On Monday, New Year’s Day, at around 3PM, I put my older sister Karen on a taxi to Half Way Tree so she could get a ride to Spanish Town, from where she’d get on another bus to Ocho Rios, then home to Brown’s Town. We talked on the phone briefly about a week later. I can’t remember what we talked about. Then on the 13th of January, at 7:04AM, I got a call from our aunt, who was crying and hyperventilating on the phone.
I immediately panicked for two reasons: (1) in my experience, any call before 8AM is never bringing me good news, and (2) I thought something had happened to my father. So I was not prepared in any way, shape or form for her to tell me that Karen had died. It’s been more than a month, her funeral was last Thursday, I wrote and read the eulogy, but it’s still a shock to my system. My sister no longer is. She was. Felled by a pulmonary embolism—the same thing that almost killed Serena Williams twice. The thing that maybe could have been caught if somebody at the St Ann’s Bay Hospital had cared to check on her when she went in the Monday night complaining of severe chest pains and difficulty breathing. Instead, they sent her back home to go to her private doctor. (She went the following day, but didn’t have the money to go do the tests he recommended.)
It’s a very strange thing to think of and refer to my sister in the past tense. She was just here. Sitting with me on the very bed I’m sitting on right now, talking about our plans for 2018. Making plans to get together with our other siblings. Just shooting the breeze.
I honestly still don’t know how to feel. I’m more numb than anything else. Even though a part of me has accepted the fact that she’s gone, another part of me is still not processing this loss. I’ve been in a funk all month. I don’t know what to do but just distract myself. Y’all should know I’ve been waiting on Black Panther forever, so cast interviews and social media profiles have been my solace. I’ve seen so many spoilers I’m afraid I’ve probably ruined my future experience of the film, but alas, it gives me something to do and something else to focus on. I’m not sure it’s healthy, but that’s how I’m coping right now.
I’m also really trying to dig myself out of the funk, but it’s hard. Life goes on for me and all of us she has left behind, but my emotions are not yet engaging with this notion of moving on. How long is too long to grieve? How long before I’m just pathetic?
Anyway, as part of my own self-prescribed process of clawing my way back to the business of living, I’ve decided to share the eulogy I wrote for Karen and share her life with the world. (I’ve taken out family names cuz you can’t be too careful these days.)
In Memoriam – Nickeisha ‘Karen’ Wisdom
Every night before I go to my bed, I make sure my phone is on silent. “Why?” you might ask. The simple reason is this: if someone is calling me between midnight and daybreak, it cannot be because they have such good news to tell me that it cannot wait until the sun is up. It’s always something terrible and catastrophic. I know this because I’ve experienced it once and I didn’t want to ever be jolted out of my sleep to hear that someone I love has passed away. It’s a jarring, disorienting thing to receive that news at any time of the day, but when it’s the thing that starts your day, it’s particularly gut-wrenching.
I was awake at 7:04 on the morning of Saturday, January 13, 2018 when I got the call from our aunt. It was still pretty early, so I instantly went into panic mode. But not even my body’s natural shock absorbing mechanism could prepare me for the words that came out of her mouth: “Tracey, Karen is dead.”
The only thing I could say to that was, “No!” How could she be dead? She’s only 37 years old. I just saw her less than two weeks ago. I put her on a taxi so she could come back to St Ann after spending New Year’s with me and our other sister’s family. Of course we know that death is no respecter of person, age or office, but it always feels especially cruel when someone young just leaves this life suddenly, with not even a hint of warning, it seems. I’m sure all of us here today are still feeling a little of that shock, still trying to process and come to terms with the fact that Karen is just…no more.
Personally, I can’t help but feel like the book of Karen’s life story was cut short. But for 37 chapters, she engaged and enlightened and showed us how to live a life defined by love. So let’s flashback a little to see how her story unfolded, shall we?
Nickeisha Wisdom, better known to everyone as ‘Karen’, was born on Thursday, July 24th, 1980, the first child for her mother, the late Sonia Campbell and the second for her father, Nowell. She was a quiet child, close to her family, helpful to adults and loving and nurturing to the children around her, especially the younger ones.
She attended the Brown’s Town Model Basic School, then the Brown’s Town Primary School, followed by the Brown’s Town Comprehensive High School.
While still a teenager—at 15 years old, to be exact, Karen made the biggest and best decision of her life: accepting Jesus as her Lord and Saviour. She was baptised in this very church on June 18, 1995, and was a dedicated member until the very end. Karen loved the Lord, she loved her pastor and she loved the Brown’s Town Baptist Church. She only missed a service here if it absolutely couldn’t be helped—and by “couldn’t be helped” I mean she was in a different parish altogether and just could not physically make it to Brown’s Town.
She was a committed Sunday School attendee, actively participated in her Cell Groups, and sang on the Youth Choir and. She was also the Youth Leader for the Brown’s Town class. Karen was strict about tithing and honouring God with her resources. No matter how little she had or what would come up in the course of her week, nothing was touching that tithe or that offering money! She was also keen on seeing those around her saved, and would always encourage those around her to go to church and take her young cousins to church with her to ensure they got exposed to the Word of God.
