By HAILEY WILLIAMS
I don’t remember a lot about the party, except that we were having a good time. It was a gorgeous night. The stars were out, we had a bonfire going, and everyone was glad that freshman year was coming to an end. My best friend, Eva, and I sat on the patio near the fire pit, the flames casting warm orange lights across our faces as we watched our friends in the pool.
We were enjoying a comfortable silence, or at least I thought we were. I was happy. Eva wasn’t. I should’ve been able to see it on her face.
“I need you to pray for Doc Harris. I think she might die soon,” she told me with an unwavering voice.
It was one of those moments when the world just stopped moving. The splashing in the pool had faded to white noise. My heart dropped to my stomach. I couldn’t speak. It was like all the wind had been knocked out of me.
Eva stood up and walked away. I couldn’t move.
I knew Eva’s mom was sick, but not that type of sick. My heart broke instantly for my best friend and her mom, who had become my mom too.
Doctor Joy Harris was one of those people that lit up a room. Not only was she one of the happiest people I’ve ever met but also one of the most compassionate and loving. The day I started the sixth grade with Eva, she became my second mom. My mom was late picking my brother and I up from school, so Doc H took us into her classroom and fed us popcorn and made us laugh until my mom could get there. Eventually, she and Eva became my closest friends. I could tell her anything and she would give me advice. From disagreements I was having with my real family to my first crush, Doc H had heard it all. She always helped me with anything I needed her for as best as she could. She called me her third daughter and treated me as if I was her own.
The day after the party, I learned that Doc H had been battling with cancer for as long as I had known her. For years, even after spending so much time with her, I didn’t know. I asked if I could visit her, and Eva’s dad respectfully told me that it was probably better for everyone if I didn’t come to see her. She was spending her last days at home in a hospital bed, had lost her hair, and looked very weak. He said that she didn’t want me to remember her that way. All I could do was leave a “Thinking of You” Hallmark in their mailbox.
Two weeks later, in Spanish class, the world stopped again. I got a text from a friend. All it said was, “Did you hear about Mrs. Harris?”
Doc H had passed away earlier that morning. I was numb. I couldn’t even cry.
Mr. Harris had planned his wife’s funeral to be in Detroit, where she was raised. So, the next week my mom and I flew to Michigan. Before that day, I had never been to a funeral I could remember. Regardless, I knew that they were sad, even depressing. Mrs. Harris’s service changed that perspective.
The entire day was a whirlwind of emotions. I just remember being so proud of Eva for how strong she was. I sat a few rows behind her wiping tears, but I don’t think I ever saw Eva cry. In fact, out of the fifty people in the church, my mom and I made up two of the five people crying.
I didn’t understand why more people weren’t.
Near the end of the service, the officiating reverend gave a short sermon that answered that question.
He told us a story about a man and a woman sitting next to each other on a plane. While on the flight, she picked up her bag of cookies she had just bought from the airport and began to eat them. The man reached over, took one cookie from the bag and popped it in his mouth. The woman was immediately confused and angry. What made this man think he could just take her food from her? She asked him why he had taken her food, but the flight was landing and he got off the plane without answering her. The woman angrily got off the plane and threw away the now empty bag of cookies. She reached in her purse, looking for her phone, and found another bag. She had never taken her bag of cookies out of her purse and had been eating the man’s bag the entire flight.
Essentially, the story was a metaphor for our relationship with God. All of us mourning people in the church were the woman, indignant, when a man, God, took one of his cookies that was never ours back. Mrs. Harris was the cookie. We were meant to be grateful for and thank God for the time we had with Mrs. Harris, rather than be mad at Him for taking her away.
Here, I think it’s important to note that I have never been religious. Regardless, the story still resonated with me because a person doesn’t have to believe in God to see the point the reverend was trying to make. He wanted us to understand that when a person passes, it is our job to honor that person by celebrating their life and being grateful for the time we had with them instead of continuing to mourn them and be angry. That’s why so few people in the church were crying. They were there to remember the time they spent with Mrs. Harris and be happy about those memories. They didn’t cry because the funeral was a celebration.
The dinner after the service was the best part of the day. I met Eva’s entire extended family. They were just like Mrs. Harris, happy and joyous. We sat in the church eating soul food and laughing for hours. Eva’s uncle, Larry, and I spent a while discussing the entire Marvel film franchise and trying to decide which superhero had the best movie. Aunt Jeanie and my mom laughed over Mr. Harris’s stories from his childhood in Florida. We wished Mrs. Harris could have been there to laugh and smile with us but knew that we shouldn’t mourn her anymore.
Hailey Williams is a junior studying Political Philosophy and Policy Studies. “Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”