My nephew Billy Joe Osborne died unexpectedly last month. November 23rd to be exact. It was what began as an ordinary Monday morning for us: Morning coffee, Bible reading, preparing for the work week that lay ahead. But then the call came, telling us of Billy’s death, and everything changed.
Time on this earth was over for Billy. And time for the rest of us to tell him how much we loved him was over too. What had been said between us would be seared in our memories, and what had been unsaid would forever loom in the corner of our subconscious…in the Land of What If.
What if my last conversation with him had been different?
What if I could have brought myself to say I’m sorry.
What if… what if… what if…
The Great Leveler
Death is the great leveler. It jolts us back to the reality of our frailness as human beings. It reminds us, that God, not us is the driver’s seat.
“And which of you by worrrying, can add a single hour to your life?” -Matthew 6:27
And so death brings us back to what matters most. It causes us to reflect, reevaluate, and reminisce.
Reflect and Reevaluate
In a recent Facebook Post, my son Jeremy reflected and challenged us all to reevaluate:
Traveling back home from Paris,TN with my sister. It’s been a very long and exhausting two days, both mentally and physically. As I sit here in the plane I am left with time to reflect. I am not proud that I have allowed so much time to pass between visits with my family. I am reminded by my cousin Billy’s passing, just how precious it is to savor the time we have with loved ones. I made a promise to my cousins and aunt while there to return sooner than later. My Aunt Evon hit it on the head when she hugged me goodbye, she said ” please come back soon. I don’t want your next visit to be my funeral.” I don’t want that either. So I am announcing this to ALL my family. Goff’s, Osborne’s, and Monroe’s you will be hearing from me soon. Please help me with coordinating a family reunion. Pease don’t wait till it’s too late.-Jeremy Goff, Billy’s Cousin/My Son
And Billy’s niece, Cassandra Rainey’s reflection, touched all of our hearts:
As I sit here mourning the loss of my Uncle, whom was like the big brother I never had,I am reminiscing about all the times we sat up all night long on the phone, the times we would email each other gross pictures to see who would get grossed out first, the times we had watching boxing matches on tv together and of course the many Chicago Bears games, all of the times we would at last minute decide we needed a visit and would drive so many hours so I could see him and his amazing family, all the times he was there for me and my life experiences! He was a great uncle and cared so much for his family. With Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow I am so grateful to be alive and for the family I do have but I can’t help but to think how my Uncle was supposed to be spending tonight with me and helping us cook dinner and the football games we couldn’t wait to watch together tomorrow. This is going to be a rough holiday this year! I didn’t just lose an uncle or a big brother this week…. I also lost one of my best friends. Between the wreck my husband and I had in July, this loss, and the many other things that seemed to have happened in our lives it really makes you put you priorities in line.-Cassandra Rainey, Billy’s Niece
In my work in hospice, and as a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, I have learned that whether expected or unexpected, death catches most of us by surprise. Partly because we have an eternal hope within us that makes us feel like we will live forever, and partly because we, as fallen creatures all too frequently don’t keep our relationships as current, and completely resolved as they need to be, and we always think we have one more day to make things right between us and those that we love.
Emotional Incompleteness is an all too common experience for those who grieve. It occurs, because we are complex beings with a wide range of emotions, motives, and intentions. So we say things we sometimes don’t mean to say. Or we don’t say things, we should say. So when death removes all chances of reconciling the said and unsaid, incompleteness is the unhappy result.
In the Grief Recovery Program, we spend a lot of time exploring and working on bringing those dealing with the loss of a loved one to emotional completeness. Millions have found that the devastating pain of grief is alleviated, once an individual has worked through their emotional incompleteness with the deceased.
Perhaps because Billy was so young when he died (44 years), or perhaps because Billy had a bright, personable, passionate personality, those of us who loved him, always thought there would be time to say what needed to be said, or fix those little things between us that needed to be fixed. But death took that opportunity away from us.
When a loved one dies, we need to remember to be gentle with ourselves. We are not perfect, and the one we loved who died was not perfect. We are all just fallen creatures trying to do the best we can.
I wrote the following poem for Billy and read it at his funeral. Perhaps there is something in what it says that will minister to you.
By Debbie Simler-Goff
Life is a vapor
Like steam in a kettle… It’s here awhile and then gone.
Some of our vapors last longer than others. But eventually each of our vapors will disappear.
Billy’s vapor lasted 44 years. And in those 44 years,
He rooted for the Bears…
He tasted success…
And knew the pain of failure..
In short, He lived life.
Billy knew what it was to belong to a family who cared.
A family that loved hard…
And fought hard.
A family that cared enough to call you out…
Instead of looking the other way.
And Billy knew what it was to fall in love.
To fall in love with his mother the first time she held him in her arms.
To fall in love with his brother and his sister the first time he felt that unique Osborne camaraderie that cannot be explained, but only experienced.
To fall in love with the women who shared his life.
To fall in love with each of his sons the moment they were born.
He lived life.
It is Billy’s vapor that has drawn us here today. To remember him. To honor him. And to acknowledge the mingling of his vapor with our own.
Sometimes, Billy’s vapor made us smile.
And sometimes Billy’s vapor brought tears to our eyes.
But mostly, Billy’s vapor reminded us that we all are a mixture of sunlight and shadows. That there is the good, and the not-so-good in each of us. And that sometimes, the superhero in us wins. And sometimes he doesn’t.
So when you remember Billy, remember him, as you would want to be remembered.
Remember the good times,and not the bad.
Remember the “I love you’s”, and not the “How could you’s?”
Remember his additions,and not his subtractions.
Remember his strengths, and not his weaknesses.
Remember his successes, and not his failures.
Remember his laughter, and not his sadness
Remember his love, and not his apathy.
And in so doing, you will be preserving the best part of his vapor. The part he always intended you to remember. The part that his children, and his children’s children would want you to remember.
And as you grieve, and reflect on the mingling of your vapor with Billy’s:
Remember your good times, and not the bad.
Remember your “I love you’s, and not your “How Could you’s?”
Remember your additions, and not your subtractions.
Remember your strengths, and not your weaknesses.
Remember your successes,and not your failures.
Remember your laughter,and not your sadness.
Remember your love, and your apathy.
Because life is a vapor…
It is like steam in a kettle, here a little while and then gone away.