I woke up at 5:00 this morning and could not get back to sleep. It might have had something to do with the 5-year-old child that had made his way into my bed and the small of my back. Who knows? All I am certain of is that I was not going back to sleep. I got up, wandered around the house for a bit, and finally resolved myself to the fact that I should go ahead and get started on work. If I cannot sleep, I might as well be productive.
I went on downstairs but did not take my phone with me. Because of this, I could not hear it ringing at 6:00 when my mother called. I had to get the boys up for school around seven so I went on back upstairs to get my phone and my wallet. I remember looking at my phone and getting that sinking feeling that only shows up in your heart when you know something isn’t right.
There was a part of me that did not want to call her back. She never calls me at that early of a time unless something is wrong. Regardless, I hit the return call button and waited for her to pick up on her end, which she did. Sometime during this past night, my uncle, Sam Byers, passed away. I don’t know all the details. It seems that he passed while watching television in his living room.
I got to see Sam over Thanksgiving (Not sure if I had actually seen him when this picture was taken. It looks like I might be asleep) when we went back to Illinois over our break. Mom had set up a Thanksgiving dinner at the Methodist Church in Louisville that the Byers’ family were able to attend. It is crazy to look at moments like that and, in hindsight, realize that it was the last moment you would have.
My strongest memory, oddly enough, of Sam Byers, is that he taught me how to play checkers. That pales in comparison to the memories that his own children and grandchildren have of him but that was a strong one for me. However, that memory was not really about learning to play checkers. See, I was only about 7 or 8 years old and Sam would not let me win. I would stay the night at his house every once in a while and we would play checkers while he sat and watched tv. Hundreds of games were played over the years and I don’t think I ever one a single one of them. What was the lesson here? I don’t remember if he ever actually said this to me but the lesson that I took away was, “If you want something in life, you need to go earn it.” Even as an adult, when I think about the entitlements that many people struggle with, my mind goes back to the checkerboard and how Sam would never just give me a game.
Just last week, my great-uncle Glen Lewis passed away as well. Both were great men and now they’re just, gone. Like that…. Life is so fragile. To think that you can kiss someone goodnight and not have them with you in the morning is a little bit frightening to me.
That gets me back to the point. What do we do with this? Dealing with death is one of the hardest and most awkward of our emotions to handle. Joy is easy. You can celebrate it with each other. Even anger is a manageable emotion, it just has to be directed correctly. However, what do you do with grief? How do you console someone who is at an extreme loss? What do you say? How do you deal with it yourself? Is it okay to just come completely undone over this or do we have to hold ourselves together?
I was listening to this song this morning that put me in a perfect mindset to grieve this news. It is okay to just shut down for a while and mourn. Let the memories of your lost one monopolize the space in your mind. Everything else can go on the backburner for a while. Life really will stop for you during this process and those around you, if they are decent people, will allow you the time you need to just lose yourself.
Let it rain friends. We can mourn in sadness. We are permitted in this moment to be sad. We can just lay down and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. I think the hard truth about death is that it is simply more than we can handle. None of us have power over it. We cannot control it. Time heals and the love and memories of the person who we have lost will give us the closure that we will never receive by trying to fake it.