“A mother lost her child, I tried to ease the pain/it’s only God’s will/she said she felt the same”
Death visited my family when I was 11.
A kid can read the writing on the wall. After so many trips to the hospital and seeing my mom hooked up to so many different machines that she couldn’t pronounce my name and being told so many times that things were looking better only to be told a week later that, “Hey, things actually aren’t looking better,” no–my mother’s death didn’t surprise me. It devastated me, but it didn’t surprise me.
Death would come ’round again, nine years later, claiming my grandma. That was an unexpected turn; as much as my mom’s mom loved giving to and helping her loved ones, she rarely liked to open up about how she really, truly was. She wore a wig to hide the fact that she was balding and smiled less the older she got because she was losing teeth. Maybe she was sick. Maybe “natural causes” reared their ugly head. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
About a year and a half later, my maternal grandfather died, but this was more like my mom’s death than my grandma’s. Expected. As a former alcoholic battling Alzheimer’s and a weakened heart, his time on this earth was borrowed for as long as I knew him. That he made it to see me turn 20 – and kept relative composure whenever I saw him – was a minor miracle, something I’ll always be thankful for.
The impact that music played in these losses grew greater as time passed. And if there’s one song I tend to associate with death, it comes from the mind and soul of one of rap’s best talents, Big K.R.I.T. He’s always been one of those artists capable of trumpeting up whatever emotion he wants: a shot of “They Got US” if you’re feeling political, “Just Touched Down” if you wanna get hyped, “Country Rap Tunes” if you’re feeling nostalgic.
“The Vent” if you’re trying to let your guard down, if just for a second.
Knowing our audience, we’re all well-versed with the track. Its somber piano chords and minimalistic synth don’t need further trumpeting; the quality speaks for itself. And while the song does use a good chunk of its time to explore some very real, very sad personal events, there’s a particular line that stops me dead in my tracks, every single time. Not because of any one particular loss or tragedy, but for what is says about loss in a communal sense:
“I know you’ve been down so long, so I’ll be stronger for you/I know you’ve been down so long, ’cause I’ve been down too”
Death sucks. There isn’t a silver lining to it either. I’m naturally an optimistic person, but the older I get, the more I’m coming to terms with reality: life isn’t full off aww-shucks, takeaway kind of moments. There wasn’t one after I lost my mom and felt the world I knew evaporate. Ditto when the police officer broke the news of my grandma’s passing. Or when finals wouldn’t afford me the time to fly from Ohio to Dallas for my grandfather’s funeral.
But as K.R.I.T. pointed out back in 2012, all of these emotions are shared. Right now, as I type this and as you read this, a kid is losing a parent and a parent is losing a kid. We can’t stop it. What we can do is relate to each other through it, be there for our friends and family when we’re up to bat, be strong because sometimes other people need you to be strong. And when it inevitably affects us, embrace the pain and know that others know what we’re going through.
That’s all we can do.