When You Were Young


The gift of youth comes equipped with all kinds of standard features: strength, desire, persistence, and tenacity. For some, it comes with a few premium options as well: passion to strive toward a goal, brave abandon, spontaneity, and the feeling of invincibility. When you are young, the world is your playground, and nothing seems impossible to accomplish. Friends are loyal and family will always be around to support you. Death is the furthest reality from your mind. Youth, by and large, harbors a heroic heart.

Cancer, however, does not respect youth. Cancer respects no one. It is indiscriminate and attacks all races, both genders, all social classes and every personality with the same hatred and disdain for human life that the devil possesses. Cancer is a bastard.  It can torture the young for decades or claim the elderly within months. It has no heart.

Laura Smith was the mother of three children. A devoted wife dedicated to her family, she worked hard for my entire life. Laura was a pillar of strength in my world. She encouraged me to go after my dreams, when I was lost, and she cheered for me, as my biggest fan when my talents began to rise to the surface. You see, my momma knew I was destined to become a writer, long before anyone ever saw it. And, although we had our differences from time to time, I never envisioned a time when I would go on without her.

Cancer had different plans. From the time of her diagnosis, I failed to grasp the gravity of what we – the family – were about to endure. While eight months may seem like a lifetime to impetuous youth, it turned out to be a mere blink of the eye, for the Smith family. Cancer ravaged her from the inside out, reducing my once strong mother into a helpless victim, seemingly overnight, before claiming her. You can’t understand the pain of watching a loved one die by cancer, unless you’ve personally experienced it. It changes you forever.

One of the hardest lessons cancer taught me was this: no one is invincible. Once you’ve accepted that cold hard fact, the light of youth begins to fade from your eyes. Reckless abandon becomes careful planning. Spontaneous glory seeking often times is shelved indefinitely. Goals change from absurd to practical.

Here’s a truth we won’t be told by doctors. Cancer doesn’t just kill the body. It also kills the spirit of loved ones, forcing them to rearrange life to accommodate the gaping hole left by its presence. Sure, life goes on. But, it drastically changes. Youth are forced to face mortality head on, in the wake of cancer’s very personal visit. The old are strong-armed into a life of remembrance, reflection and reasoning as they learn to live on without.

Right now, the family of Rickey Shipp understand exactly what I’m talking about. For them, cancer isn’t just the incurable disease that claimed another victim. For the wife left behind, and the three grown children learning to go on without daddy, cancer’s visit was very personal. 59years old is just too early to meet the Lord, in my opinion. It’s the age in which grandchildren are just learning to adore Papa. It’s the age in which husband and wife should be making plans to rekindle the flames of youthful love, now that the house has become a nest egg. It’s the age when Godly men nurture youthful Christian men, destined to become great, under his guidance. It’s the age to look up and be thankful for the hard times gone by, because you see the fruits of your labor in the personalities of your blessed children, who have grown into fine young men and women. The Shipp family will endure sleepless nights. Banner days won’t be celebrated as grand, without Rickey in attendance. The very meaning of life may even come into question.

How do I know all of this, without spending a day with the Shipp family? I know, because I’ve lived it. In some respects I still live it. My Momma won’t be here, to celebrate the release of my first book next year. She missed seeing her grandson sing hooks on key, for the Lord. She wasn’t alive when her daughter gave birth to a second son, or to see her youngest son become a father for the second time. We have a hole within our hearts than can never be filled by the same stuff it once housed.

But, God has a way of dulling the pain. He makes it tolerable, so that we might go on with our lives, in her honor. I live each day with the faith that my mother would be proud of the man I have become, and continue to grow into. I trust that God will comfort me in the days when I miss her fiercely. Most of all, I trust that the day will come, when I see her again through glorified eyes, because the Lord keeps his promises.

We are survivors of cancer: family left behind. While cancer’s unwelcomed attack may force us to consider death’s reality, I would say to all the survivors out there, fear not. We are never more alive, than when we face our own mortality. Once we see death for what it truly is, we strive longer, push harder, change quicker and move faster toward that which drives us. Beloved Shipp family, our loved ones may be gone from our physical presence, but their spirit lives on within us. The hurt and pain you feel will never truly die. Instead, use it to honor our loved ones by living your lives to the fullest! After all, this is what they would have wanted for us. Remember when you were young, and live your new lives the best way you know how.

On behalf of the Ennis Smith family, you have our condolences for your loss…

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