larose

It was a Friday night, homecoming, during my senior year of high school. We were playing a black school named Washington Marion out of Lake Charles. We were going to win and we were undefeated at the time. We were ranked #1 in the state.

I trotted onto the field with the other linemen for the pre-game warm-up and there he was. He was 6 foot 4 inches and leaning over the fence gazing out into the distance. “Julius??” I said. “Hey, little brother, how are you doing? have a good game!” He responded.

That’s how he was. He was a big sports fan and he played high school football himself. Julius was always randomly showing up to games by himself without telling anyone he was coming.

A few months later…..

My mama was dropping us off at school and told us that she’d have to pick us up after school ended. Usually, my pops picked us up. When we asked why, she said, “Yeah daddy has to bring Julius to New Orleans, he is having surgery. He has a tumor in his stomach.” We asked if it was benign and she assured us that it was.

The surgery was successful and Julius felt fine as he recovered. As he started to get back into his routine, he started limping. And we got the news, Julius had stomach cancer. It hadn’t spread much and we were told that a few chemo sessions would have him back to normal in no time.

My brother was young. He was in his early 30s. I did research found that about 70% of the people diagnosed with cancer were older than 65 and 70% of the people who die from cancer were also 65 or older.

I tried to tell myself that he would pull through as I got ready to move for college. My older brother Julius was a very impressive guy and my family had always been proud of him……

A Lil’ Background

He was the son of my dad’s ex-wife and the first kid that my dad raised. Julius had a learning disability so he went through high school in a special-ed program. He played on the football team and he enjoyed it. Julius earned his GED and got a job working for the state doing landscaping. He worked hard.

We would be on the way to school and we’d see Julius at a bus stop waiting on the bus at 6:30AM. My mom always offered him rides and he always politely declined. Sometimes we’d drive down plank road and see Julius mowing the lawn of multi-acre government buildings. Julius was always using a push-mower and always working by himself.

The family was really proud of him when we found out that he had went to bible college. He graduated from his bible college and he one day wanted to become a preacher.  Julius always seemed quiet but spiritual. I’m sure it helped him get through some of the adversity that he would endure during his life.

When I was around 15, Julius’ mom passed away due to a mistake made by doctors. My dad helped them file a lawsuit and they were able to buy a house with the settlement. Julius took care of my other older brother who is schizophrenic. That, in itself, was a huge responsibility. Julius talked of getting married and having a family one day. He would get frustrated with my sick brother but I don’t think he ever planned on abandoning him. Things were going well for Julius but he needed a license and a car.

My dad bought Julius a couple of driver’s ed books and he studied. He passed his test and got a license. The next thing on his agenda was buying a car. Julius saved up for a few months and the next time we saw him he was no longer at the bus stop. He was driving a van around the city, and my dad would joke about how much he was spending in gas.

My dad saved those books that Julius used to study and I used those books to pass my own driver’s ed course….

Back to story

Before I went off to college for my freshmen year, Julius told us that he had beat his cancer. His rounds of Chemo were done. We were happy and the family felt like we dodged a bullet.

During the beginning of my first semester, I spoke to Julius over the phone while he was watching a football game with my dad. My mom called to check on me and she passed the phone around. He seemed to be in good spirits and he sounded like his usual self.

I don’t know what happened between then and thanksgiving. My theory is that his cancer came back but he didn’t want to scare the family. He probably didn’t let us know when he started to have problems again.  When my family picked me up for the thanksgiving holiday, they told me that Julius’ limp had come back and he was going to go to the doctor to see about it.

I knew that sounded terrible and all I could do was hope that he would pull through again.

The cancer came back more aggressive and the doctors told Julius there wasn’t much more that they could do for him. My mom would update me every time that she called but she never flat out said, “David, Julius has such and such time to live.” I just picked up that the news never got better.

I think we all tried to keep hope alive for him. The family was praying for him as he was praying for himself. My dad convinced Julius to write a will and his uncle (his mom’s brother) help Julius get other things together in case he passed.

The last time I spoke with him was over the phone in early December of 2010. His spirit were high and he asked me how college was going. It was a tough conversation to have because I knew. I told him that I was praying for him.

His condition rapidly grew worse as the semester came to an end. My parents picked me up and we didn’t know how long he had left. The family had made arrangements for his things and I can still remember my dad’s words, “Julius is worried about such and such and talking about when he’s coming home. He’s doesn’t seem too worried about what’s going to happen if he…” It makes me smile to know that he NEVER GAVE UP.

About a week and a half before it was time for me to go back to Grambling, we got a called from the hospice care that Julius had passed. A nurse working in the center gave him a certain type of massage that revived him. I had never heard of anything like that, but that was his last day.

My brother passed that next day. Me and my younger brother just sat in the back room wondering why something so tragic would happen to such a good person. My dad and Julius’ uncle hustled to get the funeral arranged. We are black people so there was no rush to get him into the ground the day after he passed. They were going to set it a week out.

They found a black owned funeral home near Southern University to have Julius’ service at. I realized that funerals were going to be a part of life. But growing up, dead bodies terrified me. I would literally go to funerals and either sit in the back or not go to view the body up close. I couldn’t do that now. I couldn’t do Julius like that.

