Posted on September 28, 2008


Press Photos/Delbridge Langdon Jr.

GRAND RAPIDS — Standing over a teenage gunshot victim, Jill Johnson prayed the young man would survive a wound to his chest and hoped two suspects implicated would find salvation from their evil.

She knew by looking at David Witherspoon, a 16-year-old Creston High School student, that at least one of her requests would go unanswered.

And based on what Johnson calls senseless violence, she doubts the teenage gunmen will find redemption.

“There’s no regard for human life, not the young man they shot, not the people they put in danger and not their own families,” she said. “I saw his face and, I tell you, that’ll never leave me not as long as I live.

“It’s heartless, senseless.”

Witherspoon was killed as he walked along Kalamazoo Avenue SE, near Ballard Street, about 4 p.m. Friday, Police Chief Kevin Belk said.

Posted by The Grand Rapids Press September 26, 2008 18:48PM

David Witherspoon
As I drove by the murder site last night (Saturday night) just before midnight. There were 60 or 70 high school students within a block of David’s memorial site. Yet the whole place seemed eerily quiet. Police were there and had blocked the street. Then the police began to disperse the crowd. I was concerned that these youth would not be allowed to grieve.

Time heals visible pain, but invisible pain is carried for a lifetime. Yet we seek tangible ways to deal with intangible pain. These teenagers constructed a monument, a memorial so they could hold David close, hold him in their memory, and see and touch those memories. They knew where they needed to grieve. It was not at school, in the church, or in the graveyard, it was on the curb where he fell . . . never to get up again. This is where he took his last breath, this is where he smiled his last smile, this is where he last interacted with his friends. Counselors, pastors, grief counselors will be available at the church services next week and at the school on Monday morning. Yet these youth knew what they needed; right then, right there, on the street.

As I watched the police enforcing the dispersement, I watched and listened to the kids compliantly leaving, often with sobbing. Within 10 minutes the crowds were gone, yet the police were still there quietly standing nearby as small groups of youth gathered to cry . . . the only sound I could hear besides the sounds of passing cars. I cried with them. Then one by one they started coming with candles, lining the curb and lighting them until there was a flickering glow illuminating the memorial they had built.

Another way we deal with intangible pain is through tangible rituals. To me lighting candles seemed so right, so natural, without really knowing why.

I have a feeling David’s most meaningful memorial services took place on the streets along the curb, organized, not by adults, but by his friends. It became a sacred place with sacred rituals.

If we were to listen to youth, we might have had counselors, pastors, and grief counselors along that curb at midnight on Saturday night. With their advance permission, I would have loved to have been there on that curb to listen; rather that in the safety of my car across the street; feeling helpless and and quite ashamed for not knowing how to help.

Maybe I can learn to grieve . . . from children.

~ Grieving has its own timeline that we need to honor. It should not be squeezed into our timelines and schedules.
~ Grieving needs a tangible place to solidify memories. We need to create a space where we can grasp the illusive pain of our heart; face it, feel it, and put it to rest.
~ Grieving needs tangible rituals that allow us to do something meaningful, even if we have to infuse those rituals with meaning for that moment. We need to use our bodies (hands, feet, mind) to work out the pain in our heart.

Maybe we should learn how to grieve from our heart and spirit rather than depending on the convenience of schedules and the dictates of the free market (high-cost funeral goods and services).

If we are true to ourselves, like children, we can learn to carry this invisible pain and make it a part of our lives, rather than run from it.