Love is Stronger than Death

For Whitney (the name of this post before watching her homegoing last Saturday).

Two weeks ago I was watching TV and playing Words With Friends with my sister when she messaged, “Sh*t, did you see Whitney Houston died?”  I immediately jumped into Twitter and sadly my stream confirmed yes, Whitney Houston died.  Piers Morgan tweeted he was on his way into the studio, so I turned to CNN.  Piers had Simon Cowell on, who I often thought was too harsh on Idol, but who was extremely sensitive regarding Whitney.  Simon echoed my sentiment that it was “due to the people Whitney had surrounded herself with” (he never said Bobby Brown, but it was clear).  He summarized with, “If you’re in the entertainment industry, it’s very important to surround yourself with good people.”

The week between Whitney’s death and funeral I watched the Grammys, where Jennifer Hudson did a beautiful tribute, DVRed a couple of Piers’ shows and the ABC 20/20 special, and read news articles trying to come to terms with “why” and how I felt.

Piers had Chaka Khan on and asked, “Is it fair to blame Bobby Brown for Whitney’s addiction?”  She, and the Broadway star who followed, talked about themselves in response to his question.  It was strange, but then I realized it was survivors’ guilt.  Both mentioned the proliferation of drugs in the industry; Chaka is a recovering addict and the other woman said, “I do Broadway; we work long hours everyday.”  Survivors guilt isn’t just for veterans.  It’s also for people who’ve battled cancer and live when others die.  It’s for people who watch their friends get laid off while they still have jobs at the same company.  It’s for people who’ve been up against the same drug infested industry and manage to live as friends they love die.  All of the famous singers, musicians and actors who’ve suffered and died from drug addiction flashed before me.  As did ‘My Week with Marilyn,’ Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, etc.  My judgement against Bobby began to lessen; realizing this is really a huge problem at the heart of the entertainment industry, not just an ‘individual’ problem.

BeBe Winans, on another Piers show, said her death was a surprise because “there had been deeper valleys we had come through.”  I had seen the two-part Whitney special Oprah did a few years ago and understood.  That was when I learned Whitney damaged her voice by smoking cocaine laced pot.  It was just so sad; I’d hoped she could return to herself after she divorced Bobby … it was clear she was trying very hard to do just that.

I saw Whitney in concert in 1991.  Research says music and smell bring memories rushing back to us.  Whenever I hear “So Emotional” I think of Joe, who I was in love with when the Whitney CD released.  It’s how music makes us feel that bonds us to singers.  In reality, it’s strange for people to “love” singers, actors, or sports stars we’ve never met, but we do because of the way they make us feel.  That’s why we care about them.

“Fame just means millions of people don’t know who you really are” is a quote I’ve seen on Twitter, but anyone who watched Whitney’s “homegoing” ceremony knows who she really was.  It was one of the most beautiful funeral services I’ve ever witnessed, not because of the celebrities, but because of the *love* there.  Every person who spoke added something special; here’s what touched my heart:

Bishop T.D. Jakes thanked Whitney’s family for sharing her with the world.  It was a powerful reminder that she was a daughter, mother, sister, cousin … not just a famous singer.  “Death has not won because Love is Stronger than Death.”

Gospel singer Kim Burrell’s remake of “A Change Gonna Come.”

Kevin Costner spoke of Whitney’s fears and insecurities.  It’s hard to fathom how a beautiful woman with such an amazing voice could feel “not good enough,” but that’s our imperfection as human beings.  Rather than suggesting “celebrities are just like us,” Kevin’s speech made me feel that truth to my core.

Alicia Keys sang “Send Me An Angel.”  Her heartfelt performance summoned angels to escort Whitney home, declared her an angel and brought angels to surround everyone watching.

Clive Davis’ tribute to Whitney was pure love.  He opened by sharing he lost both parents as a teenager, looking directly at Bobbi Kristina, inferring, ‘Honey, you’ll make it through this.’  His love for Whitney was reflected in his concern for Bobbi Kristina, whom he addressed twice.  Perhaps Clive was Whitney’s greatest love of all (men).  He was with her from 18 to 48; longer than Bobby Brown, longer than her dad.  But beyond years, Clive was the one who brought out the best in Whitney and that’s what great love does.

Stevie Wonder’s remake of Ribbon in the Sky, as well as his admission he had a crush on her.  (Yes, celebrities are just like us.)

There were other great speakers and singers; Tyler Perry speaking about her love for the Lord and Donnie McClurkin singing ‘Stand’ immediately come to mind.  By the end of the service I was at peace; acceptance; resolved.  Resolved to the point where the cause of Whitney’s death no longer mattered.

To those who’ve made disparaging remarks about her drug addiction, I ask you:  when people eat themselves into obesity and die from diabetes or heart related problems, do you vilify them?  Do you condemn those who smoke and die from lung cancer or heart disease?  Those who drink and die from liver disease?  Judge not, lest ye be judged. ~ St. Matthew, Chapter 7, New Testament

What I know for sure is that death is hardest on the living.  So I forgive Bobby Brown; even his leaving the church.  It would be nice if CNN sent him a DVD of the entire ceremony, it will help him process his grief.

My prayers go out to Cissy, Dionne and Clive, all in their seventies and all strengthened by wisdom learned from living a long life.  It’s Bobbi Kristina, the 18 yr old girl who revolved around her mother’s sun, who needs a lot of prayer and support.  She needs to go to a wellness center for a month.  After, it would be really nice if people like Jordin Sparks, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey could reach out and give her a hand up.  Cissy and Whitney both began as back-up singers, maybe Kristina could too.  She needs examples of successful women who have good love and babies in their lives … she needs role models to learn how to do it for herself.

And Simon, we *all* need to surround ourselves with good people.  Godspeed Whitney.  We love you.

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