It is hard enough for adults to come to terms with the death of a young person. So let’s embrace and counsel the Flowers High School students grieving the loss of their classmate, Amber Stanley, 17, killed in her home Wednesday.
Through the drug wars of the 1990s we lost a lot of youths. Their friends left behind, grieving, would mourn without sufficient — or professional — counsel for years. One of my sisters plastered her bedroom walls with
the funeral programs from friends, schoolmates and neighbors killed. When I finally took time to reflect on the losses of my loved ones, I realized that grief could be quite exacting. I also regretted that we, as a community, had not helped our young people manage their grief beyond offering poignant philosophies at funerals. “They got their wings early,” we told them. “They finished their race and went home to be with the Lord.”
Back then, many young people took grief management into their own hands, erecting curbside shrines of stuffed animals, toys and posters at the site of the slaying. They created T-shirts with the names of all their lost loved ones scribbled in rainbow colors. They decorated skullcaps and baseball caps in honor of their fallen friends.
When I was 18, I lost two of my close friends to execution-style murders. One of them, Billy, had given me my first kiss. He was found shot in the head, and six months later, his brother, Everett, who had tried to avenge Billy’s death, was found bound and shot. I felt angry and resentful — angry with them for succumbing to “the underground economy.” Angry, also, at our parents — and adults in general — for failing to better safeguard our neighborhoods. I managed to stay focused enough to get into college and identify a career path. But when my role model, a young uncle who, like Amber, had been a promising standout, died, the grief became disorienting.
Uncle Hussein had graduated at age 14 as valedictorian from a Nation of Islam school. He had gone on to George Washington University, where he majored in pre-med and graduated salutatorian of his department. Watching him die from multiple sclerosis seemed to me even more senseless than losing my buddies felled by bullets. Death makes no sense when you’re grieving.
Schools usually send in grief counselors for a week or so to speak with the students who seek help. If my own experiences were any indication, most students won’t realize that the knot of anger and edginess within them may be related to their unacknowledged grief. Adults who know better must offer comfort, consoling and good counsel beyond the funeral services.
Amber was a role model. Her murder may leave some of her friends, classmates and neighbors dizzy for a while. We have to carry her torch rather than instinctively feel defeated.
Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery is a contributing writer for The Root D.C. She is also author of “Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam” and “Do Me Twice: My Life After Islam.” Follow her on Twitter @Sonsyrea.
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