I’ve struggled for some time now on how to start write this blog post. I didn’t want it to come across as ill-timed or unfitting. Writing can be so difficult when you have what feels like multitudinous amounts of ideas and thoughts in your head and you have no way of clearly or concisely communicating them. Especially when it is a highly emotionally charged subject matter. Each time I would start to write something, my heart would be heavy and ache for all those involved. This is also not completely my story to tell. So for now, I will tell a part of the story and in time, perhaps the words will come more freely to share the rest.
Riche’s Mom, Debra Whitlock, passed away on Good Friday, April 3, 2015 at her home at a very young age of 58. While I had the blessing of having known this woman for only a seemingly few short years during my time with Riche, Debra’s life has been one of passion, challenge and determination. Her passing came far too soon in life but in its own way, a blessing to finally give her the sense of peace that she so longed for in life.
In my time of knowing Debra (or affectionately known to her grandchildren as “Dee”), one thing was abundantly clear. She loved her boys – Corky, Riche, Aaron and Aiden – deeply. On many a conversation with Debra, she would tell me that one of her greatest wishes in life was that she had raised strong, loving and respectful young men. I can tell you with utmost certainty that she did just that. All of her boys are amazing men – each with their own unique personalities – but deep down, all respectful men that love and care for their individual and extended families. They are all very close and love each other deeply and for that, Debra should feel overwhelmingly proud. Debra also deeply loved her grandchildren – Anna, Brady and Avery. There was a moment when we were all with her at her home shortly before she passed. She was confined to her hospital bed at that point but would still have lucid moments of clarity. She wasn’t able to speak easily but still communicated so much emotion through her eyes and through a gentle squeeze of her hand. All of the grandchildren were gathered around her dining room table with one of Debra’s daughter-in-law’s Brandi, playing Monopoly. They were all laughing about something that had happened during the game. It was such a happy sound in the apartment after the last few days. I looked down at Debra and she opened her eyes and just looked at me and squeezed my hand. You could see the happiness as the corners of her mouth turned up into a smile. I cannot say for certain but to me she looked happy…happy to hear such joy. That is a moment I hadn’t shared until now and while it makes me tear up as I remember it fondly, it also makes me feel peace knowing that we could give her that gift.
I choose not to focus on the why’s and how’s of how a life could end so soon but instead celebrate the beauty, strength and love that she ultimately (and in her own way) passed on to her sons. I am so incredibly fortunate to have been introduced to this family and look forward to calling myself a Whitlock in just a few months.
A few weeks ago we held a memorial service in Murrell’s Inlet and Surfside Beach in Debra’s memory. We were able to scatter her ashes in her most memorable places from her childhood. As we stood in the creek bed at the Inlet in the soft mud under our feet, the soothing tide of the Inlet washed amongst our legs. We released white flowers and her final remains that were carried out to the ocean that she loved so much. As I stood in the water with Riche’s immediate family – his brothers, sister in laws, nieces and nephews – and with all of her extended family and friends on the dock behind us – I felt Debra’s presence. I prayed that peace and comfort carry her and that a hedge of comfort surround all of us that came to say goodbye.
One of the most memorable moments from the weekend and the one that I think would make Debra smile without end is when we went to the Surfside Pier with just the immediate family to release some of her remains. I brought four white lilies for each of the sons to release in the water. This picture will forever be one of my favorites. The four Whitlock men – standing side by side in support of one another – together remembering their Mother and honoring her in a most fitting way. Their tears, smiles and laughter carried out with the lilies over the water and with the tide.
As I went for a run just the other day, one of my favorite Coldplay songs came on my playlist and that’s when I finally felt ready to write this post. The song is “Now My Feet Won’t Touch the Ground” from the Prospekt’s March (2008) album. The first few stanza’s spoke to me in a different way than they had before.
Let me go
Boys, let me go
Push my boat from the highest cliff
To the sea below
Boys, rocks await
Swoop down from the sky and catch me
Like a bird of prey
Now my feet won’t touch the ground
Now my head won’t stop
You wait a lifetime
To be found
Now my feet won’t touch the ground
Like the tide going out to the ocean, we were able to let Debra go… to the sea below. While her passing will never be easy and there will be many days of grieving to come, I look at the man I love and his family and see what Debra hoped for. Men that loved one another and love their families. I shared with Debra in our final moments with her before Riche and I had to return to Atlanta, my thanks and appreciation for raising such an amazing man. I leaned my head near to hers and whispered my thanks. “Thank you for instilling these qualities in him. Thank you for sharing Riche with me. He is a blessing to me and I will forever be indebted.” She once again looked up at me and squeezed my hand ever so gently but in that moment, I know she could feel the love that I have for her son and that he does for me. In that moment and the rest to come, I could not imagine being anywhere else but there. Rest in peace Debra. Until we all meet again….