The title of my first book is Life After Birth. The course I created for the University of Memphis is Life Skills. The curriculum I created for secondary schools teaches Life Skills. I am a Life coach. I live life, love life and teach life and how to live your best life.
So why was the last month of my life been so full of death?
Earlier this year, I shared that I have lost three young friends in the last three years. One just this past Easter. A close friend lost her 18-year-old daughter last year, and a couple months ago a couple I lost a friend and treasure to our city.
These sudden deaths were hard and were hitting so close to home. Then in November it got unbelievably hard and did hit home.
For my mother’s 60th birthday, I went with her to Los Angeles to visit my sister and one of my mother’s first cousins who has been trying to get her to LA for most of her life. We had a great nearly two weeks there with one of our last nights spent with my cousin’s friend. My cousin is an LA police officer, and so is his long-time friend. His friend talked about excited he was about retiring and talked even more excitedly about his sons. Before dinner, he scrolled through his phone showing us pictures of his two twenty-something year old sons, my cousin’s Godsons, who both played basketball professionally. He was so proud of his boys.
The next day we left LA and arrived back in Memphis at about 2am on a Saturday morning. My mom, sister, and I slept in then I took them to pick up a rental car and they headed to our hometown of Jackson. After leaving them I met up with my cousin who is more like my sister, and she and another cousin spent the night with me watching movies. My son stopped by, and we all had a chance to talk to him about his life and his choices that need some work. We hugged him, and he left late that night.
The next morning we woke up and were about to leave to go to the Waffle House for breakfast. Before we could leave, my cousin’s daughter called and said two sheriffs were at their house and needed her to come home. The three of us rushed over wondering what her son had gotten into or what else could be wrong.
Then we got the news no parent ever wants to hear. Her 20-year-old son had died in a car accident; the passenger in a car with his friend who died too. We knew the friend too. He was my cousin’s ex-husband’s son. Once her stepson. They were both only 20 years old. My heart was broken but especially for my sweet cousin who had lost her baby, the youngest of her three children and her only son.
When we were able to compose ourselves, we called family including our cousin in LA. That’s when we learned that the two, young basketball players had died in a car accident the same day. Our family was even more devastated.
A few days later, more tragedy. Another cousin. My grandmother’s nephew was driving a motorized wheelchair was hit by a truck. Family from Chicago scrambled to plan a funeral in Tennessee just as we had just finished doing.
We were all hurting on all types of levels yet all comforting each other as best we could.
In the midst of this, my friend lost her father. This friend lost her mother in college and began calling me mama after I became her camp counselor her freshman year. 20 years later, I’m still “Mama” to a woman a year younger than I am. Then she lost her father who cherished her, and everyone knew it. And she cherished him.
I’ve never experienced so much death so close to me at one time. And I’ve never been a part of planning a funeral. This time it was for my cousin who was more like my nephew helping my cousin who was more like my sister. However, the eulogy that was delivered brought nine of my cousin’s friends to Christ, and began a huge mending process in several key relationships in our family. We lost our baby, but there was purpose that we have to see and believe in. And created purpose in through the Curtis Owens Memorial Scholarship.
This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I was simply supporting someone doing the hardest thing I think a person could ever have to do. What we’ve been through in the past few weeks is something that I hope no one else will have to experience, but I know people inevitably will.
The support our family got from people has been amazing and unbelievable (both good and bad). I know that often people don’t know what to say or do in situations like this, but here are a few things I observed that I think are worth consideration because we all will one day be in the place of comforting someone in the time of loss.
- Show up. No, not everyone needs to pop up at the house or necessarily come to the service. However, examine what your relationship is to the person or people suffering. You might be a little uncomfortable but maybe your hug or just your presence can bring comfort to your friend when it is needed most. Your presence simply says, “I am here for you” whether your mouth ever does. And if you don’t feel you were close enough or that you should be there, you can still show up through calls, cards, donations, food…and now I see why food is so important. I used to think it was just for the repast, but the food people brought was a blessing as worked day in and day out on all the stressful details of taking care of our baby. In your own way, in your own time; but let them know you are there.
- Avoid the cliches. It’s so hard to know what to say. We all tend to go to, “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for reason,” or, “God knows best.” I even saw saying, “Let me know what I can do,” defeating it’s helpful purpose because at that time the one thing that’s wanted no one can do. If you struggle for words, don’t use them. Presence speaks volumes.
- Be present but know when to give space. It’s unbelievably stressful doing or helping someone to the hardest thing they will probably ever have to do…BUT have to hurry up and do it. It can be overwhelming to have people around or calling, but at the same time is needed and welcomed. You have to, again, examine your relationship with the person and act according to what you feel is best. Be there, give space, but not too much or too little. It’s not easy, but you can tell what’s needed.
- Allow people to mourn in their own way. Sometimes people expect people to react a certain way and question their love for the one they loss if they act differently. Maybe they are not crying enough or too much or too hard. Maybe they aren’t talking about it enough or too much or you just don’t like what they are saying. One cousin laughed a lot at what some would consider awkward times, but I recognized it as nervous laughs. Even laughing to keep from crying. Some people want to go out and some people want to stay in. Practice patience and discernment to avoid judgment at a time that it is needed least.
- Don’t criticize the decision-maker for their choices. Maybe you didn’t agree with location for the service or someone being on the program. There are a ton of very difficult decisions that have to be made by the people who are grieving the hardest, and again, the decisions have to be made quickly. Once any of the decisions are made, it only brings more grief to hear complaints and disagreement.
So as I think about death, I am reminded that death is a part of life. At a time of loss, we naturally think about our own mortality. When people we love die, we are left to live until it is our turn. The question is what will you with your life?
How can we make the most of our lives so that when it’s our turn, we won’t have any regrets. Will we have done or at least tried to do what we dreamed of doing? Will we invest in life insurance so that finances aren’t added burden to the grief our families will feel.
If you’re reading this, then that means you still have life and you still have time. The question is just how much and what will you do with it?
So…what’s your answer? None of knows how much time we have, but what will you do to make sure you live your life on purpose and with purpose?