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On Island Profile: Christina Henry

Feb. 12, 2007 — On a hot June afternoon, Christina Henry stared at adversity and conquered it with love.
That day, hundreds of mourners listened in rapt attention as she spoke, delivering one of the most-remembered speeches at the hero's send-off for her eldest daughter, former Police Cpl. Sheila Middleton, who had died unexpectedly.
Henry says she had not cried over her daughter's death because the two of them had shared good times. Henry had always been at her daughter's side when Middleton taught thousands of Virgin Islands children the effects of drugs and alcohol as a long-time instructor and director of the V.I. Police Department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. Mother and daughter had never failed to say the words "I love you" at every opportunity, Henry recalled then.
"I was looking at her in the casket and didn't cry, because I realized that wasn't my daughter there … because her spirit had gone back where it came from," Henry says now. "Knowing where my child was — that was my joy, and knowing I would see her — that was my joy."
The tears would come long after that fateful day, when she missed her daughter's companionship or missed hearing her voice. But whenever that happened, Henry says, she would recall a time when they laughed together, and all would be well again.
"She was my girl, my friend, my commandant, my everything," Henry says."She understood her mother, and her mother understood her."
Four months after Middleton died, Henry, 65, faced more adversity when her mother, Ida Oblige of New York, died. Her father, Stanley, still lives in New York.
A native New Yorker herself, Henry moved to St. Croix 34 years ago with her then-husband, the late Alphonso Acoy, a St. Croix native. In addition to Middleton, the couple had four other children: Alphonso Jr., Phyllis and twins Stephanie and Stanley. A former employee with the V.I. Department of Health, Henry is currently married to Dalmer Henry, a union that has lasted 28 years.
Henry says she also did not cry when her mother died. In fact, she did not even attend the funeral, because she fell ill soon after reaching New York.
"I spent about four months with her just before her death, and I would kiss her all the time. And she would ask, 'What's up with all of the kisses?' I would tell her, 'Because I love you.' I believe that was God's doing. He made sure we had our good times before she left, so I wasn't sorrowful."
Henry says she often wonders about the real reason people cry at funerals.
"When I see people screaming and carrying on, I sometimes wonder if it's guilt because they are crying over opportunities lost," she says. "If you spend enough time — even if it's only 15 minutes — with someone, make that the most important 15 minutes of your day, because we can never plan our tomorrow. That's up to God."
That's why, Henry says, she lives as she preaches. An only child, Henry says she never was lonely because she grew up in a religious household where her parents openly expressed their love. This is something she continues to instill in her children, her 25 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
"Words are what govern our tomorrow," she says. "Encouragement is what gives us reason to live, and the life you have now is so important. So live it to the fullest. Take time out to know your fellow man. That's why there was comfort with my child's and my mom's death. We are people that hug; we were always affectionate; we kiss one another."
Henry says she often kisses her grown sons in public, and must deal with unkind stares from passersby.
"People here are not affectionate, so they would look at us funny and I would say, 'That's my son — not my man,'" she says with a chuckle.
In her household, Henry says she encourages her children to be each others' friends, not just each other's siblings.
"Children tend to grow apart as adults, so I encourage people to come back and band together as grownups," she says. Henry believes the reason so many young people commit crimes is because they lack love, parental guidance and supervision.
"I tell people to hug their children, because love starts in the home," she says.
Age brings wisdom, Henry says.
"I've stood back and watched my mistakes," she says.
Too often parents have allowed children to raise themselves, and they should never pass up the chance to guide their children's actions, Henry says.
"I tell young people, 'God didn't leave you on this earth to be nothing,'" she says. "The choice you make today determines your legacy, and if you're headed down the wrong path, God always puts someone in that path to warn you. And if you take heed, your life changes for the better."
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