside. We were all free range kids back then.

Debbie was staying in the basement. She had cool stuff. Like, it was decked out and she had this awesome stereo and a reel to reel player in addition to the turntable for vinyl. A lava lamp. One of those vases with sand paintings. I remember an aquarium — the ultimate mood lighting. 

Sitting on the porch, we heard a noise. Or Glend heard a noise and told me to be quiet. We heard Debbie calling Glend, screaming. We looked at each other, realized it was something serious, jumped up and ran down to the basement. 

She was in the bathroom. The door was open. She was in pain. She was crying. She said, “I’m having the baby!”

She thought she was just feeling ill but when she went into the bathroom she went into labor. Or however that works. The baby was being born. We ran around the house frantically looking for towels. We telephoned our grandmother, the hub of the family. I don’t know if we called 911. I think Grandma called 911 from her house. Glend went next door and got the neighbor, who was a nurse. Good move. 

I ran back downstairs to tell Debbie that help was on the way. The baby was … being birthed. On its way. Umbilical cord. In the process of being born. All ruddy and wrinkly. Head and upper body cradled in her hands as she braced for one last push. She was calmer.  The worst of the birthing trial was over, we thought. “It’s a boy.”

I still hadn’t brought any towels. I RAN up the stairs. “It’s coming!!”

I wish I could say I was helpful. I was not. An ambulance showed up. Thank God. I remember a lot of people in the house all of a sudden. Family started showing up from Turner Station and rushing from their respective workplaces around the city.

Then Debbie was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Safe. I don’t remember anything after that. Don’t remember how I got home and all that.

She gave birth to twins, Shawn and Kelly. We were excited to have new cousins/nephew/niece. How fun was that going to be. 

My details are iffy here. They’re based on a ten year old’s memory. Baby Shawn died. I don’t remember if it was on the way to the hospital or at the hospital. Days after that, Debbie came home with baby Kelly. So cute. Tiny. Little frilly pink infant onesie. 

A few weeks later, Kelly died in the crib from SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Devastation. 

We didn’t see Debbie for a while, obviously and understandably. A lot of grown up events and conversations happened that the kids in the family are shielded from. But I think Debbie lost some of her light after that. Because of that. Babies are hope, love, devotion, purpose, challenge, courage. All of that.

I mean, damn. Even as a kid I thought, “Not fair. This isn’t fair.”

The best people, whatever that means but it’s true, have been humbled by Life. Sometimes it’s hard to recover from what Life can dish out — what it gives and takes away. It can test you. It can change you. 

When Debbie is put to rest, she’ll be with the family. She’ll be right near a lot of the family who have moved on. We’ve got our own cemetery neighborhood. She shouldn’t have been so alienated and alone at the end. She had family looking out for her and not far away but family can only do so much. She’ll be with us now. In our little but growing after-life village. 

We’re looking for photos. There aren’t many. There aren’t enough. (ETA: My mom and grandmother had a few albums from back in the day. Classic.) I wish I had pictures from the time we went out to that seafood restaurant in Fells Point. The one shaped like a boat. Or one of the many times I caught her giving table food to Leika. Busted! She loved to spoil that dog. The time she went on vacation with us. Was that California? Florida? When I was a teenager she would drive me to summer camp at St. Paul’s when my mother couldn’t or needed a break.

All of these loved ones. Too many are leaving too soon. I like to think that with the right support, determination, and self-care — what could have been decades of quality living….

Rest in peace, Debbie.

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