”Princess didn’t make it. She died this morning.” 
I was sitting in my room, having just finished packing my bags to get on the road headed to Memphis to bury my uncle who had just passed a week earlier.  My mother had given me the news that one of my cousins, who had been shot earlier in the week, had succumb to her injuries.
I stared at the computer – numb. Then I called my sister and broke the news. My brother was next.  Life had quickly spun out of control for the Clark Family.  In a family with 2 parents, 12 children, 60+ grandchildren, and 160+ great-grandchildren, we’d only buried 2 members in the last 15 years (that I can recall). Then, like a thief in the night, death carried my grandfather away on September 16, 2014. We buried him September 20th – my grandmother’s 88th birthday.  Death returned just 3 days before Mother’s Day (and only days after what would have been my grandfather’s 91stbirthday) and carried my grandmother away.  Less than a month later, death came with a vengeance and claimed my uncle on June 4th. 
Then on June 8th at midnight, my aunt called me to break the news that Princess was shot in back through her front door. By this time we still were reeling from my grandmother’s death, grappling with my uncle’s death, and now praying that death didn’t come again. The plan was to bury my uncle in Memphis that Friday and immediately head to Clarksville, TN to be with Princess and my uncle and aunt.
Princess’ condition slowly improved over the next few days.  She got hungry and asked for something to eat. When my aunt (her mother) went to feed her, Princess – being the granddaughter of Ivory Lee – made it very clears that she didn’t need anybody’s help to feed her – even in her current condition. It was then her mother informed her that was paralyzed from the neck down.  Almost overnight, her conditioned went from bad, to terrible.  Princess told my uncle and auntie that she would not live her life relegated to a wheelchair.  
She looked over to her parents and asked, “Will I always be your Princess?”
“You will always be our little Princess,” my uncle told her.  Then, as if her soul had been made whole by the sweet confirmation of her daddy’s love, Princess left us in the early morning hours on June 11th.
Death. It was a feeling that had been foreign to me before these series of unfortunate incidents. Death had come to my family in rare and very few occasions. I was mindful of my own emotions; grief is one emotion that has always been difficult for me to process. Even in my own sadness, I dreaded the sorrow that comes from grieving family members.  The month of June would surely be one for the books. I made the decision after leaving my uncle’s funeral that I would stay the week with my grieving uncle and aunt to be as supportive as I could be.  When I got there, there was so much sadness in the home, so much grief, that it literally choked all life out of the home.  My uncle was still processing the death of his father, mother, and brother; my aunt had refused to leave the house and would literally work herself from about 4AM that morning to the wee hours of the next morning, only to get up and do it all over again.  It was saddest thing I had ever witnessed.
“The Princess & The Queen.” My grandmother
Princess and I weren’t especially close. However, coming from a family of 200+ cousins, we knew each very well.  She and my sister were the same age and had grown up together.  She was my family. She was my kinfolk and her sister and brother were hurting; her mom and dad were hurting. Her nieces and nephews were hurting. Her husband and three kids were hurting. I remember a single tear rolling down my face as I walked up to her casket and saw her laying there at the wake on Friday.  I saw my grandmother when I looked at her, beautifully draped in pink and white – just like her.  I sat in the lobby of the chapel and waited for nearly 3 hours as my aunt sat silently in the small church. Every now and again, she’d get up, walk over and lay eyes on Princess, and then sit back down. 
It wasn’t until the morning of the funeral, that I was lying in bed, listening to Mahalia wail away at “Precious Lord,” that it hit me. Death had come into my family and set up shop. Mahalia wailed and I balled. To see my too-sweet-for-words auntie and one of my favorite uncles have to bury their 2nd child to such a senseless act of violence took its toll on me.  I began to think about them. I began to think about Princess’ 3 children who were being separated immediately following the funeral.  I began thinking about my uncle who had passed a week earlier. I began thinking about my grandmother who had passed a month earlier. I began thinking about all of the death that surrounded me; in the first 27 years of my life, I had only been to one funeral. Princess would be the 6th funeral in 18 months, and the 4th where I would serve as pallbearer.
And so I cried. And I kept crying. And I couldn’t stop crying. The entire scene was all so surreal to me.  
Princess’ funeral so sad,  that even if I wanted to describe it, I couldn’t put myself through that again. 
