My grandfather was coming home from church when he learned of his eldest living brother’s passing.
My great uncle, Jervis Muwwakkill, died when he drove off of the road into a ditch about 30-feet-deep.
Not much is known about his last moments, except he was strapped upside down for an hour and the last call he made was to his brother, my grandfather. “His last phone call was to me,” my grandfather, Calvin Wheatfall recalled. “It hurts that I wasn’t there to help him. If he had talked to me during the accident, I might’ve helped him.”
My grandfather has some thoughts about what was on Muwwakkill’s mind during the last hour of his life: “‘Calvin I need some help. I can’t get out, I’m in an accident. I can’t get out of my car.’”
Muwwakkill’s wife, Doris Muwwakkill, died just six months prior. The brothers leaned on each other for support through their grief. Earlier this year when my grandfather had a heart attack, the first person he called was his brother, Muwwakkill. “He said, ‘Calvin I’m praying for you. I’m here and I’m praying for you,’” my grandfather said.
This is not the first time my grandfather has lost a sibling. When his twin brother, Alvin, passed away in 2000, it was hard for him. They’d vowed to always stay close together.
My grandfather has a theory that one of the brothers dies every seven years. He reads off of a paper where he’s marked down all of his family who have plots on the family graveyard in Navasota, Texas. He carefully studies their death dates. The numbers are a year or so off. With Muwwakkill’s’ passing this year, the two surviving brothers, Calvin Wheatfall, 82, and Herbert Wheatfall, 75, are seven years apart in age. In Christianity, the number seven means completion.
My grandfather finds solace in making spiritual connections like these, even in the dream realm. He often dreams of his loved ones who have passed. “I dream a lot. I always did dream a lot in my sleep,” he told me. “I dream about my parents coming to visit me. All of my siblings, I dream about them.”
He dreamed about Jervis the night he passed.
Jervis and my grandfather’s relationship was one of deep reverence and support for each others’ spiritual paths. “With my going to church [as a] Baptist, and he a Muslim, we didn’t go against each other. I went [to mosque] when I stayed with him in California but I didn’t want to become a Muslim and he didn’t try to make me.”
When Muwwakkill moved to Texas and invited my grandfather to visit, they would visit their childhood church home. My grandfather would sing and pray, while my uncle cheered him on in the crowd. “He always clapped like he was Baptist”, my grandfather reflects. “He’d say, ‘Calvin you did real good, you did this with the microphone, you really did well. I’m proud of you.’”
My grandfather’s faith gives him resilience and has helped him cope with his eldest brother’s death. “When I heard of [Jervis’] death, it was pulling me apart but I was able to get myself together because I am a strong believer in the church. I am a deacon and I know we all are going to die one day. [His death] was a test for me but I overcame.”
He also leaned into Muwwakkil’s faith. My grandfather took the next flight to Texas because he knew his brother’s janazah, the Islamic burial practice, would have to take place as soon as possible, as required by his faith. “We were able to see him being scrubbed down and wrapped in white sheets before the funeral. And after I saw him being prepped for where he is buried to go, I gained strength,” he said.
Jervis’ death has brought the last surviving brothers closer. My grandfather said, “I told my younger brother, who is seven years younger than me, that I was going to lean on him. He said, ‘I’ll be there for you.’”
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how we grieve and mourn our loved ones. How has the pandemic influenced how you grieve and gather for your dearly departed?