By DeShuna Spencer
Like many of you, instead of enjoying the unseasonably warm February weather on Saturday, I spent four hours cooped up in my house watching the funeral of Whitney Houston on CNN. Any of my close friends and family will tell you that I'm not the emotional type, but I wept during the funeral. I didn't know her personally, but I felt like I was one of the 1,500 people sitting in the New Hope Baptist Church pew. I saw similarities of family members and friends who died tragically within her story. Since learning of Whitney's passing, I have been mediating on her life. I wondered if more could have been done to save her. Over the years, whenever I saw negative articles or pictures of her online, I took time out of my day to say a little prayer for her. I was really pulling for her. I truly believed that she would eventually get over her issues, but it was not to be. Her life and untimely death was as heartbreaking as any tragedy William Shakespeare or Tyler Perry could ever write. Yet, even in the most unimaginable tragedy lies a lesson or two.
Love the Living
The speeches given by the people who knew Whitney the most were honest, heartfelt and sometimes chilling. She was obviously loved. I had no idea that Kevin Costner stuck his neck out to give Whitney the starring role in the Bodyguard or that she offered to sing back up on the tour of gospel group BeBe and CeCe Winans during the height of her career. As wonderful as those stories were, I kept wondering if she felt as loved while alive.
I hate funerals, so much so that I have already told my family that when I die (hopefully when I'm old and in my sleep), I do not want them spending thousands of dollars on flowers, a casket, a burial plot and the other items needed to "put someone away right." They can cremate me and scatter my ashes in an ocean. If they want to have some type of memorial, they can do so at someone's home or at a restaurant, no need for the fanfare. Let's face it. Funerals are for the living, not the dead. The person lying in the casket can't hear the fond memories of loved ones or smell the flowers placed next to them. Funerals are designed for those left behind to get some type of closure from a death (if there's such a thing).
When I was younger, I was petty. I would get bothered and depressed about little things. I used to take minor incidents that people said or did as a way to cut them off. When I was a freshman in college, my boyfriend was notorious for having a weakness for other women, and he started getting into a lifestyle that I didn't agree with. We argued all of the time about it, including during our last conversation. I spent most of my freshman year trying to save him. The day that I left my dorm for the summer, I got fed up and I made a conscious decision to take a break from the drama and stop praying for him. I went home to Memphis and we didn't speak for weeks. Then I got a phone call saying that he was murdered in a drug deal gone wrong. I was devastated. I had never cried so hard and so deeply for someone. He was only 19 years old. Looking back on that tragedy in my life, I can't believe that I stopping praying for him. What was I thinking? I'm not saying that I caused his death, after all he made some poor choices in his life, but there was nothing that he did to me that was so appalling that should have caused me to stop praying for him. It's been said that hindsight is 20/20. If only I had known how his life would have ended, I would have worked even harder to keep him alive and I would have at least let our last conversation be drama free. Unfortunately we don't have the luxury of knowing when someone will pass. The lesson in Whitney's death is to always show the people we love how much we truly love them while they can still hear you. Also, we should never give up on the "lost souls" in our lives. I gave up on my boyfriend. I don't know how hard Whitney's inner circle worked to save her so I can't speak for them. But I can speak for my own life. We all know one person—an uncle, classmate, friend, or cousin—who is gliding on the fringes of life; the one who we expect to get a phone call about in the middle of the night. We know that everyone can't be saved, but you never know the difference a phone call, a prayer or an unexpected visit can make. Let's never give up on the ones struggling with their inner demons.
