This project has evolved into the journey of grief, and what it looks to unpack those feelings when you are redefining your new normal without that special someone (or loved ones) especially in the black community.
Traveling around the country documenting these stories for my project could have never prepared me for something I experienced almost a year ago.
It took me two years to begin unpacking my father’s belongings after he passed away. I had the time, and it was important to let go of the things that I honestly didn’t need. It was also a moment to try to understand how my father processed his own personal archives.
One of the priceless items I found was this address book:
About ten years ago when I was in college, my father told me a story about our family. I can tell you where I was when I asked him numerous questions for a genealogy project. I remember sitting in the drive-thru lane at Burger King, and he told me as much as he knew, and that wasn’t much. I wondered sometimes if he ever had conversations with my grandmother about her upbringing, or if he was content with the person that she was as a mother. I was blessed to have her in my life until the age of twelve, and to be born a day after her birthday. But, there is one vital piece of information that he provided me on that day, a last name.
When my paternal grandmother passed I felt empty, and when my father passed I was lost. I knew that the pipeline was gone, and even being the #FaveArchivist I had no clue of where to begin to solve the mystery.
During the process of unpacking my father’s belongings I found this address book in the bottom of my father’s file drawer. I sat on the couch with the book in my hand, and then it hit me. Look for that name! I immediately went to the “S” page of the book. There it was…an address with the last name, Steele.
BLEW MY MIND!
Fast forward almost a year later I connected with a person attached to the information in that book.
Our first conversation consisted of a getting to know, and him saying, “long story short, we’re related!”
We would send text messages on holidays, and our last text message exchange was me saying to him, “I’ll see you in the spring!”
What he didn’t know is that my sister and I were planning a road trip to Alabama to visit my cousin, and his father.
Well, two weeks before our planned departure I was informed that the elder of the family (his father) had transitioned. I contacted my sister, and told her that we needed to go to the “homegoing” services, and she said, “I’m down, we’re going!”
Let me remind you. I’ve never met this cousin before in my life, and my sister and I decided to venture on a 9+ hour road trip to attend his father’s funeral. His father who was the first cousin to my paternal grandmother.
My sister and I arrived to the church before the family, and sat on the left hand side. On that Saturday afternoon we heard from various people in the community about a man that we had never met, but it affirmed everything that we had already known. We were indeed connected to this family. All of the characteristics that described our cousin was a definite trait of our grandmother and father. It gave us the chills being surrounded by people that had no clue who we were, but we knew that we were amongst family.
The time had come for everyone to head to the cemetery, and the “funeral line” was forming outside of the church. I knew that it was imperative to find our cousin Kelvin before departing the church. A person that I found seven to eleven months prior was now a couple of feet away. I wanted to greet him, and inform him that my sister and I were indeed in attendance.
I ran up to him, and said, “Cousin Kelvin, I’m your cousin R.J.”
Then this moment happened.
That moment was not just about meeting my cousin for the first time at his father’s funeral, but it meant that everything that I was in search of all these years was wrapped in this one embrace.
My sister was quick on her toes by taking this picture, and who knew that my response would be so emotional.
My mother told me that my father left a blueprint/road map behind for me to find the family that I never knew existed.
A priceless connection that will never be broken.
I don’t care if Cousin Kelvin has been in my life for seven months or seventeen years, at the end of the day #WeSteeleFamily