Unfortunately, death becomes an unwanted visitor to our homes and family leaving pain, suffering and hurt. Last week my oldest male cousin on the paternal side of my family, Benny Rene Harris, passed away. We were both raised by our grandmother, but due to our age difference we spent limited time together. Like many of us, Ben’s life had many ups and downs, highs and lows, sorrows, and setbacks.
But I am proud to say during the last decade of his life, he truly dedicated his life and work to serving the Lord. He was active in his church and various other ministries extending his gifts and talents anyway and anywhere he could. Over the years Ben and I had established a routine of checking in weekly to see how the other one was doing and what was going on in our lives. One day he shared with me that he was not feeling well and that something was wrong. I urged him to go to the doctor and get checked out. For some reason many men, especially Black men hesitate to go to the doctor. After getting checked he found out that he was struggling with various illnesses including cancer.
Recently when he called me from his hospital bed, and he asked me to come and see him I told him I would be right there. After detailed discussions with his doctor I realized that his time was running out. Eventually he was moved from the hospital and was transferred to a healthcare center and then finally to hospice. Ben felt alone because he never married, never had children, and lived alone most of his life. I wanted to make sure he knew and felt that he was not alone.
His last words to me were that he wanted to make sure I was happy, that I take care of my health and that I always remember that he “loved me too much.” Ben, I will miss you on this side of heaven, but I look forward to seeing you at the crystal river. Thank you for your spirit and for your unconditional love my cousin. Although you never got married and you never had children, your legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of all of us who loved you.
The loss of my beloved cousin made me think about how many Black men are dying because of their failure and refusal to have routine medical checkups. I began to research this subject and was taken aback by the health crisis Black men are experiencing. There are so many reasons I believe people (especially men of color) are hesitant to take care of their health.
The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Black male conducted between 1932 and 1972 that left Black men to suffer from the disease has caused Black men to have a lingering distrust of the medical system. But the reality is the health of Black men continues to be worse than that of nearly all other groups in the United States. On average, Black men die more than 7 years earlier than do women of all races, and Black men die younger than all other groups of men, except Native Americans.
As a wife and a mother of sons and grandsons it concerns me deeply that of all the men in the United States, Black men have unique health concerns that include diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, just to name a few. It is important for us to encourage the men in our lives to stay on top of their health. We do not need to cry for them before it is truly their time. Rest in peace Brother Ben. I love you too much!
Wendy Gladney is a columnist with NNPA member The Los Angeles Sentinel