October 18, 2019

Community News

Oakland Councilwoman Mourns Violent Loss of Son in Los Angeles
April 2, 2019

Op Ed Courtesy of Lynette Gibson McElhaney 

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Lynette Gibson McElhaney

#GriefChronicles #GrievingWhileLeading #RememberingVictor#VictorMcElhaney #Day24 4/2/2019

When Victor was about 2 years old, my mother-in-law encouraged me and Clarence to have another child. She felt strongly that children should not grow up as only children and, she wisely counseled, I was soon to turn 30 and that pregnancies after 35 become high risk. Being a strong-willed 20-something, I argued that Victor was not an only child (he had an older brother from Clarence’s first marriage) and my love embrace already included Audrey and Antoine, my children born to other parents. But the truth of the matter was I lacked faith.

Victor was born with amniotic band syndrome – a condition where mother’s amniotic sack disintegrates and these bands of tissue float through the amniotic fluid and attach to the forming fetus. In Victor’s case, the bands led to mild deformities on his hand and foot resulting in 3 toes and a shortened thumb on his writing hand. Had he not been born premature he likely would have not had any fingers. Although my doctor told me that there was no indication that ABS would occur twice – the literature suggested this was very rare – I couldn’t shake the blame from my mind and I didn’t want to see another child come into this world early, low birth weight and with a condition that could lead to stigmatization.

These discussions and thoughts resurfaced 3 days after Victor was killed. The fact that when he was 3 he asked for a baby sister that he would name Victoria. I literally told Clarence we could, at these advanced ages, get a surrogate and make another one. The loss of Victor Spirit so great and leaves such an empty feeling, I also fantasized about him having had a child he didn’t tell us about. Of course there is no replacing the Victor but grief makes one think and feel these things. I’ve been with numerous women over the years who have felt these precise pangs of loss, grief, remorse and longing.

My husband continues to have nightmares. I am often awakened by his cries of “No.No. No.” My dreams seldom offer comfort or solace. The dreams of Victor as a small child are pleasing; those with him as an adult always conclude with the images of his taking. My heart races. I am helpless to defend him. A flurry of thoughts enter my dreamy mind that has been shaken from deep sleep. “Why didn’t I insist he come home for Spring Break? My Spirit told me he should be home. Why didn’t I buy the tickets to Cabo as we had planned, then he wouldn’t be able to wiggle out of it. Was I forewarned about this horrible thing?”

Death by natural causes brings about a different type of grief. Death of elders and adults who have led full lives brings sadness but this death by homicide of a child not yet fully blossomed inflicts a peculiar type of complex, compound grief. It is torture. Rather than being comforted by memories, I find myself weeping all the more. Each memory being accompanied by the ripping away of the future that was stolen away. Loving friends and kind strangers seek to offer many words of condolence that offer little comfort. There is talk of the afterlife and reincarnation – all well intended – and also empty words to my ears (at this stage of the grief cycle). They say:

“Victor’s time was up. There’s nothing you could have done. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been shot here in Oakland or Cabo?” This logic presupposes that there is nothing we can do to keep our children safe or that there is no way to avoid danger. When I consider such logic, this creates a sense of despair, hopelessness and defeat.

“Victor was a good kid. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” This logic angers me. Why in an advanced, wealthy nation are there wrong places to be? Aren’t we supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave?
“This is God’s will. You will see Victor again.” This I know is intended to give me hope but this does not align with the God of Mercy that I’ve prayed to for decades. How can God’s will be murder when the commandments clearly say “You shall not kill.”

Our finite human brains search desperately for a reason for this pain. I know those seeking to comfort me are themselves grieving Victor’s loss. He is, after all, a village baby. He was held by scores of aunts, uncles, babas and mamas. These loved ones are not given the extra care and understanding and patience that are extended to Clarence and me. Please be kind, patient and loving towards everyone grieving and feeling the pain that has been visited upon our family and extended village. My young people are returning to work in a haze – those who have not lost their jobs. My siblings aren’t able to laugh and joke with you today. The child of Promise was snatched away. Our hearts cry out to answer the unuttered question: “what hope is there for families who do everything right and whose children submit and do all that is asked of them?”

Victor navigated Oakland with grace. He avoided the trappings so easily afforded to low and moderate income youth. We found the free programs to nurture his talents. We sacrificed and paid for schools where he was intellectually nurtured, physically and emotionally safe.

The fundamental question on the table is why does our nation tolerate – I dare say even encourage – conditions that result in homicide being the number one cause of death for Black young men. My baby ought to have had the same life expectancy as his white peers. Period. Full stop. We have created the conditions by which gangs flourish and poor families fail, where access to firearms is easier than access to safe schools. We have nurtured and protected the wealthy while demanding self-sufficiency of the poor. We have “othered” our brown babies and made them feel worthless. And while the vast majority of us living under these oppressive conditions find ways to resist, a few buckle under the pressure and become our greatest nightmare.

Oh, America. America you must change your wicked ways.


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