Learn to Love Yourself
I was surprised to learn that Whitney had doubts about her looks and her abilities. As beautiful and as talented as she was, even Whitney felt as if she wasn't good enough. When we see celebrities with extraordinary gifts, it's easy to assume that they have no fears or insecurities and that their egos drive their success. But they're regular people just like us who face personal demons everyday as we do. Our vice may not be drugs or alcohol, but it could be an overindulgence of food, chain smoking, staying in an abuse relationship or self-mutilation. These are all forms of self-hatred. On the OWN Network, they aired the 2009 interview Oprah had with Whitney. She candidly shared how extensive her drug use was. There was a time when she smoked marijuana laced in "cocaine rock" every day. While the rest of the world viewed Whitney's voice as a national treasure, unfortunately she was destroying it with every puff. It's like Janet Jackson severely self-mutilating her dancing legs or author Alice Walker chopping off her writing fingers. I saw a clip of Whitney's performance with Kelly Price two days before she died. Her once angelic voice was raspy and obviously damaged. The day of her funeral, Whitney's vocal coach was interviewed saying that he was shocked at the condition of her voice. It made be think back to the Oprah interview. Whitney said that when she was using drugs heavily she never considered her voice. She had already been around the world and accomplished her wildest dreams. In her mind, there was nothing else to prove. Even though we were praying for her to come back, she had given up on herself. When I was in elementary school, Whitney's song "The Greatest Love of All" resonated with me. I was the children of the future she was talking about at time, even when I didn't see my future being bright. I've had issues with loving myself. As a child, I was depressed and wanted to die. I didn't think I was good enough or pretty enough or smart enough. I used to do things to myself as "punishment" whenever I thought I did something wrong. It was a twisted way to think...I know. After years of struggling mentally, I eventually overcame my inner demons. As an adult, life has actually gotten more stressful for me, but surprisingly I'm much happier. What's so sad about Whitney's death is the fact that she never fully conquered her inner demons. When did she forget the part of the song that said: "...learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." It's not my place to judge her, so I won’t. We have all done things that are not what’s best for us. HIV is the leading cause of death among young black women, yet many still let it slide and allow their partners to go in without a rubber. We all know that blacks are more likely to get diabetes than their white counterparts, yet we still overeat and take in food that's unhealthy. It's a fact; seat belts save lives, but blacks and Latinos are least likely to wear them. If we look at our own lives, we can all do a better job at loving ourselves.
We always look at celebrities as if they don't have real problems because they're rich and famous. During the funeral, Whitney's longtime bodyguard and brother-in-law, Ray Watson, talked about how as consumers and fans, we should respect and love artists more instead of putting them down. He said Whitney loved her fans. So can you image how she felt when she saw gossip bloggers and fans ridiculing her. We can be so fickle; one day we’re praising you, and the next we’re judging you. One day you're viewed as being at the top of our game, and after one misstep, the next minute you're seen as a "has-been." Whether it's a friend on Facebook or a reporter at one of the big name publications, I've read my fair share of conspiracy theories and judgmental remarks on the cause of Whitney death and whether or not it was Bobby Brown's fault. After a while, I stopped reading all of the derogatory comments on Whitney and the incriminating articles on Bobby Brown. Sometimes I think we get wrapped up in the drama-filled lives of celebrities in order to mask our own shortcomings. I have too many of my own problems to be concerned with Kim Kardashian's short wedding, whether or not Rihanna and Chris Brown are back together or if Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s prevented other parents from seeing their new babies when they rented a floor of a hospital. Who cares? It's their lives, not mine. While African Americans are enduring record unemployment and minority children are being left behind in the classroom, why is my timeline on Facebook inundated with drawn out discussions about some celebrity? What a different world this would be if we spent as much time debating issues that truly impact our lives than we do gossiping about some celebrity or reality “star”.
As the pallbearers lifted Whitney’s casket out of the church at the conclusion of the funeral, I was overcome with sadness, but I also felt a new sense of self-awareness. The truth is we will all die one day. I know, it’s a scary thought. But knowing that our time is limited, whether we live to be 48 (like Whitney Houston) or 88, I don’t want to waste any of it. With all of Whitney’s struggles in life, she did a lot of things right. Despite the anxieties she had with her looks, she still agreed to pose for the cover of Seventeen Magazine. Even though she felt she wasn’t good enough, Whitney still took a risk and auditioned for the Bodyguard. How many of us can say that we push our insecurities aside to pursue our dreams. Even with her passing away at 48, she reached every career goal she set out for herself? When our time is up, will be people be able to say that about us?
We only get one shot at this life. There’s no do over. So we should make it our goal to love ourselves and cherish the people closest to us. Our lives should be mission-driven pursuing every passion and dream God put us on this earth to do. So my challenge for you today is to evaluate your own lives and relationships. What dreams do you want to accomplish? How will you treat yourself and your loved ones for now on? And most importantly, how do you want to be remembered?
DeShuna Spencer is publisher of emPower magazine.