Going Backwards To Go Forwards: A Tool Of Remembrance & Transformation

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the death of my grandfather – Ali Jibril-Ellams. To remember his life, my family members met in Nigeria this April for prayer, fellowship and celebration.

Due to a variety of reasons, I was unable to go. I felt compelled to ask my mother to bring me sand from his grave, so that I could establish a connection with the place where they lay his body.


His death was my first memory. He died when I was two years old and I still remember everything about that day. I remember the color of the walls, the building that we were in, and I remember my proximity to my mother when she received the call notifying her of his passing.

Since then I have continuously felt his presence in my life. When I use the word presence, I am not describing presence from a distance e.g. “he is looking down on my me.” Instead, I am explaining presence in the sense of feeling him holding me. It is always unexpected – one second I am walking down the stairs – the next second I am in tears. Those of you who have experienced this presence know that it is unmistakable.

This summer, I bought a pendant and I asked my mother to put some of the sand from my grandfather’s grave inside of it. After inserting the sand she added holy water. Before the pendant was sealed, my mother, my 4 year old niece and I held hands and said a prayer over it. After prayers concluded, my mother closed the pendant and put it around my neck. This little, gold heart contains intergenerational blessings. 


This pendant is the most important item that I have ever bought for myself. It allows me to contemplate the things that truly matter and do away with the things that exist merely as distractions. I am immediately reminded of my ancestors – their struggle – their resilience – and how all of their actions/inactions influenced the being that I am today.  I am reminded that my journey did not being with my breath and with that knowledge comes an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I cannot tell you how many times that I have felt overwhelmed – how many times I have felt myself slipping – only to find my hand on this chain that was waiting to catch me.

This pendant is a reminder that the present as sacred. 

I am reminded that now is the time that I must walk in my purpose. Now is the time for me to dare. Now is the time for me to give and welcome love.  Now is the time for joy. Now is the time for joy…

There is nothing like the reminder of how temporary our existence is on this earth to strengthen our understanding that now, despite all things, is the time for joy.

I often shy away from writing things that are overtly personal, so for me this post in an overcoming. I hope that this post ignites/reaffirms the importance of remembering ancestors in your life and I hope that you are able to find ways to draw power from that remembrance. Your thing may not be a pendant – it may be a photograph – a stone – a color – a feather – a smell – it may not even be physical. In any case, I hope that whatever tool you choose to go backwards becomes the guide that you desire and require to move forwards.

“He did not have to teach me to believe in God; I saw God in him.” – My mother reflecting on her father. A way in which I think of my mother. A way in which I wish to be remembered.  

R.I.P Grandfather – thank you.


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