Death as a child used to scare me beyond words. I feared the idea of death. I fear my parents dying. I feared my grandparents dying. As I’ve gotten older, and as I have come to understand life through my own eyes, I believe The Universal Creator, The Supreme Most High has a plan and we are always working in accordance to it. This does not necessarily subscribe to any type of religious doctrine although there may be some parallels to some religious thought.
What I learned from the death of a Princess is that life is too short to live worrying about how you will please the next person. We have a tendency to want to live a life that is pleasing to someone else; whether that is our parents, our grandparents, friends, spouses, etc. We tend to do things with the mindset, even if ever so subtle, “how will this make me look in their eyes of this person? How will I be perceived?” I learned from the death of my cousin that the perception of me by anyone outside of me is irrelevant and that my reality must be constructed by me and, if I was going to take care of business, my primary goal in life would have to be centered and focused on what I needed to do and be who I needed to be.
Princess was easily one of the flyest chicks to ever do it.  She was gorgeous, funny, stylish, and above all she loved her family.  But one thing I found out about my cousin at her funeral was that she touched so many people.  Church folks, military folks, rich folks, hood folks, elders, and youth came from all over to pay their final respects to our fallen angel.  I took some solace in knowing that she left this world having done her thing, with hair LAID like the Sea of Galilee, raised dope children, honored her mother and father, and killed the fashion game along the way. 
One of the things I had to come to grips with in the untimely death of my beloved cousin is this: life truly is a gift and this present day, this very minute, is the best gift The Creator can give each of us. Our very own life, seeped in divine purpose, and covered by the watchful and loving eye of God, is our own and ours to live. This life and the gift of breath should be enough to keep us all in a perpetual and habitual state of gratitude; because at any second, for the most unbeknownst of reasons, it could all end. And when it does, will you have lived the life you always wanted? Or, rather, were you shackled by the burdens of the expectations of others?
Princess & her husband, Rookie Spaceships
If you knew you were going to die today, would you be pleased with what you attempted to accomplish? Did you live a life full of regrets or the “could’ve/should’ve/would’ve” blues? Did you tell her or him how you really felt? Did you take that trip to Argentina, or have that baby, or get that piercing? Better yet, did you event attemptit? Or, like so many of us, did fear stop you at the front door?
Fear, as I have come to understand, is an emotion that will almost certainly and undoubtedly cripple every chance of living life. It will sow the seeds of doubt, plant the weeds of shame, and cultivate the feelings guilt, sadness, depression, and virtually every negative emotion known to the human experience.  If we are so ever so fortunate enough to build the gumption to actually partake in positive thinking and feelings of self-worth (feelings and feats that tend to be much easier said than done). Before we can even begin doing what we need to do, or taking the steps necessary to set us up for taking the very first step, the “what if’s?” start to set in. From there, the self-loathing takes place, and then, overwhelming doubt sets in. Couple this with the long-term sadness that is sure to follow, and fear has claimed another dream for another day.
When I speak of this beast known as fear, I do not speak of it as someone who has conquered that beast; I speak of someone who, on a daily basis, wrestles with it at almost every corner of my mind. I am a dreamer; I am a visionary; I see things in grand ways and in grand spaces; but, because I am at constant war with the Fear Beast, my dreams and aspirations are often cut short – leaving me in a state of disillusionment and undeniable sadness. It is from this sadness that I retreat in, a feeling all too familiar to me. Then, I find myself playing the same old negative script in my head, further damaging any hope of taking that first step toward self-fulfillment.
My cousin’s death showed me that fear cannot be a viable reason for me to withhold my own happiness from myself. MY life, these precious few years here on this earth, belong to me and no one else and that is up to me and up to me only to spend doing what I so choose exactly how I choose to do them. Does this mean I am in control of every situation and things will always work out in my favor? Absolutely not. But what it can mean is that I am incapable of allowing non-existent forces or impeding blocks that have only formed in my head and have materialized nowhere to stop me.  It is the most unfortunate circumstances, but it took the death of a Princess to show me that fear could not and would not stop me from living.
This is my life and I have just this one.
When the time comes, and I am given the opportunity to do so, I would love to tell her story. (Lauren London and Meagan Goode are already at the top of the list to play her). Until that day comes however, all I can do is hold onto the sweet memories of her, pray that her children and her husband aka Big Cuzzo aka TooTall aka Rookie Spaceships stay encamped by The Ancestors and the divine protection of The Most High, and keep my uncle and auntie uplifted as best I can. So on what would have been your 33rd, birthday,  I hope my words have honored you in a way you truly deserve to be honored.
Love Always, 
-Troy, Jr 

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