Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tribute To A Family Matriarch

Hello peoples. I haven't blogged in a week or so, I had to fly to Florida for my maternal grandmother's funeral. It seems fitting to start blogging again paying homage to this pioneering, strong Jamaican woman, without whose struggles and life I would not be here writing this.

Sylvia Witter died of old age on May 14th at the age of 95. That in itself seems like a blessing, to die of old age, in a time when so many illnesses take our elders away. She was definitely ready to go though, her body refusing to do the things she would always do for herself way into her 80's and early 90's. When i would ask her how she is doing, she would always respond "i am still here." I would take that as a testimony to her strength, as well as an acknowledgment that she had done her work on this plane.

in the 1940's, Sylvia Witter saved enough money to go to the United States from the parish of St. Elizabeth in rural Jamaica. It was hard for her (and others) to go alone and leave family behind, but she had a vision and ambition. Through doing hard domestic labor and later becoming a nurses assistant in New York City, she established herself as the waystation for other family members to come to the US. She would send for people, and send them money as well. Because of her, at least 50 people thrive and live successful lives here. At her funeral, we gave thanks to her, my sister recalling grandma diluting her tea til it was lukewarm so it wouldn't burn my sister, and my older cousin happily recalling receiving clothes and toys in the mail "from foreign" at Christmas time from my grandmother while he still lived in St. Elizabeth. It was a beautiful service, with dragonflies flitting about while we sang "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art".

Grandma was a stern woman of few words. But she was very generous. She had every reason to be stern though... I cannot imagine what it was like for her to leave Jamaica and come to work in apartheid America. Her struggle echoes the struggle of so many immigrant women of color who worked hard in alienating and often degrading circumstances just to get by, and for the survival of family. It is an honor to come from such an independent, pioneering, strong woman.

Now, this picture is on my ancestor altar, with a lit candle next to it. Please send Sylvia Witter some light and love as she travels. She worked hard, and deserves peace. And while you are at it... might be nice to call out the names of those who worked so hard to get you where you are now too. Those people who are the reason you are even able to sit there reading this.

Rest in Peace, Power and Love Grandma.


9 comments: said...


What a touching, beautiful tribute!!

I know you are comforted in knowing that the memories of her are endless....

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

richard said...

Thank you Lisa :)

ripley said...

condolences on your loss. respect to her memory.

Anonymous said...

Blessings on her journey home.

aimeesuzara said...

Beautiful tribute, reminding us all to learn the struggles of the women who came before...

richard said...

thank you all so much!

Anonymous said...

What a great tribute to your granma! I can empathize with your words. My maternal granma was also from St. Elizabeth - and both you and I are the result of some brave, dedicated and focused individuals who are responsible for the life and blessings we are so thankful for today.

-Steve said...

Greetings Richard,

The word DUNAMIS came to my mind as I thought of the way you described your grandmother.

dunamis from dunamai = to be able, to have achieving power. It refers to intrinsic power or inherent ability, the power or ability to carry out some function, the potential for functioning in some way (power, might, strength, ability, capability), the power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature."

Scripture uses dunamis to describe deeds that exhibit the ability to function powerfully...Dunamis is the root from which we derive the English word dynamic, (synonyms = energetic, functioning, live, operative, working) which describes that which is marked by usually continuous and productive activity or change."

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

richard said...

Steve: Thank you for your words.. and wow, we both come from strong maternal grandmas from St. Elizabeth! Giving thanks, nuff love and respect to St. Elizabeth massive! and to the memory of these remarkable women.

Lisa: Thanks for explaining DUNAMIS to me! and i know my grandma is feelin that, she was quite the quoter and devotee of Christian scripture. Thank you.