Death and Life


By Brianna Willis, Assistant Features Editor 

The week before classes started I had a family member pass away from an injury. I was devastated, and it was incredibly hard for me to focus on the RA training I was supposed to walk into 5 minutes after I received “the call” from my dad.

“The call” is one of the worst feelings in the world. You answer expecting a light-hearted conversation with a family member, maybe my dad was calling to tell me he sent me money, and he says “Do you have a second?” Of course I did. Then came the hammer to the chest.

It felt like Thor came and hit me in my heart. A pain so mighty and strong I almost lost all control of my body and collapsed. “I had to be strong, I had to be strong, I had to be strong,” I kept repeating in my head.

I don’t know what it was about Eugene I loved so much, but it hurt more than I thought it would. Given he was older than my dad,  he was my dad’s cousin, and lived in St. Louis (I live in Memphis), I didn’t see him much. He had mental challenges (debatably always present, but definitely intensified after he was brutally assaulted), and was always watching baseball and ironing. Whatever it was, I loved Eugene.

My cousin had to hold my hand while I fought tears and laughter simultaneously at the tragedy of death but the comedy of the “choir” being three people and the pastor thinking he was on Broadway, but just know the funeral was for all intensive purposes: a loving mess.

At the gravesite my cousin said to me, “We’ve been to more funerals than most people should ever experience,” and we proceeded to list all our family members and friends whose funerals we attended. Some of natural causes, some were suicides and some were not so natural. They all hurt the same.

I have a tattoo on my back in memory of my maternal grandmother who was diagnosed with cancer within months of my paternal grandmother. We lost them both within months of each other. My cousin wants a tattoo in memory of her. I suppose we share and carry these deaths with us 50-50.

However, all these deaths, all these funerals got me thinking. Funerals are one of the only times the whole family gets together. We eat together, we laugh together, we cry together. We joke about whose fried chicken is better, we remember the good times, we lament the bad.

I returned to Murray, to my Springer ladies and to my news family.  They lifted me up, they supported me and they helped me navigate this difficult time. They gave me my space and suffocated me with love all at the same time.

In this college setting, we may all go through a tough time. From death, to a bad grade, to a bad breakup, it is in these moments college can be such a special time.

When else will I be able to text my friend upstairs, have her run down and sit in the bathroom stall and hold me as I cried for hours.

When else will I be in my room and my friends tell me to come out and go play board games, which eased the pain. College allows us to build bonds, live in a close community and navigate difficult times in safe and healthy ways.

Hold on tight to these friends, we can make it through this new semester and all the joy and pain it brings together.