The shock of sudden death
I extend condolences to all family members who have lost loved ones over the past few weeks. Three of the deaths in particular have hit me pretty hard.
I taught Melissa Eastmond at school. She was always a polite and hard working person. It was not surprising to hear that she had become a good mother. There were some details which emerged in the paper about her family which troubled me.
The first was the visit to the family by the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) to restore running water to the house. I thought that it was a tasteless play for media coverage. The reality is that there are several households in the low income bracket across the island in the same position as this family was.
These households share common characteristics. There are multiple people living in one house which is usually in a state of disrepair due to the lack of disposable income. Due to under or unemployment in the family unit, most of the families have to use hire purchase arrangements or other credit mechanisms to live.
Another feature of these families is that there are usually multiple children in the household at any one given time and that, coupled with the large household size, the dilapidated conditions and lack of disposable income to make repairs, will result in high water bills for these families.
The BWA has bands for water usage which may also be contributing to the water bills of lower income families being high. The same amount of water that a traditional nuclear family will need for a baseline of water usage, will obviously be less than a family unit which has as many as ten or twelve members.
To use a family for a photo opportunity without having a broader national discussion about how we can ensure that working class households do not lose running water supply is superficial.
A few years ago, the Minister with responsibility for Social Care announced a project to assist in the alleviation of generational poverty in Barbados. There has not been any project report or further updates but the findings and progress made are of national relevance.
The second death which took its toll was that of Renee Ratcliffe. She and I had mutual friends around various creative spaces. Although I cannot claim her as a close friend, it was impossible to share any space with Renee and not have appreciated her zest for life, general kindness and passion about art and creativity.
I heard a glib reference to her passing along the Station Hill vantage point where I watched Monday’s Kadooment revelry. I, however, had dismissed it as usual Barbadian gossip. Later in the day when I checked my social media feeds and saw Ratcliffe’s photo and the tributes pouring in, I had an emotional meltdown of sorts. I do not know if I was given permission to have the public display, but I took it – or more correctly, the moment took me.
It was hard to think of someone who loved life and the creative dying in the midst of the thing she loved so passionately. It was hard to think of another mother leaving her children. It was hard to realize that she is a peer group member and you feel more acutely your own vulnerability to death.
Barbados is a difficult emotional space at the moment. People are struggling with financial commitments and joblessness. Many of the functions of the Government do not work well and this adds more stress to already stressful lives.
There are individuals and families grappling with sickness and it feels like there is the usual amount of death and then the sudden losses we are facing. It is a lot and I would like to see more spaces for emotional support for average Barbadians. The number of counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists has grown over the years through the creation of training programmes and other opportunities but the costs of their services is still prohibitive for many.
Moreover, there is still a stereotype about needing to ‘talk to someone’. As a part of the national response to the sudden deaths we have been experiencing, I think we should use the opportunity to start a more robust discussion about emotional support and how we offer it and benefit from it.
We should also see how we can subsidize counselling to ensure that family members of the deceased, especially the children, get the necessary professional counselling and support they need.
The final death which caught my attention recently was the police shooting of Romario Lashley. There is not much which can be said at the moment except that I await the outcome of the investigation into the matter. The judicial system in Barbados has recently been under scrutiny from several angles. The Caribbean Court of Justice has, on many occasions, expressed its disappointment with the length of time it takes to have a matter dispensed in the court system and other challenges.
Comments by the Attorney General recently have added to the national debate on bail. Some have opined that his comments even compromise the impartiality of the judicial system and are enough to warrant his dismissal.
We are also awaiting charges to be laid in the case of alleged police brutality which was recently completed. All of these recent challenges and now a police shooting have the potential to send the wrong message to international agencies and other stakeholders looking on.
For this reason, an independent investigation into the death of Lashley is important and required. The investigation should be done as quickly as possible to assist with the perception that the lad’s death was treated with the seriousness and transparency it deserves.
Barbados is not a fig, plantain or banana republic. If we are moving away from enforcing the mandatory death penalty, then certainly we would want to also ensure that the death of suspects, either in their apprehension or custody, does not become a norm. Do you think we can be proactive in this instance?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.