“What I have learned is that one of the best ways to begin letting go of the pain caused by grief is by sharing our stories.”Excerpt from lynn hughes’ – you are not alone
On February 15th, 2019, life for me shifted in a significant way. In the early morning hours on February 15th, I was jarred awake by a phone call that left me paralyzed with fear and hopelessness from three short words, “Shelby is missing.”
Who is Shelby you might be wondering? Shelby is my brilliant, warm, kind younger sister. Two years apart in age — our lives often wove similar paths. We shared similar friend groups as kids, graduated with honors from our parent’s alma mater, and were both initiated into the same sorority. At the time she was reported missing, she was completing her final semester of her master’s program and was preparing to begin a PhD program in the fall semester. However, on that early February morning, she was known by none of these attributes and simply became 1 amongst the nearly 600,000 people who are reported missing each year.
Media outreach, aerial teams, and a national search followed shortly thereafter. I along with family, friends, and countless volunteers diligently scoured the country for any sign of her whereabouts. I was told that the first 48 hours are critical for finding any missing person and those 48 hours quickly stretched on for 39 painstaking days. On March 26th, 2019, the search for Shelby concluded when her body was found in a shallow river less than a mile from our childhood home. My beloved baby sister’s life ended at 24 years of age.
As I recall these moments, I am reminded that there is power in storytelling and sharing our experiences with others. I do not do so lightly in opening the wounds of this traumatic experience to the readers of this blog. The significance of this story is simple — Shelby’s life matters. She was a phenomenal Black womanwith an abundance of hopes and dreams ahead of her. What many do not know is my sister battled for years with anxiety and depression. Reflecting back on the past, I nor she could have predicted the toll her mental health life would impact her earthly days. Her autopsy was inconclusive and with that I still struggle to grapple with what truly led to her passing.
Despite her challenges with mental health, Shelby was never afraid to speak openly about her own personal experiences — especially when it came to destigmatizing mental health within the Black community. She shined with a light so bright. Shelby lived by the mantra, “stay gold” which comes from the 1983 film The Outsiders. For Shelby, staying gold meant keeping that childlike wonder, continuing to notice the world and refusing to be jaded by it. It also meant continuously seeking adventure and remaining true to oneself.
That all being said, thank you Shelby for continuously reminding me to stay gold despite life’s challenges. For years you encouraged me to begin this blog and share my life with the world. So here’s to staying golden and living out this adventurous life authentically, to sharing life’s highs and lows, and inspiring others along the way. Being your big sister will forever and always be the greatest gift. May we all seek to stay gold.
Additional Resource: The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)