“We don’t use the words dying and death. We use passing. As long as I have the know-how of who she is, she always there. I never consider dying. That’s not a word I like to use.”
ANTIONE’S MOTHER, Littie, put an extra ‘e’ on the end of her last name “Day.” He never knew why.
He had spent the July night in a chair by her hospital bed. His stepdad was there for a while, but then left. Antione was in the room alone. His life had upended again – he was separating from his wife, his family and young children had moved out of his four-bedroom home. And his mother was slipping away from him.
The medical staff insisted Littie could not hear Antione when he spoke to her – but she would open her eyes when he called her name.
“Mom, you gotta get better,” Antione would tell her. “You gotta get outta here. Let’s go home.”
She would look at him, blankly. She couldn’t speak.
Antione left for work on his motorcycle the next morning. When he got to the Howard Area Community Center across town, the hospital called and told him to come back.
“I knew it was serious,” Antione says. “I just had to get there.”
Outside the hospital, Antione parked his bike and saw his brothers and sisters waiting outside. Antione went in. She was gone.
Antione cried and hugged her. “Held her in my arms and just wanted to wake her up,” he remembers. “The most important thing in my life had just left me.”
HIS SIBLINGS PLANNED the homegoing service at a neighborhood church. Littie had made one request: She didn’t want to be laid on her back. She didn’t like the idea of people looking down on her, so her children managed to prop her body upright for the service. Antione can’t recall exactly how.
Antione sang at the service.
I’ve been so many places in my life and time.
I’ve sung a lot of songs.
I’ve made some bad rhymes
It was a piece Donny Hathaway, the jazz musician, used to sing. Antione and his mother used to sing it together.
I’ve acted out my life in stages
With ten thousand people watching,
But we’re alone now,
And I’m singing this song to you.
Antione dragged himself through the song, battling emotion.
I love you in a place where there's no space or time
I love you for my life, you're a friend of mine
And when my life is over, remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song to you.
As Antione sang, his college-aged son Krishon Daye – who also adds the ‘e’ – walked into the service and sat toward the back. He watched as his dad sang to his grandmother, upright in the coffin, facing the crowd.
“That was too much for me,” Krishon says.
A SOUL FOOD RECEPTION followed at a church across the street from Littie’s house. At the corner was a cousin’s house that Antione had started fixing up about a month before. He had thrown himself into the project. It gave himself a new purpose and focus as his life began to unravel again.
For a while, he had been thinking about creating a home for newly released exonerees where they could ease back into life. He had talked about it with his mother, when she was still lucid.
“My mom was an inspiration for me, for her to OK it,” Antione says. “She told me to continue to do what I’m doing.”
So Antione continued to do what he was doing.