photo-1428947828962-3ad251e1571bThe air was stiff, our pace slow, my words silent.

I looked down, realizing I had no memory of putting on my sneakers before leaving the house.

Somehow, my laces were perfectly tied the same way I’d knotted them for every other neighborhood walk. Then, I saw them: bare ankles, exposing the fog that filled my thoughts.

It was the first time I’d felt strong enough to leave the house since receiving the news, and only for a quick walk up and down the street. A few family members decided to join, needing a break from the home that kept warm hundreds of grief casseroles.

A car passed us without fanfare, followed by a local news truck. They reached the end of the street, both shining red brake lights in unison before stopping in front of a house. Ours.

We were those people, the ones you hope to never be.
Our devastating loss had become someone else’s breaking news.

At 6 o’clock that night, I collapsed on the bathroom floor, plugging my ears, failing to drown out the TV playing in the next room.

The familiar voices of neighbors, teachers and friends told the story of my brother’s life and sudden deaththe story I’d be retelling for the rest of my own life.

I’d spent four years studying journalism and I knew the criteria for highlight reels and front page stories. It wasn’t a category I wanted to find myself in, yet the full-page cover spread of my brother’s face confirmed our tragic circumstance.

I was haunted by the words Kendall wrote in response to the death of Robin Williams, just a month before his own passing:

“How will the world react when I die? Will my face be on the news? Will people say it was a terrible occurrence? What will they remember about me?”

As I watched the answers to the first three questions somberly unveil themselves, I couldn’t help but wonder about the fourth.

Before my own story became a headline, I’d find myself turning off the TV during the stories of terrible occurrences. I’d attach to their drama, create unnecessary fear in my own life, then be thankful the freak accident didn’t happen to my loved one, and never hear about it again.

This story won’t play out like the tragedies you’re used to.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Norcross High School in Atlanta to work on an amazing project inspired by Kendall himself. The Good Turn Initiative is a program designed to help high schoolers live with intentionality in their academic, personal and professional lives. In true Kendall fashion, each student will create their own mission statement and participate in “good turns daily,” pushing them to see beyond their routines and into the creation of a lasting legacy.

While there, I was put in front of a camera to tell Kendall’s story, but this time was very different.

I recalled the mornings my brother and I dragged our feet into the high school doors as the late bell rang. What came out next wasn’t perfect, but I think it’s exactly what Kendall would have said to inspire little teenage Kait and Ken.

And then I gushed. I thought about all of the students who would be watching the video, explaining how much they would have loved Kendall (and how much cooler he was than I), and really truly feeling how much Kendall would have loved them.

It wasn’t newsworthy and it definitely won’t meet the criteria for a front page story, but if Kendall were still here, that’s exactly how he would be spending his days—inspiring others while developing himself.

As for me, this is the story I’ll spend my life telling: the one about my incredible little brother who continues to change the world. And I’m pretty sure nothing about that is tragic.

*Author’s Note: Since this post was published, the beautiful city of Paris faced its own tragedy. It only feels appropriate to acknowledge their own hurt and loss in this post, not to compare my personal story to theirs, but to collectively pose the question of how we can rally around those suffering in and through their tragic story. Thank goodness suffering is not the end. Jesus, be near. 

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  1. Cathi wilkinson says

    Love it! So true to Kendall, and we want to walk this walk by your side. Love you more than blueberry pancakes! AC