And on those occasions where she just could not be here, such as the two years she lived in Portland, rest assured she was always in church. And not just present in body, but actively participating and serving. Last October, she visited me for a special service at my church and she was right there with us, even helping to set up and clean up afterwards.
There are those who would say 15 was too young to make such a life-changing commitment, but it was her faith that carried her through all the challenges and over all the obstacles that life threw her way over the years. The biggest one came only two years after she gave her life to the Lord—the death of her beloved mother, who succumbed to cancer 19 years ago. It’s a hard thing for a girl to live without her mother, especially at such a crucial time in her development, but by faith and with the love and support of both sides of her family, Karen continued to grow into the loving, helpful and warm woman we all knew and loved. And everyone who knew Karen loved her, because she just had such a big heart. She was generous with her money, her time, her help, her compliments and her encouragement. She was the kind of person who would have the last dollar to her name and spend it on you because you needed it more than she did.
After losing her mother, Karen struggled to find her footing and her place for a while, first with her stepfather and younger sister, Sash, here in Brown’s Town, then with our stepmother and family in Portland. She returned to St Ann in 1999 and spent her time between her mother’s family homes in Brown’s Town and our aunt’s family in Runaway Bay. She eventually settled fully here in Brown’s Town, where she lived until the time of her passing.
Karen wasn’t one to talk much about her dreams and hopes for the future, but she loved food and loved cooking, and studied Food Preparation at the Runaway Bay HEART Academy in the hopes of one day pursuing a career in the hospitality industry. That never materialized, unfortunately, but she worked in a number of small restaurants, most often as a server and cashier. At the time of her passing, she was employed to Bayside Pastries in Runaway Bay. She always had a ready smile for her customers and would engage in some banter with the regulars with whom she had become friends.
Karen had dreamed of working in the kitchen, but being “on front page” actually suited her just fine, because though many of us would describe her as “quiet,” she actually had a vibrant, outgoing side, loved people, and enjoyed nothing more than seeing the people around her satisfied. She was also fiercely independent, feisty and opinionated, and would argue her point like a lawyer if it was something she felt strongly about.
Karen also loved going out with her church family and didn’t miss a trip unless she just couldn’t find the time or the means. She especially loved children, and doted on her little sisters, cousins and nieces as much as possible. She was also a stickler for excellence when it came to education, so she would always encourage—or demand—good grades from the children around her, and she would always brag about those who were doing well in school because she was so proud of their accomplishments.
When it comes to her siblings on our father’s side of the family, Karen was the glue that held our connection together. We are all living in different parts of the country, our oldest sister even lives in the States, but Karen always made sure she called us all on a regular basis, even if it was just to say, “How you doing, Sister/Brother?” or ask, “When last you talk to X or Y?” And she wasn’t only concerned about those of us she was related to. Our maternal siblings were her siblings as well. Our mothers, aunts, grandmothers and so on her family as well. She always wanted to know how everyone was doing, always had a word of encouragement or a listening ear. Whenever we talked, I would always have to pass the phone over to my mother so that she could “say hi” and sometimes it would be almost an hour before I would get back my phone, they’d be so deep in conversation. She always dreamed of getting all of us together in one place for a reunion of some sort. None of us could have ever imagined that this long-anticipated reunion would be here today, for this reason.
Togetherness was something Karen treasured, clearly, and that extended beyond her family to her friends as well. If two people had a disagreement and weren’t talking, you could count on Karen to intervene and try to broker peace. Even in the very last week of her time on this earth, she was playing peacemaker, helping to end a rift she just could not bear to see continue any longer. That was her last gift to the world.
Karen dealt with many challenges over the course of her life, from the loss of her mother and several health issues, especially over the last few years of her life. But no matter how much pain she was feeling, she always put her best foot forward and faced the world with a smile. And she loved to laugh. She would always find a reason to be happy even in the midst of a daunting trial. The Monday before she died, she was taken to the St Ann’s Bay Hospital because of severe chest pains and difficulty breathing, which was not addressed at the facility at all. On Friday night, she came home from work, still feeling the pain. She had some tea then went to bed, where she slipped from this life to the next some time early the Saturday morning. We now know the culprit that has robbed us of our daughter, sister, niece, aunt, cousin, friend: pulmonary embolism—a huge clot in her lung that slowly deprived her body of oxygen.
This loss has cut us deeply. It has broken our hearts. It has left us with a hole that will never be filled again. But in our pain, we are thankful for the life that Karen was privileged to live, all the people whose lives she touched, and most of all, that she knew the Lord, she lived to serve Him, so we are confident that we will see her again in the sweet by and by.
Our dear Nickeisha ‘Karen’ Wisdom is survived by her father Nowell, six sisters, one brother, aunts, uncles, nieces, cousins and other relatives and friends.
Rest well, my sister, until we meet again.