When they first set the body up for viewing a day or two before the funeral, I remember the walk down the aisle. The funeral home was massive and there were tvs around the whole sanctuary. From a distance, I couldn’t see much but a brown body but my heart dropped when me and my dad came up close to the casket.

Julius looked so different. I know it sounds really cliche, but he did. Julius had a lighter to mid brown complexion but in the casket he was dark-skinned like I was. His head and his mustache was gray. He was only in his early 30s. This is how cancer makes people look then it kills them. Cancer and mortuary sciences.

I still remember my dad’s words, “Wow, it was hard raising Julius.” “What chu mean?” I asked. “He was a bad little kid, I had to whip him a lot, but he grew up to be a very good and hard working man, this is just so sad.” My dad responded.

About five minutes later, Julius’ aunt, uncle, and more family members showed up. His aunt looked at Julius, tugged on his tie, and said “See Julius, I promised that we were going to take care of you.” I could have cried right there. They thanked me for volunteering to be a Pallbearer and we left.

The Funeral

The funeral was on a Saturday. It was a gloomy day and we’d hope that the rain was going to hold off. There was a myth about rain on the day of a funeral that I heard as a kid. If it rained of the day of the funeral, the deceased was going to heaven. At the time, I didn’t care if it made logically sense or not. I believed in a heaven at the time and I wanted my brother to be in a better place.

We piled into the funeral home, and there was a crowd of people around the casket. There was a considerable amount of people there. I didn’t know that Julius was this popular around town.

We took our seats on the front row and listened to the preacher give his sermon. My dad spent some of the service trying to keep my schizophrenic brother from making outbursts. I don’t think he ever realized that he lost his older brother.

People got up to speak about Julius. His friends, co-workers, and members of his family all had kind words about my brother. I wasn’t even on the program but I ran up there with tears in my eyes and said a few words.

I’d never seen my dad cry before in my life. When they closed the casket after the final viewing, he was in tears as my mom gently rubbed his back.

After the service part was over, people were speaking to me and the other pallbearers had already loaded the casket into the hearse.

My niece road with me and we headed toward the burial site. Winnfield Cemetery was right there on plank road. I got there and we unloaded the casket from the Hearse. Lawd, that casket was heavy! I was in the front left pulling it toward the hole.

I felt myself losing strength and my knee was damn near on the ground as the casket got closer hole. I felt like I was for sure going to drop this casket. I couldn’t be like my cousin who dropped my grandma’s casket 37 years ago. Hell nah, they still talking shit about him!

At the last moment, the Undertaker grabbed the front of the casket and pulled it onto the ropes that were going to hold the casket above the hole. Whew.

The preachers gave a few parting remarks as the casket was being lowered into the ground. The family stood over the grave and we tossed red roses into the grave until we couldn’t toss them anymore. We left and went to a restaurant for the repass. My mom told me that she was happy that Julius wasn’t in pain anymore and that he didn’t have to deal with this evil world anymore.

Reflection

Its been eight years since Julius passed. I had a professor who told me that he lost both of his parents when he was very young. He lost them in the same year. I asked him, ” how do you get over something like that?” He responded, “You never do, you never get over it, you just find a way to work through it.”

That made sense. I have a few memories of Julius from when I was a kid. He’d come over and wrestle with us every now and again. I mostly remember him from my teenage years. He was a tall, focused, and soft spoken guy with a big smile.

Why do terrible things happen to good people? I don’t know. I don’t know if there will ever be an answer to that question either. The best way I can answer the question is that this is how life goes. Good and bad things happen to all people regardless of how moral or immoral you are.

His cancer still haunts me.

People often asked me would I ever move back down to Louisiana and I always tell them no. The first thing that I mention is cancer alley.

Louisiana has the second highest rate of death by cancer in the country. It’s even worse in the part of the state that is considered cancer alley. Cancer alley is an 85 mile stretch that follows the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Before the news coverage, they literally called this stretch of land the “petrochemical corridor”.

Of the 10 plants with the largest amount of waste in the state, 7 of these plants are in cancer alley. In St. John the Baptist Parish, the EPA stated that the likelihood of a resident getting cancer was 700 times higher than the national average because of the air pollution. That’s crazy.

I know what you are thinking. Who would live there? People who are too poor to leave would live there. People who own land and property for generations. People who don’t know that this a part of their reality because they’re busy struggling with everything else in their lives.

When you drive into Baton Rouge from the West, you can see the plants in the hood as soon as you get over the Mississippi River bridge. These plants aren’t near wealthy or upper middle class neighborhoods. They are either in urban areas or in rural black communities along the river.

This is environmental racism. Chemical plants are causing enormous amounts of air pollution and its giving the citizens in that area cancer. I’m sure there are efforts to lessen the effects but ultimately there are no efforts to get those plants the fuck up out of there. That’s the only real solution that gets to the root of the problem.

I’d say they don’t care because the citizens mostly affected are black and low income. They couldn’t give two shits about how we are living.

Every time I hear about someone with cancer I think about Julius. The pain we felt when we lost him. Its an uphill battle tackling racism and cancer in this country. It has to be done. People shouldn’t have to go through what we went through.

If there is a God, I hope is pleased with Julius.