COLUMN: Questions of death and life return to us all

By Juanita Gambrell Floyd

During the second week of June, our family once again had to deal with the agony of pain and death. On Monday, I received a phone call from my sister telling me that our cousin, Larry, who was only 38 years old, had died suddenly. Death, once more, entered into our ranks and broke the circle of life.
On Tuesday, my sisters and I were in Hattiesburg at Camp Shelby with our nephew, Steven Wade, who was preparing to leave for Iraq. Then on Friday, our family traveled to Illinois to attend our cousin’s funeral. What a week!
While attending the departing ceremony for the 155th National Guard Infantry, I looked at the nearly 3,500 soldiers standing erect and proud in the intense heat; yet, I still could feel the sadness that permeated the air. After the ceremony, I saw black, white, brown, and yellow families hugging and holding onto their loved ones in fear that they would never see them again. Parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, wives and others were sobbing. Little children were crying as they held on to their fathers or mothers.
In that moment, it hit me – I, too might not see my nephew again because of the war. The nephew, raised by my mother after the untimely death of his mother; the nephew who practically lived with me as a teenager; the nephew who made it his business to be at my house on Christmas Eve so he could help assemble and play with my children’s toys; the nephew, who without a doubt, loves his family; and the nephew, who loves this country. The pain radiated in my heart as I looked at him before his departure. Yet, pride shone in my eyes for his dedication and commitment to serve this great nation. I bowed my head and whispered a prayer for his and the other soldiers’ safe return to this land of the free and home of the brave.
On Saturday in Chicago, I sat in the electrifying atmosphere in the church during the homegoing service of my cousin, Larry. I listened to his father, Bishop Preston Raper, honor his son with these words: “As Larry grew up, he blessed others with the gifts God had given him … his ability to professionally play drums, skillfully play keyboard instruments, a gift of encouraging others…all of which he faithfully used to help others, whether individuals or churches. As his father I will greatly miss him; that smile, that laugh … I also realize that God had loaned him to me. When the funeral directors were about to remove Larry’s body from the emergency room, I bowed my head and closed my eyes and softly said, Lord, Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.’
“Lord, You gave Larry to us and now You have taken him away. Thank You for the 38 years You allowed him to be with us. I am not bitter toward You; I am not angry with You; and I am not going to leave You. I still love You and will continue to bless Your Name. Thank You, Lord, for Larry.”
Can you imagine the myriad of emotions that surged through my mind in that week? As I began to reflect on Raper’s words, I thought about his life – the loss of his parents, wife, daughter and son-in-law over a short period of time and now his son; yet he is not bitter.
Pastor Olu Brown said, “The longer I live, the more I realize life is filled with moments – moments of pain, moments of joy, moments of triumph and moments of defeat. The writer of Ecclesiastes said it best when life was described in the picture of time: There is a time for everything.”
In moments of despair and anguish – how do we really respond to issues dealing with life? Questions began to spin through my mind: Why does my child have to fight in a war? Why did my son, daughter, mother, father, husband or wife die? Why is life unfair? Why did this happen to me? Why, why, why?
Friends, when it’s our moment and time to face whatever life presents – how will we react? Will we be bitter and angry or will we be triumphant? You be the judge.

Contact community columnist Juanita Gambrell Floyd at her e-mail address,, or write to her in care of P.O. Box 1053, Tupelo, MS 38802.

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