For Pryce

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Pryce,

You don’t know me. You’ve probably never even heard the name Ennis Smith cross the lips or roll through the voice of your dad. That’s because he and I never hung out together. Despite that fact, I think there was respect between the two of us because we were friends. Whenever we did see each other, in or outside of school, there was nothing but love: a pound; maybe a fist bump; a, “What up, Ennis?” in that trademark voice of his, followed by my own, “What up, Whimp?”. There was never any animosity between your dad and I. He was one of the coolest, most down-to-earth cats I ever knew. A testament to that will be the shear number of friends who will–and have already–paid their respects to your family, in his honor.

One memory that comes to mind is my senior prom. On the night of prom, your dad and I–along with our dates for the evening– shared a white limousine, to the Pontchartrain in Downtown Detroit, where legendary DJ Waxtax-N Dre would cut the Ones-N-Twos all night long. The four of us were all decked out in white and ready to celebrate. As soon as we arrived, the two couples split up to enjoy the atmosphere and the music. It was a good night. I can also remember bumping into him one or twice in Downtown nightclubs, back in my 20’s, when I would come home from college to party. He was a good brother, and judging by the many photos I’ve seen of you two together, he must’ve been an awesome dad.

Cancer is no respecter of persons, Pryce. It doesn’t discriminate. There was nothing your dad did to bring this beast into his life. It does what it does, and leaves a hole in our hearts after its damage is complete. I know personally, because 10 years ago I watched it take my Mom away from me. Eight months between diagnosis and death. There are no words of true comfort that can ease the pain of your loss, young brother. Folks will try their best. You have to understand they will genuinely want to help you through the difficult time. They will mean well, so try not to get angry at any of the well-wishers that pass through your life in these following days. I tell you that, because I really do understand what you’re going to face. I know about the different emotions you’ll struggle with.

I can promise you this, Pryce: the brokeness; that hole in your heart will mend in time. For me personally, I cursed God for allowing my Mom to die at a young age. But, somehow, in spite of my anger and rage at him, he walked me through that pain and actually drew me near to him for healing. I would probably still be mad today, if not for his love and patience. I don’t know if you’re ready to hear or process that, but what I want you to understand is that in time, the pain of loss will dull. You’ll have that one piece of your heart that will forever belong to your dad, but it just won’t hurt so much. We never forget our parents, when we lose them, but in time the pain goes away and is replaced by all the great moments, laughs and memories we shared with them.

My bible teaches me that Fathers are the spiritual heads of the household, so I’d like to think that you and your Mom are going to be okay, young brother. Pryce, I’d be willing to bet that your dad prayed for you and your Mom while he was with us. And men don’t pray unless they believe in God. So, I’d like to think he’s living peacefully with the Lord. The bible teaches that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. It also teaches that Jesus wipes away every tear, in heaven. I hope the day will come when you realize that he’s not gone forever. He’s waiting, young brother. That’s the encouragement I want to leave with you. He’s waiting, Pryce; waiting to see you again.

Pryce, on behalf of the Smith family, you have my condolences and my deepest sympathy for your loss. Your dad was a good man, who has my respect to this day.

Sincerely,

Ennis

When You Were Young

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The gift of youth comes equipped with all kinds of standard features: strength, desire, persistence, and tenacity. For some, it comes with a few premium options as well: passion to strive toward a goal, brave abandon, spontaneity, and the feeling of invincibility. When you are young, the world is your playground, and nothing seems impossible to accomplish. Friends are loyal and family will always be around to support you. Death is the furthest reality from your mind. Youth, by and large, harbors a heroic heart.

Cancer, however, does not respect youth. Cancer respects no one. It is indiscriminate and attacks all races, both genders, all social classes and every personality with the same hatred and disdain for human life that the devil possesses. Cancer is a bastard.  It can torture the young for decades or claim the elderly within months. It has no heart.

Laura Smith was the mother of three children. A devoted wife dedicated to her family, she worked hard for my entire life. Laura was a pillar of strength in my world. She encouraged me to go after my dreams, when I was lost, and she cheered for me, as my biggest fan when my talents began to rise to the surface. You see, my momma knew I was destined to become a writer, long before anyone ever saw it. And, although we had our differences from time to time, I never envisioned a time when I would go on without her.

Cancer had different plans. From the time of her diagnosis, I failed to grasp the gravity of what we – the family – were about to endure. While eight months may seem like a lifetime to impetuous youth, it turned out to be a mere blink of the eye, for the Smith family. Cancer ravaged her from the inside out, reducing my once strong mother into a helpless victim, seemingly overnight, before claiming her. You can’t understand the pain of watching a loved one die by cancer, unless you’ve personally experienced it. It changes you forever.

One of the hardest lessons cancer taught me was this: no one is invincible. Once you’ve accepted that cold hard fact, the light of youth begins to fade from your eyes. Reckless abandon becomes careful planning. Spontaneous glory seeking often times is shelved indefinitely. Goals change from absurd to practical.

Here’s a truth we won’t be told by doctors. Cancer doesn’t just kill the body. It also kills the spirit of loved ones, forcing them to rearrange life to accommodate the gaping hole left by its presence. Sure, life goes on. But, it drastically changes. Youth are forced to face mortality head on, in the wake of cancer’s very personal visit. The old are strong-armed into a life of remembrance, reflection and reasoning as they learn to live on without.

Right now, the family of Rickey Shipp understand exactly what I’m talking about. For them, cancer isn’t just the incurable disease that claimed another victim. For the wife left behind, and the three grown children learning to go on without daddy, cancer’s visit was very personal. 59years old is just too early to meet the Lord, in my opinion. It’s the age in which grandchildren are just learning to adore Papa. It’s the age in which husband and wife should be making plans to rekindle the flames of youthful love, now that the house has become a nest egg. It’s the age when Godly men nurture youthful Christian men, destined to become great, under his guidance. It’s the age to look up and be thankful for the hard times gone by, because you see the fruits of your labor in the personalities of your blessed children, who have grown into fine young men and women. The Shipp family will endure sleepless nights. Banner days won’t be celebrated as grand, without Rickey in attendance. The very meaning of life may even come into question.

How do I know all of this, without spending a day with the Shipp family? I know, because I’ve lived it. In some respects I still live it. My Momma won’t be here, to celebrate the release of my first book next year. She missed seeing her grandson sing hooks on key, for the Lord. She wasn’t alive when her daughter gave birth to a second son, or to see her youngest son become a father for the second time. We have a hole within our hearts than can never be filled by the same stuff it once housed.

But, God has a way of dulling the pain. He makes it tolerable, so that we might go on with our lives, in her honor. I live each day with the faith that my mother would be proud of the man I have become, and continue to grow into. I trust that God will comfort me in the days when I miss her fiercely. Most of all, I trust that the day will come, when I see her again through glorified eyes, because the Lord keeps his promises.

We are survivors of cancer: family left behind. While cancer’s unwelcomed attack may force us to consider death’s reality, I would say to all the survivors out there, fear not. We are never more alive, than when we face our own mortality. Once we see death for what it truly is, we strive longer, push harder, change quicker and move faster toward that which drives us. Beloved Shipp family, our loved ones may be gone from our physical presence, but their spirit lives on within us. The hurt and pain you feel will never truly die. Instead, use it to honor our loved ones by living your lives to the fullest! After all, this is what they would have wanted for us. Remember when you were young, and live your new lives the best way you know how.

On behalf of the Ennis Smith family, you have our condolences for your loss…