Today, a piece of poetry that I wrote, entitled Goodnight, Sweet Prince, Goodnight is featured at Wellness & Writing Connections blog. This month, they have been featuring poetry on dealing with loss of a loved one. The moment I saw this call for submissions, I knew I had to submit this piece.
I was 15. It was summer in Spokane, Washington.Temperatures often climbed to the high 90’s and over 100 degrees so it was a blazing hot, no respite from the heat kind of summer but I loved it. I want to say that it was July.
We– my family- were members of a small black church. In black churches we have two Sunday services– Sunday School and morning service, and then Bible Study and evening service. The break between the two services was just long enough to gather at a restaurant or a congregation member’s home, eat and rest, and rev yourself back up for another round.
We were enjoying our break by having dinner at some friends of my parents and getting into the car to head to evening service. It was me, my friends Taya and Tori, and my brothers, all heading to our cars to wait for our parents to come out.
The phone rang.
In an instant, the world changed.
Ronnie, the son of our Senior Elder had been killed in a car accident with (I believe) two of his cousins. He was 23, in the prime of his life. The loss was devastating not only to the congregation but to his parents, who were close to mine.
There’s nothing worse, I thought at the time, than watching people trudge through pain and despair. Ronnie has 4 other siblings, a multitude of aunts, uncles, cousins, friends that missed him desperately. I’ve always been one that is sensitive to the pain of others.
Seeking a way to express our feelings about Ronnie and his death and what it was to miss him, I penned a poem. It was amateur, but reeked of symbolism. I was really into rhyming. Sheepishly, I presented it to my parents. Who insisted I present it to his family.
To my knowledge, a printout of my poem sat next to Ronnie’s photo for quite some time. It was my greatest honor.
Fast forward twenty years later. I am 35. It is Saturday. I have no plans but for some reason my eyes pop open at 5am. I am wide awake.
The phone rings.
If there is one thing that strikes fear in the heart of a person, it is an early morning phone call. I glance at the display.
It is my mother. My heart sinks. At first thought, I think something is wrong with my father– he suffers from chronic pain and heart ailments. In my mind, I am steeling for something to be wrong with my dad.
I hear the phone but cannot locate it in my purse. I miss the call, so I call back. My mother is a very soft spoken woman. It is nearly 4am her time. Her voice is ragged and low and rough and through a bout of raw emotion, she breaks the news that my baby brother Joe has died in a car accident. He was 22.
Joseph was most certainly the baby. There were 11 years between he and I. Ten years between my younger brother Mike and Joe. He was the one we watched out for and took care of. He’d spent a lot of his teenage years “being a teenager” but was just starting to get his life together. He got his diploma. Got a good job. His son was 4 months old.
His loss is inexplicably devastating, to a point where sometimes I just do not believe he is gone.
The three years since have, honestly, been a bit of a fog. I think about Joe everyday. EVERY. DAY. The pain of losing someone so young, so unexpectedly never goes away. It gets easier to manage, but I still have my rough days.
When I was 15, I thought nothing was worse than watching people go through a devastating loss. I was wrong. Going through it is much, much worse.
The first person to call me about Joe’s death was Ronnie’s sister, who lives here in Atlanta. She offered her condolences and a shoulder to cry on, because if anyone knew what I was going through, it was her. It must have been like living Ronnie’s death all over again.
As I flew home for Joe’s funeral, I was reminded of this poem that I wrote about trying to grasp the enormity of Ronnie’s death. It was as fitting on that day in 2008 as it was 15 years before. He was still a precious angel, our prince. He was still sorely, desperately missed, and though we did not want to say goodnight, if we had to, we would do it with honor.
This poem now represents both Ronnie and Joseph. It has rolled around in my mind, memorized for so many years. It is my greatest honor to share it with others.
Please stop by the Wellness & Writing Connections blog to read my poem, entitled Goodnight, Sweet Prince, Goodnight.