A parent's loss
Esmine Dunn tries to heal her broken heart through writing
BY CONRAD HAMILTON Sunday Observer senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
THE mother of a young and promising Jamaican lawyer who died tragically in the United States earlier this year has set her sights on completing a book on how she, a single mother, managed to get her child through one of the world's most prestigious universities, only to lose him.
Esmine Dunn, a retired teacher who taught at several Corporate Area schools, including St Anne's Primary, is far from getting over the shock that accompanied news that her only child had perished on April 15 this year, but she remains committed to helping others, particularly single parents who are grappling with tough economic times as they try to grow their children.
The grieving retired educator, who spoke with the Jamaica Observer from their family home in Hughenden, St Andrew, is also hoping that her writings will help other parents who are trying to recover from the deaths of their children.
For Dunn, the greatest challenge right now is completing the final chapter of the book which her late son Damion Dunn encouraged her to pen a few years before he died after being flung from a motorcycle he was riding in Florida.
The grieving mother, who was in the island to visit her son's grave on what would have been his 31st birthday, described Damion's death as the ending of a chapter.
Damion was laid to rest at Dovecot Memorial Gardens on April 27, following memorial services in Florida and at the Tarrant Baptist Church in Kingston.
As she spoke with the Sunday Observer last week, Dunn disclosed that her only child was born months after doctors told her she needed major surgery before she could even contemplate having a child.
But Esmine said she thought long and hard about the doctor's advice and concluded that surgery would have made it even more difficult to bear a child.
That decision helped her to prove the doctors wrong as months later she became pregnant and gave birth.
"Damion Ricardo Dunn was born at the Nuttall Memorial Hospital on November 5, 1981 to parents Esmine Richards-Dunn and Leslie Dunn. We took home our bundle of joy on November 8," reads a paragraph from what Dunn intends to publish as a book detailing her highest points raising her son, and how she has been floored by his untimely death.
According to the depressed, yet reflective mother, Damion was a high achiever who did well at Wolmers' Preparatory and Campion College before migrating to the United States where he continued his secondary education and gained acceptance to Florida International University (FIU) in 1999.
Dunn made it clear that the road to "Dami's' success wasn't easy, and was affected by financial as well as marital challenges".
"Part of this book is that a child has two parents, but a child can survive with one good parent. It's better to have one good parent than to have two bad ones," said Dunn as she pointed to a section of the still untitled tome that spoke of the effects of the marital breakdown on her family.
While indicating that Damion's father was absent up until his teenage years, Dunn pointed out that the boy's father played a key role in financing his son's education while at FIU. But, as she explained, the father's input was short-lived, as he died of a massive heart attack in 2000.
For Dunn, the death of the boy's father spelt trouble, as there was little chance of him being able to complete his studies at FIU without funding from her estranged husband.
But by then, the young international relations student had impressed his lecturers at FIU, who came to his assistance when he informed them that financial problems resulting from the death of his father would result in him having to withdraw from the university.
"Eight days into the summer after Damion's freshman year, his father died. He called me from New York," wrote Bill Beesting, the associate dean of undergraduate education at FIU in an article published in the university's magazine in August.
"Dr Beesting, I won't be able to return to FIU. I have no money," were the words Beesting recalled Damion used to him.
"When I see what he accomplished at FIU, I'm happy that I helped increase his financial aid. All his accomplishments got him into Harvard Law School, where he earned his JD in 2008. After that, he practised law in New York, and then moved back to Miami to work at Bilzin and Sumberg, where he worked until his death.
"At Damion's FIU graduation, his mother, Esmine Richards-Dunn, threw her arms around me, and said, 'Thank you for taking care of my son'. At his funeral, she threw her arms around me and said the exact same words. As I helped place the coffin into the hearse and turned around, she was right behind me. We threw our arms around each other once more, and cried," wrote Beesting.
Commenting on how Damion met his demise, his mother explained that she saw it coming when he invited her down to the driveway of her Florida home to look at something.
"Damion called me down and when I stepped outside I saw this bike, and I said, "No, no, Damion, you know I don't like these things, you are too exposed."
But as she sat back in her chair in Kingston, she smiled as she reflected on the conversation with the young corporate attorney who had filed for her to reside in Florida.
"He said, "Mom, I will be careful, but you know, I could go on the road and something hits me down. I could be driving and something crashes into me," Dunn recounted.
For Dunn, the 15th of every month since April has been as painful as the morning when two men walked into her apartment with the awful news.
"When they go riding (Damion and his friends) he would call periodically and tell me his location. So if they stop to have breakfast he would call, saying, 'Mom, this is where I am'. I didn't hear from him and I was becoming puzzled, and took up the phone to call him when I heard a knock on the door. I got up and I opened the door and I saw two nice white guys in polo shirts and dark pants and they said, 'may we come in,' and I said 'sure'. Then I looked at them and said, 'Damion is dead.' I said so because I felt him (Damion) coming inside the apartment the moment I was going to make the call. It was my gut feeling, the feeling was like nothing compared to what I ever felt in my entire life. From I saw them I said if it was an accident they would call. The moment they stepped in, it would have to be that he had died," said Dunn who said she has lost about 20 pounds and can now go through an entire day on nothing but a cup of tea.
"That marked the end of my world, part of me died and that part has not come back for the past seven months," said the devout Baptist, who told the Sunday Observer that she went as far as questioning God's decision to take her son.
"I stopped praying for two months. I stopped reading the Bible. I was devastated," she explained.
Now, seven months since the death of her son, Dunn says she still cannot move on to writing the final chapter of the book.
However, she is adamant that in addition to sharing details on their struggles and accomplishments, the book will be used to inspire others to achieve.
"One of my main things is that poverty, or growing up in poor environs doesn't prevent you from excelling, or from achieving what you want to achieve," she asserted.
Dunn said she still has interest in volunteering as a schoolteacher and has some advice for parents who are grieving over the loss of their children.
"You have to look back at the child and think what he/she would want you to do. People who grieve for their children, don't let anybody tell you not to cry, everybody grieves differently. Every 15th of the month I burn a candle in my room. I have a room that is literally designated to Damion; his certificates, his trophies, and I talk to him everyday. I know he is not going to leave me. People who are grieving should believe in God. And, yes, you are going to be angry, but over time, I hear the heartaches will ease," she added.