I told my man friend on Saturday that my only hope for the evening was to see the sunset.
It was really the first night in what was a whirlwind of a week that I could make other plans. I’m not complaining. My heart was with the Smith family all week and whatever was going to be taking place for them, I was going to be a part of it if I could.
On Thursday, I had the opportunity (kind of by chance) to get connected to Niki. Niki is Tyler’s girlfriend, Alexis’ mom. And I officially love her. We chatted that morning on the phone in the hopes that we could get some t-shirt artwork to one of the designers I work with so we could prepare a photo for the visitation planned for the next day. I’d seen the t-shirt sample on Wednesday. The language on the front read, ‘#SmithStrong’ with the phrase, ‘Until We Meet Again …’ beneath it. Of course the ‘o’ was a soccer ball because, Tyler.
We ultimately had an all-day text exchange that led to exactly what we needed, but I kept seeing that artwork and trying to visualize just how a hashtag comes to life. Clearly, hashtags have become prevalent and some people even hate them. They’re called #haters, by the way. See what I did there?
But, Saturday, I got it.
The funeral for Rich and Tyler Smith was nothing short of absolutely beautiful; a moving tribute to two men who, the pastor reminded us, are not defined by this tragedy. They were two men whose lives were a testament to, among other traits, generosity and love; so strikingly similar to what the community members of Kalamazoo exhibited over the course of the past week.
But #SmithStrong. I’d seen the hashtag come to life several times throughout the week; that unity that was so abundantly clear as we gathered in solidarity for this family. And even for the others, under the umbrella of #KalamazooStrong. The first time that I truly felt, like felt to my core, the meaning of #SmithStrong though, was Saturday. As the participants of the procession entered the foyer of Calvary Bible Church, I saw Laurie and her daughter Emily carrying Rich and Tyler. These two women who are actively suffering the most unbelievable heartbreak were holding their men in their hands. It was at that moment that I realized just how incredibly strong the Smith family is. And I know it extends far beyond Laurie and Emily in terms of Smith family strength, but in that moment, this mother and daughter were the two strongest women I’d ever known.
That night, I watched the sun dip below the water and it was glorious. (Thanks, God, for that). The clouds, thankfully, did not overshadow the sun’s exit, but added to the beautiful color palette gracing the sky. The wind was powerful and the waves were crashing against the rocks on the pier. I snapped several photos as the sun’s rays pierced the water; reminiscent of the message of hope the minister had delivered earlier that day. I took my deep breaths (and more photos) as the sun whispered, ‘Until We Meet Again …’
As I looked at the photos after the fact, I saw those two women again. Those two pillars at the end of the pier (sorry, I don’t know all of the right terms, but just stay with me) that stood so firmly against the wind and the waves reminded me so much of Laurie and Emily and the strength that they had displayed not just that day, but everyday since the Saturday prior and I was thankful that their men gave them such a beautiful ‘so long’.
Remain, #SmithStrong, Laurie and Emily. You are loved. And we are all here right behind you as you look out into the unknown. But go boldly and confidently as the strength and light of your men will be with you always.