were tearful tributes and stories last Sunday for 18-year-old Dijonay “DJ” Harris, who died in September, after a hectic fight with cirrhosis.
The Wolmer’s High School for Girls graduate was diagnosed with the liver disease in 2020, and died due to complications three weeks after her father, Nicholas Harris, risked his life and gave her half of his liver.
After the 14-hour surgery at Bustamante Hospital for Children, Harris had said that he had to help his daughter and hoped that the operation would save her life.
“I sat down and signed those papers to go in, knowing that I may not come back out, or may not come back out okay. My daughter was suffering for quite some time and it is not an easy thing to see someone you used to hold in your hands in pain and suffering like that. She has been suffering for over a year. So, I just had to make the decision,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
Dijonay’s funeral was held at Hagley Park Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kingston. Dijonay’s aunt, Stacyann McFarlane Francis, told the Sunday Observer that the father is hurting.
“As he would say, nothing is, and will ever be, the same without DJ. He is still in shock and processing all of it, but he is hurting physically, mentally and emotionally. He tried his best, so continue to keep him in prayer.”
In addition, she said her niece was at peace.
“She was laid to rest in her favourite colours, so I’m sure she is floating around and smiling. She loved, loved, loved red and black. I spoke to her at the funeral and at that point, I really accepted this is it and all her smiles and great memories and her funny moments came to me in a film roll all at once,” she said.
“Knowing DJ, her favourite words are ‘Auntie mi alright enuh, I’m okay.’ I honestly, weirdly think she is happy. I just vision her smiling non-stop. I could feel her smiling and being excitedly happy. She is my heart and soul.”
Dijonay, the first child to her parents, grew up in Olympics Gardens, and started her educational journey at Old Harbour Basic School. She then went on to St George’s Girl Infant and Primary School.
After her Grade Six Achievement Test, she matriculated to Wolmer’s Girls, where she attained eight Caribbean Secondary Examination Council subjects while battling her illness.
Dijonay, who would’ve celebrated her 19th birthday on October 3, then attempted to further her studies, and was enrolled at the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean to study in the field of tourism and hospitality. But due to her illness, she was unable to accept the offer.
As a result, she applied to sixth form at Old Harbour High School, which was closer to home. And again, because she was ill, she was not able to study.
McFarlane Francis, who had contacted the Sunday Observer earlier this year, said following her niece’s diagnosis, the family knew immediately that they needed lots of assistance, advice, and prayers to fight.
She added that her first thought was how she could bring awareness to the situation and make it as public as she could, with hopes of a generous medical team coming on board to execute the procedure.
McFarlane Francis said she is still distraught and hurt, but is at peace for several reasons.
“We as her family gave 100 per cent from beginning to end. We stopped at nothing; every single one of us adjusted our lives and schedules to play a part. Doctors, nurses and staff went above and beyond to help, even just to talk with DJ. She died knowing we cared for and loved her, and she had accepted her condition and always made mention of gratitude to us for trying so hard and leaving no stone unturned.
“So, she is at peace. She always joked and say if I own a private jet to be here so often, and I would always say ‘nuh worry your head, I’ll work back the plane ticket money.’ So, she knows we cared abundantly.”
Dijonay’s grandmother, Merle Henderson-Evans, broke down while reflecting on the “great memories of the past”.
“DJ made sure we knew how much she cared. She reminded me on countless occasions how important I was to her. I knew she loved me because she took the time to tell me and her actions mirrored her words. She would always say, ‘grandma, when you get old, I’m going to take care of you and daddy and make you guys proud of me.’ There is a soft sport within me for her,” she said.
Lora-Gaye Brown, Dijonay’s schoolmate from her tenure at Kingston Technical High School, said she was fond of nicknames.
“She would give everyone a nickname, but the most two famous ones were ‘Aunty Stew-peas’ and ‘Uncle Teddy-bear face, the dean of discipline.’ I remember when we used to keep our amateur parties after school. We would save our lunch money, buy candies or anything that we could afford to keep our party,” she recalled.
“Most of the days, after arriving from school, Dijonay used to have her favourite snack; bun and cheese or any honey bun product in her favourite place, around Mr Austin’s desk. We enjoyed our time at Kingston Technical in the evenings because we would always find something to entertain us.”
Another schoolmate, Aubrey-ann Riley, said: “Dijonay would always screw but behind that, she was always a loving person, optimistic, willing and candid. Our close bond broke when we went off to high school. Nevertheless, the love was there. We will forever hold onto the memorable moments with each other forever.”
Family friend Richard Reid said it was hard to condense eight years of memories. He worked with Dijonay’s father, who is a teacher at Kingston Technical. Reid said he picked up Dijonay from St George’s from time to time, when her father was busy with work.
“Dijonay is missed, Dijonay is loved. Remember teasing Dijonay that she would never grow to be tall if she continued walking around with that big, heavy bag on her small frame. I don’t know if the books got lighter when she got to high school, but as we would say, she grew out of our sight. Dijonay is really and truly missed.”