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Mommy's Gone

Shama and Kenton Dopson
Shama and Kenton Dopson

He signed the paperwork and placed the pen on the table. His gaze floated from the floor to the people standing near him: her mother, her two brothers and her sister. The silence in the room was like being in a time warp. He wondered, "Is this real?" He shook the cobwebs from his mind, gathered himself and walked out of the room.

His two sons were there to greet him, faces questioning, eyes wide. Their expressions screamed, "What’s happening?" yet there was not a sound to be heard.

“OK, boys. We have to go in and say goodbye to your mother. Give her a kiss. She won’t be coming back home with us,” he said.

Her Name Was Shama

Fifteen years earlier, before the kids, before the frantic sound of the ambulance, before the diagnosis that changed everything, Kenton (Kent) Dopson was a 17-year-old high school varsity basketball player who shined on the court. The young girls flocked to his games, smiling at him from the sidelines, hoping for a chance to walk arm-in-arm with him.

She had bright brown eyes and a smile that made grown men stop and stare.

For the most part Kent was disinterested. It wasn’t that he didn’t like girls, it was more that he'd had his heart broken by his first love and hadn’t fully let go. He didn’t want to go through that again. So when a female friend of his approached him after a basketball game to tell him that her cousin thought he was cute, he brushed it off.

Her name was Shama.

She added gel to the front of her hair to smooth it down, her long flowing dark tresses cascading down her back. She had bright brown eyes and a smile that made grown men stop and stare. When someone introduced the two, she took a chance and gave him her number. He called her and they spoke on the phone every day, oblivious to the fact that this was the beginning of a lifetime love.

She would write him elaborate letters professing her love for him. These love notes intimidated young Kent because he had never encountered a girl who was so young yet so sure of her feelings; expressing them candidly—without reservation—as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Although he was barely 18, she made him feel grown and full, like a man.

The years rolled by and their companionship strengthened. She became pregnant when he was just 20 years old and she was 21. He had made a promise to himself that when he had children, his children would always live under his roof. To keep his promise, Shama moved in with him into his mother's home.

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A self-described mama’s boy, Kent welcomed the assistance from his mother, Lynette. The four of them lived together as a family unit, until their son Kenton Dopson II turned 2 years old and an opportunity presented itself for Kent to showcase his basketball skills on a college level. It was a tough decision, but he never wanted to wonder what could have been, so he took the scholarship and moved away to North Carolina to give college basketball a chance.

Two years later Kent returned home, disappointed that professional basketball would not be a part of his future. He managed to land a temporary job as a courier in a hospital pharmacy, and he went back to trade school to learn how to become a pharmacy tech. That decision worked out well and he transitioned to being a pharmacy tech where he measured and mixed chemotherapy medication to assist in the recovery of cancer patients. He was elated. This was a career that would allow him to support his family.

To their delight, Shama landed a job in the same hospital, on the same floor in patient registration. They would drive in to work, go to breakfast together, have lunch together and drive home to take care of their son. As much time as they spent together Kent said he never grew bored or tired of her company, because she was his teammate in life.

She was a devoted, doting mom balancing household duties with working full-time and being a mother.

Seven years later Shama gave birth to their second son, Kenton Dopson III. Even though Shama thought having two sons with essentially the same name was a bit odd, Kent pressed the issue, not wanting his younger son to feel left out by having a different name.

Motherhood came quite naturally for Shama. She was a devoted, doting mom, balancing household duties with working full-time and being a mother. Although Kent had no reason to consider moving out of his mom’s home, Shama had a different vision for their life together.

She sat him down one evening and explained to him that she knew she loved him and that he loved her too, and she wanted to be married and to have their own home. Kent understood her desire, and he immediately went to work planning for the next phase of their life. On December 15, 2008, Kent and Shama went to the courthouse to be married. He wore black jeans and a beige dress shirt. She wore a cream short-sleeved pants suit. A host of family and friends cheered them on as they walked away joyfully, feeling proud of how far they had come.

Three months later he offered her the icing on the cake—he had found a beautiful two-bedroom apartment in Pembroke Pines. It was during this time that Kent remembered Shama as being the most happy she had ever been. Although they were still young and had a bright future ahead of them, she had already created the lifestyle she always wanted.

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A New Beginning

Kent progressed in his career as his family life became more solid. Their two sons were growing in inches and in experience, developing an affinity for traveling, eating out and electronics; and Kent explored becoming an events promoter, earning a stellar reputation for organizing family- and adult-themed events in South Florida.

When Thanksgiving of 2011 rolled around, Shama began complaining of stomach pains. She would drink a home remedy of ginger tea to relieve the pain temporarily. As the weeks went on, the intensity of the pain magnified, and by the new year she was in so much pain that she could no longer eat.

They quickly scheduled a doctor visit, and she had a battery of tests done. Kent could not make it to the follow-up appointment to hear the results, so his mother, Lynette, accompanied Shama.

When Kent heard the sound of the front door opening, he found it strange that his mom appeared and Shama wasn’t with her. Lynette told him, “Papa, you’re going to have to put on your big boy pants.” It was at that moment that Kent knew something was terribly wrong.

When Kenton walked outside to the car he saw Shama sitting quietly inside in the passenger seat. He opened the door to let her out and they walked to the playground about 100 yards from his apartment building. The couple sat on a bench together, side by side. He put his arm around her and she leaned over and placed her head on his chest.

