In early July, April Guillory was a smiling bridesmaid in my daughter’s wedding. They have been friends for years. Guillory is one of my extended family members. She has a sense of humor that meshes well with my different kind of personality. She’s like an extra daughter.
Less than two weeks after the wedding, Guillory’s world changed forever. Her 21-year-old son, Justin, was shot and killed after playing a basketball game at a church gymnasium. Two people were arrested a couple of weeks later.
“You know, I did everything to keep from losing my son to the streets and violence,” she said. “I had him in sports all of the time. We went out of town with him to play basketball. I had him in private school. I wasn’t going to let the streets get my son. Yet, he died in the streets.”
Her son’s senseless killing has taken its toll on Guillory, her other two children and her parents, who played key roles in helping her raise Justin. Everybody feels the loss, she said. Justin has an infant son who will never know him.
“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I know my parents feel it like that, too,” she said.
I was so affected by his death that I blew up at a man I barely knew who was talking about Dylann Roof, suspected of killing nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church. He was enraged because the killings were by a white male. I asked where was the outrage for Justin and the other young people that are dying like he did.
Guillory went into counseling shortly after she buried her son. But traditional counseling hasn’t worked. I knew something was wrong when I noticed this Facebook entry:
“What I wouldn’t give to see this face again! Lord, how can two months feel like 1,000 years and also like yesterday all at the same time? I miss you, son! Please continue to pray for my family and I because I know for me I can’t seem to get it together. How can I go on is the question. I know the word of God, and I believe in him. I love all the inspirational messages I receive from family and friends but still I feel lost! Lord, I want my baby back!!!! Please Pray for me!”
Her son’s birthday was this week. Her first day back at work was Wednesday. She dreaded both.
And a couple days before that, she dropped her daughter, Maysin, off at college. “Yes it was hard for me, and it was hard for her. She cried more than I did. She was worried about leaving me.”
It’s her daughter who has been a rock, seeing her through the difficult early days after her son’s death. “She is the strongest person that I know,” Guillory said, before choking up.
Her friends have tried to help. “You know I haven’t had to question one friend. All of them have been there for me. But, Guillory said, even stronger help is needed.
Traditional counseling that involves talking with a professional has not made a difference. She believes a group of other mothers who have lost a child to violence would be a better fit for her.
“I need people who don’t know me, but know what I am going through, to help me,” she said. “We need to be able to share our stories, and they can tell me how they are coping.” The group doesn’t have to be in a building setting, she said, suggesting that “we can even meet at each other’s house.”
Right now, Guillory is just making it through the days and nights. But that’s not what she wants. “I don’t want to just exist,” she said.
Guillory is asking people who feel that they can benefit from such a group, to email her at email@example.com.
“I think people who have gone through what I have, can help each other,” she said. “I know I will still think about my son every day of my life, but maybe I will be able handle my feelings better. I have to.”
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.