Dr. Stacia Gilliard-Matthews, Mi Amigona
She was my sister. As daughters of the Most High, we prayed for each other, sometimes to the point of tears. She introduced me to her lovely church, where I met a nice man. Neither her nor the church were for me, but they both edified me in their own way, in my path towards serving God. I could share my struggles with boys in my search for a man – one who served God and put him first in everything. I prayed for her as the disease ravaged her body, retreating once and then coming back full force again. I recruited my prayer warrior family in Chicago to pray for her. I am still sad that it did not have the outcome that we all desired. The Lord giveth and He taketh away.
She was my sistah. We shared hair care tips. We exchanged stories of having ethnic identities based in different sides of the Atlantic yet having origins in Africa. We talked about the origins of her name, how it might have been spelled originally, and how it didn’t matter anyways since it was the name of a slave owner. With Stacia, I didn’t feel like I had to hide being Nigerian-ness and Igbo-ness, like I sometimes do with others African American friends and peers. I could be my true ethnic self with her, sharing my most prized chin chin from Auntie Ndawi in Chicago with her. She did her best to pronounce my name correctly, one of the few people who did. Her attempt was lovely but as most Americans, that accent naturally fell on the second to last syllable, not the first one. ChinyÉre, not the original ChÍnyere. But she tried. I miss how she said my name.
She was my sister in the academy. When we found out we were not going to be on the same Tuesday-Thursday schedule, we imitated Celie and her sister’s farewell handclap from “The Color Purple.” She once told me that her grandmother couldn’t pronounce her name “Stacia” and called her Stacy. I once let Stacy slip at a faculty meeting and she gave me a LOOK. I’m sure her Jedi and Jyaire have seen that look before. I KNEW I was in trouble. But she forgave me as she always does. As she always did. Being a black woman in a predominantly white space is HARD. It was not designed for people like us or our family members. Having her there was a reminder that we were soldiers marching to Armitage Hall, our own academic Zion.
The last three month I have been had my own battles with a combination of autoimmune illness, breast health, and women’s health. I wanted to see her in the hospital, at her house. But she was pulling away. I knew she was dying. I pulled an ill-timed driveby wellness visit. She was not there, but I was able to drop off cut up fruit from Whole Paycheck. I wanted to do more, but although the spirit was willing, the body was not. When I had strength, walking through the halls of Penn Hospital was challenging. Now that I was weak, it seemed downright impossible to navigate. I felt my friend slipping away and all I could do was reach out as the Nile closed between us.
Once, it parted for a split second. Like a ray of light in Portland, Oregon, we had appointments at Perelman on the same day. After my appointments, I went to her. She was frail. We cried, but just a little. She didn’t need that. We prayed, we laughed, and we sang, but not too much. I tried to distract her with all sorts of chatter and silliness. I went to her doctor’s appointment with her. I tried to remind the doctors of her humanity and tame their assholery. Go to Arkansas, I told her. Screw these pigs with lipstick. I slipped her some MMJ lozenges to help with pain. But it was too late and she was stuck. The cancer ravaged her with red kisses all over her body.
Jedi and Jyaire got to experience Stacia’s love and kisses and hugs that made me want to be a mother. Very few mothers LOVE on their children the way that she did. Wholehearted, unabashed adoration, no matter who was around. I know they will miss her, ache for her, long for her. I wish she could be here if only for them.
But they will see her again. Her brothers and sisters in Christ will see her again. We will have new bodies that will never be sick or grow old. It will be the family reunion of all family reunions, the best party ever.
Hasta, luego, amiga. ¡Nos vemos!