Dear Lovely Death
Dear lovely death
That taketh all things under wing-
Never to kill-
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
Yet not again the same-
Dear lovely death, Change is thy other name
-Langston Hughes, 1931
Last Saturday I attended the memorial service for a friend of my oldest son who was killed two weeks ago, and I have not been able to feel right since. In fact, I haven’t felt right since I heard news of his violent death at the age of 21. Because writing is one of the main ways I deal with my feelings, I have been trying to write something all week, but it’s been hard to get it out of me. I suppose there are plenty of things which are confusing to me about this, and I’m sure even more so to others who were much closer to this young man than I. The death of a 21-year-old is just plain hard to understand to begin with, and I didn’t know Everett Williams myself which is partly why it’s confusing. Certainly I have heard about him, and it seems he and my son had recently been spending more time together, perhaps because my son had just moved into an apartment close to where he lived. They were both working on the big project of transitioning into adulthood and becoming who they were truly meant to be.
The memorial was only six days out from Everett’s death. I do not know the circumstances of his death, other than that it was violent and sudden, that he was shot, and that possibly some of the people involved were friends or acquaintances. It’s not my place to speculate about it all, and obviously I’ll leave all of that up to the authorities and others involved. What is true is that my heart has been aching, and I have felt troubled and not sure how to work through my fluctuating emotions.
I didn’t know Everett, but I know boys. I know boys pretty well actually. I have a 13-year-old son, and a 20-year-old son, and I am surrounded by boys and their boy energy, and their boy love and boy angst. And I am a mother, before anything else, I am a mother. If there was one thing I was meant to be in this life, one role I identify with more than any other, it’s that of mother. So when someone’s child is killed, and that child happens to be good friends with my child, of course it’s not going to be easy.
At the memorial, the grief was raw and overwhelming to witness. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room full of that many sad young men. The shock and sadness were tangible and heavy, and there was no way to look away from it all. Some boys were crying through the whole thing, and some were unable to speak as planned because they were too bereft to talk.
His parents were lovely and composed. His mother, apparently the daughter of a well known jazz singer and herself a woman with a beautiful voice, sang some songs that she’d sung to Everett and her four other children when they were little. Her family she said, was “chagrined” when she gathered them around the table for bible study in the evenings, but clearly this was part of the glue that held this family together. They were faithful – faithful to their God, and faithful, it seems, to each other. His mother spoke of what a sweet and easy baby he was, following her two oldest children who were not such easy babies. Each one of his siblings spoke through tears, voices choked with grief, each sharing something different and special about their relationship with their brother Everett.
I sat there and I watched and listened, and I saw everything and everyone swirling around me in that room as pieces of one giant picture that was maybe too big for me to see in its totality. I saw the love and the anger, and the joy and the sadness. I saw the sacredness of life, the profane nature of violent death, and the resulting shock and fear and bewilderment. I saw the shame and the pride, and I saw the confusion resulting from the struggle to grasp the finality of death, particularly in someone so young. I saw strangers and people I knew, boys and girls who’ve grown into young men and women. I saw sensitive man-children who are trying to be tough and who are trying to make it in a hard world with varying degrees of success.
Everett was clearly special to many people. He was a young man who could cross boundaries. Many people mentioned this, as well as his ability and passion for engaging in lively discussions on a wide range of subjects. His older brother said that if he was the “rock of the family”, then his younger brother Everett was the “soul of the family”.
Because he was a friend of my son and at the same time someone I didn’t know personally, Everett has come alive to me through the memorial and also through my son. My son described him as a person who had a surplus of energy, creative, passionate and funny. A boy whom he called a “crystal child, just like me”. Sensitive and tuned-in to the world in a special way. A friend who taught him to eat bananas peel and all, for extra nutritional benefit. A friend he made music with. A friend who came by his apartment regularly to say hello and talk about all sorts of things. A friend he called a brother.
Again, I don’t know what really happened. But I heard his father say at the memorial that it is our job as adults and parents to be there for our young people, and that this is perhaps our most serious and important job. He said that we must take our passion and our gifts and we must use them to support and guide our youth. He IMPLORED the adults in the room to take this seriously, even, he said, if it’s just a “kind word” and he pointed to many people and families in the room who were there for Everett in different ways throughout his life.
At the memorial I sat next to Kate Martin, a friend who happens to be a candidate in the race for Mayor of the City of Seattle. Kate is a shining example of a person who has been a ruthless advocate for youth. When my oldest child was a teenager, her house was THE house in the neighborhood where kids were always welcome, and my son and apparently Everett were regulars there at different times in their lives. Kate has two sons and does not separate herself or set herself apart from young people, she participates fully in their lives and concerns, and she doggedly supports them in their difficult, ongoing work of growing up. Each one of my kids are lucky to have had Kate or people like her in their lives who have been like second parents to them. Loving adults who have fed, sheltered, nurtured, loved, chauffeured, mentored, and supported them in different ways throughout their lives.
Throughout the week, I had several encounters with people from other areas of my life that were in some way connected to Everett’s life or affected by his death. I acknowledge how connected we are whether we know it or not, whether we want to believe it or not. The names in the newspaper, on the eleven o’clock news, the names of the dead, the perpetrators, the victims, the helpers – we are all linked in one big picture that is sometimes hard to see, but one which will undoubtedly reveal itself to us in time. The more we realize that, and the more we shape our lives according to that realization, the better off we will all be. Rest in peace Everett Williams, crystal child.