Born and raised in Montclair, NJ and a 1974 graduate of Montclair High School, Lynda B. Bradley-Conwell joined the ancestors on November 25. She succumbed to heart failure stemming from multiple health challenges.
Lynda spent her early life with her mother Betty Bradley Darrell and sister Laurie in the ground-floor apartment of the house of her maternal grandfather, Admiral Dewey Jones. She had fond memories of the elaborate model train set that her grandfather operated in the basement of that house. “I remember every Sunday, we would ask him to run the trains…that was fun watching him climb under the tables with the pipe in his mouth,” she said.
She married Michael Conwell in 1978 and had two sons, Ryan and Evan. Family and friends were everything to Lynda, especially once health issues began threatening the people she loved. Her sister Laurie was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1985, and Lynda began accompanying her to dialysis and doctor’s appointments and looking after her sister’s three children when her sister was unable to. This role was indispensable since no one else was available to help, and Lynda simply incorporated care for her sister and her sister’s children into her care for her own two sons. She gave both love and care without complaint.
She gathered friends into her family: her home became the “home away from home” for the high-school friends of her sons and nieces. The friends’ parents recognized that Lynda treated their children as “if they were her own.” Her sons recall fondly that she embraced everyone as a member of the family: there was always a place at the dinner table or a bed if they needed to stay the night. It was a” judgment-free zone.”
Her caring did not keep her from enjoying life. She was “loud and funny,” said her friends and family. Her laughter was unmistakable. Her creative streak was channeled into a crafts business with her sister: crocheting, knitting, and custom-designed tee shirts. Eventually, friends and family were pulled in, including her young sons.
Even though she was an avid and vociferous Giants fan, she crocheted scarves for customers who supported other teams. She loved Game of Thrones. She enjoyed camping and food-tasting during road trips. She was a great cook who loved to experiment with unusual dishes, like Armenian cuisine. After her mother left to live in Bermuda in 1978, she took over the family tradition of giving cookies as gifts for the holidays, a tradition she passed down to her sons, nieces, and grandnieces. She became an expert baker of designer cookies—citrus cookies, pinwheels, marble fudge, and buttercream wafers. She was an event planner and hostess by nature: she planned the weddings of her sister and cousin and hosted multiple family events and holiday celebrations.
The craft business became a source of life knowledge for her sons and nieces. “If something breaks, you can fix it,” reflected Evan, an aphorism that he applied to other aspects of life. The crafts business inspired her son Ryan to pursue a career in accounting.
Contending with loved ones’ health challenges also yielded important life lessons for her sons, nieces, and their friends. “There are things you won’t be able to control, and you must learn to get back up. Life is going to throw you some curves,” she advised. It was a deep blow when her best friend from high school, Jody Richardson, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1998.
When her sister Laurie passed away from kidney failure in August 1999, Lynda sprang into action. Malissa and Zalene, Laurie’s other two girls, had moved out, but Justene, the youngest, needed a strong family around her. Lynda gathered Justene into her family and enrolled her in Montclair High School right away. “She told me I could come to her if I needed to cry,” Justene said. “She was important to me because she was a piece of my mom—my mom’s sister.”
The children Lynda knitted together into a family began learning that she was unconventional. “She was a feminist,” Justene said, “even though the boys did not have the same rules as I did. She told me burned her bra as a teen, as an act of women’s rights! She tried guiding me around the art of dating, and when I was 16, what boys “really” want!”
Before Black Lives Matter, she made it clear to her sons and their friends how they should react in encounters with police. She protested police treatment of young black men and boys, both on social media and in real life.
She found time to attend Rutgers University and graduated from the University of Phoenix in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Communications. She enjoyed socializing with her friends and reuniting with cousins on her father’s side. She was known to her friends as a “sweet woman who would give you the shirt off her back.”
She was shocked when her mother was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2011. Again, Lynda took up caregiving duties without complaint. But her anger boiled over when she was herself diagnosed with kidney failure in 2012. In background interviews for a forthcoming book about kidney disease in the Black community, she described a “1 ½ hour meltdown in my doctor’s office,” expressing her rage about being in the bull’s eye of a disease that had already taken so much from her— including the loss of her mother in 2013. She did get herself together, though. “If I fall apart, my whole family will fall apart,” she told the interviewer. She spent 3 years with low-functioning kidneys, refusing to go on dialysis until 2015 because of having witnessed the debilitating effects of dialysis on the body. Like her sister and her mother, a kidney was never made available to her.
When she did go on dialysis, her children, friends, and family offered her the caregiving she so generously offered to others. They shopped, took her to dialysis, picked her up, cooked for her, and more. In her dialysis center, she became known as the “Mayor of Dialysis,” reaching out to fellow patients to help them with their issues and problems. She struggled to understand the circumstances that found so many people with kidney disease. “Damn. We are some unlucky people,” she told the interviewer. “22 chairs, and 75% of them filled with Black people and Latinos.”
Lynda lived a life filled with caring that wrapped her family and friends in a blanket of love, courage, and hope. She modeled how to be human, even in the most trying circumstances. Her light will continue to glow among her family and friends.
To mourn her passing, Lynda leaves her 2 sons: Ryan and Evan; 3 nieces: Zalene Miller, Malissa Miller, and Justene Miller; 2 grandnieces: Kejsia and Jene Johnson; 2 grandnephews Jaylan and Kaleem Moore and Naseem Guillaume; Uncle Eric Bradley and Aunt Jean Goode; 5 first cousins: Charles Goode, Fred Goode, and Audra Jones; Fasaha Traylor and Marion Hatten; and 7 second cousins: Ayanna Traylor-Mahmud, Faridha Traylor, Jemal Clarke, Marion Clarke, Sylvester Clarke, Mark Edward Hatten, Marissa Hatten and a host of other relatives, “adopted children,” and fr
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