Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Coping With Loss: A Mother's Journey Through Grief

The death of Kentayvia Blackful, fatally wounded on the day before her 13th birthday,
has cast her family, like numerous other Chicago-area families into the sea of grief and the journey
of coping with the tragedy of losing a loved one to murder. (Photo provided by family)
By Samantha Latson

It was a warm September day in 2019, and almost the end of summer. It was supposed to be a celebration of life for 12-year-old Kentayvia Blackful who was turning 13 on the morning after. But for her parents Kentnilla, 34, and Trenton Blackful, 34, who were planning for their daughter’s birthday party, a stray bullet that struck Kentayvia in the head altered those plans and forever changed their lives. Kentayvia died the following day on Sept. 25, her birthday, having succumbed to her injuries a day after being shot. 

A week later, on a sun-drenched Indian summer’s day, Kentayvia was laid to rest at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in south suburban Harvey. A numbing pall hung over the service like a dark storm cloud as scores of mourners, many of them children and teenagers, gathered to pay their last respects. 

Kentayvia lay in a white casket, wearing a gold tiara, appearing like a sleeping princess. A horse-drawn carriage carried her body to her final resting place.



“People may say, ‘Oh, it’s been too long. You need to stop grieving and move on.’ But you’re never going to get past the loss of a child."

-Zonia Cooper, whose 26-year-old son was murdered



Remembering Kentayvia
That was, now, more than a year ago. And still, even as the seasons have passed, there is no rest for Kentayvia’s parents who, like many survivors of murder victims, are left to cope with grief in the days after. They find those grief-filled days turning into weeks, those weeks into months, and those months into years. Indeed in Chicago, 510 people were murdered in 2019, 768 in 2020, according to police records, and thousands over the last 20 years alone, leaving behind a trail of tearful and still grieving families—even the families of the 51 women strangled since 2001, according to the Alexandria-Virginia-based Murder Accountability Project. 

Grief stricken and still longing for answers, these parents and other relatives say they find no peace or rest in sight. Indeed long after news cameras have disappeared and the tragic story of their loved ones has  faded from the headlines, the pain and the search for normalcy continues..

For Kentnilla Blackful, every day feels like the day her daughter was taken away.  

“It still feels fresh,” the mother said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t feel like this happened six months ago, it feels like yesterday.” 

Sept. 24 is a day that will haunt the Blackfuls for life, they say. But while parents are impacted by suffering lingering grief, siblings of slain children also are not immune.

“Where is Tay-Tay, I want Tay-Tay,” the voice of Kentayvia’s little brother Trenton Jr., 4, sometimes rings inside their home as he longs for his big sister, their mother said.

“People keep telling me in time I’ll be able to deal with it. In time, I’ll be able to cope with her not being around...” Blackful said. “Time has passed and it’s not getting any easier.”

Delphine Cherry, a mother who lost two children to gun violence believes the best way to cope is to put purpose over pain. In 1992 Delphine's daughter Tyesha Cherry was killed by a stray bullet leaving the movie theater in Chicago. 20 years later Delphine found herself in the same predicament just three days before Christmas. In 2012 her son Tyler was beaten and shot right in front of her home. 

 As a mother who struggles with grief Delphine found herself battling with anger “I had to direct that energy elsewhere, and use my anger and grief to help someone else. I used my hurt to start Tender Youth Foundation where parents have a space to tell their stories of losing a child,” said Cherry. Cherry went on to say that grieving never stops. “Not a day goes by where I don't think of my children, but helping others gets me through the pain,” Cherry added.

Zonia Cooper, 56, who is coping with the loss of her 23-year-old son in September 2019, agrees.

“No one can tell you when to stop grieving,” said Cooper, whose son, Jordan Cooper, 23, was fatally shot on Sept 16 in East Garfield Park.

“People may say, ‘Oh, it’s been too long. You need to stop grieving and move on.’ But you’re never going to get past the loss of a child.

“They say time heals all wounds, but time only allows you to function in the midst of your pain,” Cooper added. 

Celebrating Kentayvia
The most difficult of the process of losing a child is the arrival of holidays, birthdays and special moments and memories that cause a flood of emotion sometimes almost unbearable.

“The hardest part are the holidays and birthdays. It's in these special moments that trigger memories,” Blackful said. “How can we celebrate? It’s hard to celebrate one child when you’re mourning the other.” 

Recently, Blackful and her husband celebrated their son Trenton’s birthday. A few days after the party, the mother recalls, she suddenly broke down. It was strange and the source of her distress not immediately clear. This much was  clear: something was missing. What was it? 

It was Kentayvia, Trenton’s big sister whose bright smile could light up a room. Kentayvia was so proud to be a big sister. Sometimes she bossed her younger siblings as if she thought she was the “mama,” her mother recalled recently, laughing inside their south suburban home that one day last September changed forever.

For Blackful, the recollection was at least one cheerful moment in her continuing journey through grief.

A school showcase memorializes Kentayvia Blackful, 13. (Photos: Samantha Latson)