Listen, you can’t make this up—it really happened. So, I’m on my first date with my oldest brother’s best friend. At the end of the date this guy says to me, “You know you’re going to be my wife, right?” First, to begin: you’re my brother’s friend and you’re lucky I agreed to go out with you this one time. Second: how you gonna fix your mouth to say something like that to your best friend’s little sister?
My response to his bold statement was, “In your dreams and in my nightmare—forget about it!” That was in 1971. Whelp, we got married in 1972, and throughout our marriage, my husband loved telling that story and then saying, “Hey, I’m still living the dream.”
So, what had happened was this guy was funny as hell. He had the mouth and wit of Richard Pryor, the chuckle and quickness of Eddie Murphy, and the “let me school you” of Chris Rock. Yep, you guessed it, his sense of humor got him that second date. This man made me LOL almost daily, and as they say, the rest is history.
We did the ‘til death do you part’ thing for 50 great years. We had two fun children. On May 5 of this year (2022), my comic relief and partner was forever silenced. Because of a doctor’s error, he moved to the other side. I know 50 years sounds like a long time, but it still feels like a short time—or not long enough—to me.
Please don’t get it twisted, believe me when I say Harold Keith Johnson (Harkeif) was not a perfect man. But he was the perfect man for me. He loved to cook, and I loved to let him. He had a BIG laugh, a BIG head (Leo mane), and a BIG heart. His astrological sign was Leo (the lion), and if you know the shenanigans or personality of a Leo, then you know what I experienced for years. And that’s a huge part of what I miss today, all the BS he was constantly creating—he was so full of it, he’d crack his own self up with laughter.
The hardest thing we survived and learned to live with was the death of our 34-year-old son in 2010 from a doctor’s error with HBP medication. As we grieved deeply, we learned to honor Roddrick Keith’s move to heaven and still celebrate his life. This is when I learned that “time heals all wounds” is a big LIE! It’s been 12 years, and sometimes it feels like yesterday. But my son’s passing gave me the gift of a radical reverence for life.
My husband’s passing has given me the gift of urgency in living each day full-out, as if it’s my last. We spent our 50thwedding anniversary (March 31) in the ICU. Harkeif had a trach in his throat but still found the energy (and the need) to make me laugh and let me know that he was still living the dream. He loved to cook, eat, and dress sharp, but he could not do any of those things. His last 50 days were spent in a hospital bed, which is proof that life is not fair. The lesson: Enjoy every breath you can take unassisted.
My oldest brother and my husband’s best friend during high school, Larry “Koolman” Clyde Jenkins, also passed this year—five months after my husband. I’m still searching for the gift in his death. I pay attention to patterns and numbers and, so far, I know five people who (like my husband) were born in 1951 and passed this year. Not sure what that means.
These two devastating deaths remind me that I must live so that even the undertaker will be saddened by my death (Mark Twain). Our lives happen between two essential breaths; the first thing we do when we enter this life is inhale, and the last thing we do when we leave this life is exhale. I’m striving to live unapologetically in between, to give and receive joyfully.
I thank God for my spiritual insulation that helps me as I walk through this valley and fall in and out of grief’s slumber. God’s love, grace, and mercy allow me to still be grateful that I am here and can peek around life’s corner to wonder what’s next on my journey. We all tell ourselves stories in order to BE, and my story is that I was blessed to have that one-in-a-million love that goes on and on and on (in my Aaliyah voice), and that my life still has some unwrapped gifts.
Harkeif loved to travel, and we planned to travel when he retired. But life can get in the way of living, so dialysis made him retire and put a halt to our travel plans. With my daughter and travel partner, Chakira, I have been to Beijing, Mongolia, Tibet, and Egypt. We are planning a trip to Germany where Harkeif’s has family and where his father is buried—plus Italy. To honor his wishes and to keep living the dream.