On Tuesday Shama woke up and announced that she felt like getting out of the house.

He could barely make out the sound of cars passing by as he listened to her words. She explained that there was a blockage in her intestine and she needed several surgeries to remove the cancerous cells. She would also need chemotherapy.

Through the rotations of surgeries, Shama requested that her sons not visit her at the hospital. Shama’s mom, Mariksa Scott, stepped in and took care of the boys while Kent spent nights with her at the very hospital where he worked creating chemo medicine for cancer patients. Even though Kent knew how dire the situation was, he had hope since he had worked in the cancer center for so long and had witnessed many survivors. He wholeheartedly believed that his wife would become one of them.

After months of surgery and bed rest, Shama was released from the cancer center on a Friday. Kent drove her home but he could not stay with her because he had to work. His mom, once again, stepped in and took care of the family in his absence.

On Monday Kent had a day off work and accompanied his wife to her follow-up doctor appointment. After the visit she wanted to be pampered so he took her to get a manicure and pedicure. On Tuesday Shama woke up and announced that she felt like getting out of the house. They waited for the kids to wake up and they all went for a drive.

After having lunch at GG’s, a waterfront seafood restaurant, Shama wasn’t ready to go home yet so he drove her to a nearby park so the kids could play. Shama complained of nausea so she stayed in the car, watching him playing with the kids. Kent’s attention was divided between keeping an eye on the boys and keeping an eye on his ailing wife in the car. Right as his son tried to tell Kent something, his attention was drawn to the car instead as he watched Shama lean out of the car door and collapse.

Through the whir of the ambulance, the frightened faces that surrounded him as family members appeared at the hospital, and the two day last resort resuscitation attempt by doctors, Kent appeared to be in control of his emotions—but later revealed that his demeanor had nothing to do with what was happening to him on the inside.

The legal paperwork to cease life support was presented to him and he decided to end his wife’s suffering.

She died at 3:57 a.m.

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Mommy’s Gone

The next major holiday was unlike any he had experienced for the past 15 years. Instead of floating from one family gathering to the next, he simply dropped his sons off at Shama’s mother's and went home. Their anniversary, December 15th, came and went without much fanfare.

“She’s not here with me so there’s nothing to celebrate,” he explained.

Kent's mother moved in with him and his sons to take up the slack as he worked, taking on household chores that Kent had never tackled. Kent had never cooked a meal for his family. He didn’t do laundry. He didn’t iron clothes.

“I didn’t realize how much Shama did until she wasn’t there to do it,” he remembered. “I wish I had helped out more even though she never really complained much. I realize now that what she used to do for us, was more than I could ever think.”

Their sons felt the brunt of their mom’s absence in a way that Kent never would. His sons had developed a sincerely close relationship with their mom, choosing to confide in her instead of Kent. With her gone, the boys remained quiet.

Trying to communicate that he was open to a more intimate bond, Kent instructed his sons as best as he could on how to handle their emotions surrounding their loss. “I’m trying to instill in them that they are men and life doesn’t wait around for you, you have to pick up and keep going,” he said.

“Life is going to go on, bills will still come, children will still look you in the face and want to know what is going to happen”

Their younger son asked questions about his mom’s death and would grieve openly, so Kent spent a lot of time coddling him. Their older son, Deuce, was more rock solid and didn’t show much emotion. “In the beginning when I would be home and I would start breaking down in the house, Deuce would put his arm around me and say that we are going to be OK,” Kent recalled.

As for the complicated matter of the purpose of life and death, Kent hasn’t quite figured out an absolute truth. He has developed a perspective about grieving which he says made the difference between a permanent breakdown and being able to pull his family through.

Kent admitted that he bottled up the pain of his wife’s death. “To this day I still suppress a lot of it,” he said. “I don’t really talk about it much these days. Even when I do, it still bothers me.”

“Death in general, well, I think it’s something that we as human beings can’t escape,” Kent asserts. “It’s inevitable. Everybody is going to grieve differently. Find something that can take your mind off of it and try to forget.”

For Kent that meant going out with people, drinking and placing himself in situations where he was never alone. He remembered waking up in the middle of the night, writing an update on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to meet up at IHOP to hang out. He would drive there, completely oblivious to the identity of the warm body that sat in front of him. The chatter was his companion.

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He explained that it did no good for him to sit around and be sad. “Life is going to go on, bills will still come, children will still look you in the face and want to know what is going to happen,” Kent explained. “For me, being sad or mopey or crying is not how I want to live, what I want to let people see. To me there is no production in that. It doesn’t do anything.”

Kent decided to focus on making sure his sons had as many enjoyable experiences as they could. They took a trip upstate to the beach that was memorable. That Christmas the boys received every toy they could think of and then some, and Kent even surprised his younger son with a trip to DisneyWorld.

In spite of the devastating transformation in the life of his family, Kent says that today his quality of life is still good.

“A little piece of me will never be the same,” he says. “No matter how much I progress, a part of me died the day she died. You plan to be with someone together forever, you establish a family. We were together for 15 years. Once you have your mind made up about who you are going to be with and what kind of family you want to have and you’ve created that? I feel that I will never be 100 percent whole,” Kent pauses as his voice wavers. He quickly regains his composure and states, “But I’m good right now.”

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