June 22, 2020
I remember four years ago, late at night, my son received a telephone call. He went outside and I did not understand. When he came in he shrugged and made up some story about why his friend called. After he had time to process the news, he came to me, and shared he thought his friend was dead. It was clear he was still in shock; as was I and anyone once they heard the news.
Just a few days before, Efe, and my twins, and many of their classmates were celebrating high school graduation. It was that time when you see the enormity of relief for making it through school; along with the wonder and excitement of what comes next. For Efe, part of the celebration was a trip to celebrate and explore nature. Tragically after finding a beautiful pool of water, Efe did not make it to the island the group was swimming toward. My heart still breaks on so many levels… for the young men who were with Efe and tried to save him. For Efe’s parents, who lost their beautiful boy. To so many, who lost that moment of magic and excitement; and had it replaced with the reality of how fragile life really is.
I remember the next day feeling the need to go to Efe’s parents. My daughter went with me; my son was unable to in his grief. I have been with many at time of tragic loss. Experience does not make it any easier. Hearing Efe’s parents cries and lament and questions was so difficult. I had no answers or fixes… no one did. I just sat with them and listened. I continued to listen… and to this day, still do. Through Efe’s death, my relationship with his parents has deepened. Efe and my son were to be roommates at college the following Fall. I consider Efe one of my borrowed sons. Every milestone my son has, I think of Efe. I think of Efe have that same milestone if he were with us. I imagine this year, Efe would have graduated from college. He was so motivated and excited about college. He was so ready to cease his future and dreamed up a big house on a hill.
I remember the last real interaction we had was a couple weeks before he died. He and my son were in an Ultimate Frisbee finals game for the Western Regionals. The game was so close and everyone put their hearts out on the field. In the end; our team lost by one point. All our players were devastated. Efe with his big heart and fierce passion on the field was sobbing. I walked up to him after the team finished their post game talk. Efe fell into my Mama Bear arms. I told him how proud I was of all he gave during the game. He sobbed and through those tears made a pledge to me, that he had hopes and dreams and wanted to do things in college. He wanted to make some changes and become more focused. I just held him as he spoke all this. And I had great faith he was going to make the most of his future.
I remember the morning I went to see his parents after the day of his death. In the grief, his mother was wondering what was his life about; wondering why on so many levels. My daughter heard this depth of grief. When we left, my daughter asked me if that is what I do. I didn’t understand at first and then realized, she just watched me do what I am called to do… sit with people and listen and hold their pain and loss and grief. I realized my daughter just had a glimpse into who I am and what I do. I said, yes… there is a purpose and a need for this.
I worked to create a memorial service at the high school to help all who loved Efe come together to grieve and remember. Most of all, I created a service to help Efe’s parents. It was just a few days after Efe’s death and that first morning, when his mother was not sure what Efe’s life had been for. As multitudes of friends spoke about Efe, and what he meant in their life; and how they will carry on his spirit, Efe’s mother decided to speak. Something changed in the days since the initial shock. She had soaked in all the affirmations of the value of Efe’s life, and she stated publicly she now understood there was purpose and meaning for Efe’s life; even as short as it was. She shared about the love that created Efe; and as she spoke of his birth, and his name, and his life; her voice got stronger. She was still grieving, AND she was empowered in her grief to remember there was purpose and meaning for Efe’s life.
After she spoke my daughter looked at me and we shared the moment. Later my daughter shared how amazing it was to hear Efe’s mother speak, and how she would never have imagined his mother could do that the morning we visited after Efe’s death.
I shared with my daughter that is why I do what I do. I can’t fix pain and loss. I can’t make people find their strength. But I have faith they will; and often just need someone to walk along side of them as they figure it all out and find their voice, once again.
My heart still aches for Efe; and the loss of seeing what he would do in the unfolding chapters of his life. His photos are on my family wall. More so, his fierce, passionate, fiery, brave soul is forever etched in my heart. I miss him.
Four years ago many hearts were shattered. And the broken, shattered hearts provided cracked open spaces to show the light, and bind the hearts back together even stronger… to remember; and to carry on.
My prayers this night:
For Efe… as he continues to be at a peace. I will only understand that peace when I join him.
For Efe’s parents and their continued broken hearts; and their continued strength as they find voice and meaning.
For Efe’s friends and family; may his spirit continue to inspire them as they follow their journey.
May it be so…