This week’s tune, for me, is inescapable. It’s “Soulshine” from The Allman Bros. 1994 LP Where It All Begins. However, most who are familiar with the song attribute it to the band Gov’t Mule.
The song was written by former Allman Bros. guitarist and Gov’t Mule founding member, Warren Haynes, and it remains a staple in their setlist to this day.
Every time I hear that song, the first person who pops into my mind is Joey Odom.
Joey-O has been my friend, bandmate, and brother-from-another-mother for over 20 years now, and that fella loves him some Gov’t Mule.
This week, Joey and his wife, Katrina, are doing something no parent should ever have to experience—burying their child.
Although Joey was not Carson’s biological father, he raised him. He was there to tie shoes, dust off skinned knees, drive to soccer practices, teach how to shave, give advice before going on a date, explain things and teach the boy what it means to be a man as only a father can.
When you can't find the light
That got you through the cloudy days
When the stars ain't shinin' bright
You feel like you've lost you're way
When the candlelight of home
Burns so very far away
Well, you got to let your soul shine
Just like my daddy used to say
I cannot imagine life without my child in it. Sure, I’ve lost family members, but never without warning. It would be absurd for me to opine about what Joey is going through, and it would be twice as absurd to even try to fathom the soul-crushing heartbreak Joey’s wife, Katrina, is going through.
Regardless of the circumstance, I cannot imagine a life event crueler than a parent having to bury their child.
What I can imagine is that it’s going to be dark before there is any semblance of light for this family.
However, I take solace in knowing they are, and have been, surrounded by close friends and family throughout this ordeal. We have and will continue to shower them with love and support.
Sometimes a man can feel this emptiness
Like a woman has robbed him of his very soul
A woman too, God knows, she can feel like this
And when your world seems cold, you got to let your spirit take control
Now, let me preface everything you will read from here out with this disclaimer: I’m not a clinical psychologist, counselor, pastor or theologian, and I wouldn’t know Emily Post from Emily Brontë.
Unfortunately, at some point in our lives, we will all find ourselves in a situation where we are tasked with consoling a close friend or family member who is grieving.
If you’re anything like me, you want to be sure you say the right thing and let that person know as best we can how sorry we are and that we’re there for them. However, it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized I needed to show equal consideration to what I shouldn’t say.
Through my own research and polling of various mental health professionals, I was able to determine that almost all of them agree the following statements/questions are better left unsaid.
“I know how you feel.”
No, you may think you do, but you do not know how that person is feeling. You may have lost a loved one, but you didn’t lose their loved one, i.e. that was your experience and your coping mechanisms. This experience is theirs alone and they’ll process it as best as they are able.
“It’s God’s will. God has a plan.”
It’s with the utmost respect that I ask that you please not say that. I don’t think any of us would want to imply that God has done this to them. One pastor writes, “To tell parents that ‘there is a reason for everything’ or ‘God has a will in this’ implies that God did this to them. Can God bring good out of evil? Yes. Absolutely. It’s a very different thing than saying that God has a reason he’s taken kids from their parents. Unless you believe that God is killing children… you’d better just avoid these phrases altogether.”
“You have to be strong for______.”
At best, this minimizes that person’s feelings. Telling them to buck up and act like everything is okay at a moment when everything is profoundly not okay. Have them lie to themselves about how they feel? Let’s not.
“God never gives us more than we can handle.”
This one probably irks me the most. What an incredibly presumptuous thing to say. How would anyone know this? Are you speaking directly to the Almighty? I’ve never come across any verse in the Bible that tells me this. And again, I refuse to believe in a God who is intentionally putting me through pain and suffering but just the right amount so as not to break me.
“Can I do anything for you?”
This surprised me when I was researching for this article, and it’s tough to argue against it because it at least endeavors to help—and I am 100% guilty of using it. What wrong with it? Well, to remember why I had to recall the last time I experienced the death of a loved one and was asked that question. The question is so open-ended and it was far easier for me to respond with “nah, I’m okay,” than through the myriad of things someone might do to help me. With that in mind, sources agree this is fine to ask, but should be asked with a specific result in mind, e.g. “Can I mow your yard for you?” or “Can I run errands for you?”
I grew up thinkin' I had it made
Gonna make it on my own
Life can take the strongest man
Make him feel so alone
Now sometimes I feel a cold wind
Blowin' through my achin' bones
I think back to what my daddy said
He said "boy, in this darkness before the dawn"
Let your soul shine
Right now, you may be thinking, “Gee thanks, Wes. You didn’t really leave us much to work with.” To that, I would just tell you to tell them you love them and let them know you’re a phone call away if they need you.
In addition to that, I was given two very poignant tidbits of advice in helping someone grieving. The first from a very good friend who very recently buried his brother.
He told me, “Wes, now is not really the time when it’s going to be important for you to be smothering them with attention. They’re already surrounded by dozens of family and friends. The important time is going to be in 3-4 weeks when things are quiet an all they have is time to dwell in the void left by their recently departed. Be sure to be there then.
The second came from a woman at my church who lost her only son in a tragic accident. (He was just a year or two older than Carson.) After offering her condolences to me, she simply said, “Wes, when you’re around them (Joey and Katrina), say his name. Always use his name. Recall him fondly and often.”
I know Joey and Katrina and their girls are going to be okay. They’re going to get through this. I know this because of the overabundance of sympathy, love, and support I’ve been asked to pass along to them.
Joey and Katrina, we love you, and we’ll be right beside you through all of this.
When he’s not rocking his socks off with his three-piece band, Brooks, a native of Jones County, is a busy family man who can often be spotted hopping from one event to the next with his wife, Shane, and their son, Campbell. Email him your thoughts, comments, encouragement, and critiques to: email@example.com.