Death is an interesting thing. It’s something that most fear greatly, and yet it is also something that there’s no getting around. The other day we were driving with our friend Whitney when she got a call. After talking for some time, she hung up and told us that it was her sister’s old boyfriend. Her sister, Bailey, died last year. Whitney and Bailey were very close, as they were only a few years apart and the only girls in the family.
Whitney told us about how they used to sing the Backstreet Boys together when they were cleaning and how they would have dance competitions on the weekends.
Bailey’s boyfriend still calls the family to check in and see how they’re doing, although he refuses to return to their home, where Bailey is buried. For some time after Bailey’s death, her boyfriend would call Whitney just to hear her say “Hello” in a voice almost identical to Bailey’s.
Whitney told us how once, when Bailey and this boyfriend were separated for a short time, Bailey heard “So Sick of Love Songs” by Ne-Yo on their favorite R&B radio station and the two belted the lyrics that Bailey could relate to so well at the time. For some time after Bailey’s death, Whitney couldn’t listen to this song, or that radio station, without crying.
Bailey and her boyfriend dated for 3 years and he had told Whitney that he was going to propose to Bailey on Valentine’s Day. That same Valentine’s Day was the day that Bailey was buried.
Whitney told us how finally, after a few months, her mother turned the radio on to the R&B station. Whitney protested, but her mother said it was time to go back to normal and continue loving R&B. She said Whitney could cry over it one more time, and then she must move on.
Bailey’s funeral was very hard on her boyfriend; he tried to drown himself in the well and had to be held back by relatives and friends. During the burial, he was taken into the city and was only brought back once the body was covered and in the ground. He spent the entire night weeping on her grave.
Whitney told us this and then laughed and sang “So Sick of Love Songs.” We asked her why she was laughing, and she said “I just can’t believe it’s real. It’s just a soap opera to me.” It’s so crazy it can’t be real life. Except it is real life.
A sister of mine gave me a quote to take with me on my trip: “Life is a whim of several billion cells coming together to be you for a while.” Cells came together to be Bailey for a while, loving a boyfriend and singing R&B with a sister, before ending in a soap opera. When you think about it, this quote places a lot of pressure on us: we have this one set of cells, that could become a soap opera at any time, to live the “whim” of life. We have to make these cells mean something, we have to make these cells remembered, whether it is through a kind act or through R&B songs. What is even harder is that we must do this knowing that we too might not get our Valentine’s Day.
But rather than being discouraged by this, I think of Whitney, whose semblance of cells have a kind of resilience that is indescribable. I think of Whitney, who keeps singing Ne-Yo and can laugh about the soap opera of life. I think of Whitney and want my “whim of several billion cells coming together” to be like hers.