Six years ago my world was very different.
On this day six years ago I received a phone call I won’t ever forget. I could take you to the exact spot where I dropped to my knees and wept as my dad’s voice came over the phone.
“Sally, Joe Rex has been killed in a car accident.”
My youngest cousin, named for one of the elders at their church named Rex – a godly man who had been a positive influence in my aunt’s life. And “Joe,” a name my mom and my aunt had both liked for a boy.
Mama always said she had planned to name me “Joe Dan,” if I’d been a boy. Whew.
My cousin started going by his initials by the time he was in college, so most people who knew him later in life called him J.R. Some called him Joe, like I did most of the time. But at that moment, hearing my dad say “Joe Rex” made his name sound even more precious.
I suspect that’s the way it is right now for the families and friends of those killed in Orlando. Pet names, names that only your mama called you when she meant business, names that only those closest to you know become sacred.
You find yourself saying those names over and over.
You remember random moments you shared.
Like the time I was ten, he was five, and he got scared in the night. He came and crawled in bed with me and we talked about his favorite rides at Six Flags until he fell asleep.
The night he and I sat at the dining room table after eating Christmas leftovers, when Joe was in college and introduced me to Garth Brooks’ song, “The Dance.”
Or my first conversation with him, when he was just an infant lying on a blanket on the couch in our den. I remembered how innocently, how honestly my six year old self told him that I didn’t know what to say to a baby, so I just kept talking. He stopped crying, never taking his eyes off of me, and soon he was grinning and cooing at me.
A day doesn’t pass that I don’t think of Joe. We don’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving that I don’t grin at how aggravated I got at him for wanting to put the ketchup bottle on the nicely set table every year!
When death comes suddenly the grief is different. Even more so when it comes as the result of violence.
I didn’t need to hear anyone from the outside assessing or analyzing the circumstances of my cousin’s death. Especially if they didn’t know Joe.
I suspect the same is true for those who lost loved ones in Orlando.
So may the rest of us simply be willing to stand by. Give blood. Take casseroles and cakes. But please be patient and tender and kind as we grieve our losses.
Because it will take awhile for us to adjust to our world being so different.