Death and Spirituality

Death and Spirituality


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Dealing with the deaths of Mom and Dad were nothing compared to the suicide

of my son at 38 years old. Suffering manic-depression, they say he walked into a train.



Books by Marvin X

Love and War: Poems  / In the Crazy House Called America / Woman: Man’s Best Friend Beyond Religion Toward Spirituality

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Death and Spirituality

By Marvin X

The only death is to be forgotten.—African proverb


Death is when we realize the power of spirituality and the impotence of materiality.

Suddenly we see clearly the life-force has departed and the body an empty shell, still, stiff, cold and soulless. Where did the soul go, we wonder, into the air, heaven, hell, where? Mythology and folklore is full of stories about death and the departed spirit.

My first experience with death was accompanying my father to funeral homes with flowers for the departed. Dad was a florist in Oakland and I’d often go with him to deliver flowers, sometimes I went along willingly or unwillingly. I wasn’t particularly interested in placing flowers atop the coffins of dead Negroes. But he sometimes insisted I come inside with him, rather than stay in the car. He didn’t say so, but I supposed he was trying to teach me a lesson about death, not to be afraid of it. For sure, I never got used to seeing those bodies laying there still, silent, cold, grey with makeup looking like a manikin.

Sometimes I would look and turn my head real fast, glad when Dad finished placing the flowers on the coffin or standing a bleeding heart of roses next to it. I had no personal attachment to the dead until grandmother died. Since I loved grandmother so much, her transition was absolutely crushing. Grandma’s hands had meant the world to me and I was devastated when she passed while I was a teenager.

When grandpa died I was a young man and spoke at his funeral while a musician friend played the flute. After the funeral, my favorite cousin, Carol, made me promise to give her a similar funeral. I confess, I did not keep my promise to her because when she passed I was on drugs and too busy to attend her funeral.

Dealing with the deaths of Mom and Dad were nothing compared to the suicide of my son at 38 years old. Suffering manic-depression, they say he walked into a train. When my oldest son called me with the news, he said coldly, “Darrel is no more.”

I was speechless. How could this be, my beautiful son who looked like me, walked like me, talked and laughed like me, so young, so bright, a world traveler and Fulbright scholar in Damascus, Syria, a grad student at Harvard. How could he be no more? I retreated deep within myself. My woman friend tried to make me talk but there were no words, just silence and total disbelief, even though I knew it was possible.

My pain was indescribable for he was more than my son, he was my friend, my critic, who promised he would preach my funeral, telling people about the real me, revealing my contradictions and every secret thing. But he was no more. A great spirit had departed. I was too shocked to understand why and how my son could do such a thing, so I pretended to deal with it as best I could. Inside I was horrified: how could God do this to me? I heard Job’s wife say, “Why don’t you curse God and die.” I ignored her as Job did. But there was guilt, shame, a potpourri of emotions that lingered for months, years.

Yet I had to ultimately realize that spiritually, he had not nor would he ever leave me.

I had enjoyed him for 38 years in the physical, now I would enjoy him forever in the spiritual.

Rev. Cecil Williams taught us to accept the pain, enjoy the pain, don’t medicate, don’t deny, face the pain and turn it into joy, like the second line of a New Orleans funeral.

For all the mothers and fathers in the hood who have lost children—for all the parents who’ve lost children in the filthy capitalist wars of America, I salute you for enduring one day at a time. The spirit is greater than the physical, for we can see and feel the spiritual when we cannot see or feel the physical.

Source: Toward Radical Spirituality, Black Bird Press, 2007  (c) 2006 by Marvin X (El Muhajir)

Marvin X has given permission to Harvard University to publish his poem “For El Haji Rasul Taifa” from Love and War: Poems by Marvin X (1995). The poem will appear in The Encyclopedia of Islam in America Volume II, Greenwood Press, edited by Dr. Jocelyne Cesari of Harvard’s Islam in the West Program. Mr. X is co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Muslim American Literature, University of Arkansas Press, edited by Dr. Mojah Khaf. He is also in the forthcoming Muslim American Drama, Temple University.

posted 23 June 2006

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

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#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

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#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 22 December 2011




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Related files: Death and Dying in the African Context   The Ancestors Are Not Really Dead  A Funeral Sermon Virginia-Style  Playing Policy, One Sumptuous Meal   Passed On   Press Release    Other Reviews   

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