I traveled to Indianapolis with a friend and when we walked into the hotel to check in, Georgette was walking through the lobby with her sister, Janet. My friend yelled out to them and introduced me to Georgette and her sister. We spent a few minutes talking to them and then checked into the hotel.
I knew who Georgette was before I was introduced to her. Every young man in the Lebanese community in Peoria knew who she was. Besides being stunningly beautiful, she had a reputation in the community for being a kind, generous, and fun-loving person. She had a magnetic personality that seemed to pull guys out of the woodwork.
During the two days that I was at the convention, every time I saw Georgette there were college-age men around her trying to impress her. I intentionally kept my distance the first day because I was concerned that if I gave her too much attention, she would lump me in with all the other guys who were trying to impress her.
On both Friday and Saturday evening, there was a dinner and a dance. At the dances, there was a live band that played Lebanese music. Each night, the band played until midnight, and then a DJ took over and played American music.
On Friday evening, I only had one chance to have a brief conversation with Georgette. On Saturday morning, I ran into her in the lobby of the hotel and we started talking. We ended up taking a 15-minute walk together while we talked.
On Saturday evening, we danced together a couple of times. After our second dance, I suggested that we walk out to the lobby so we could hear each other. As usual, the band had turned up the volume of the music so loud that it was impossible to carry on a conversation.
We ended up sitting on one of the couches in the lobby while we talked for more than two hours. We touched on a lot of topics, including family, school, work, religion, faith, and our Lebanese heritage.
Three months before the convention, Georgette’s sister, Mary, had given birth to a baby girl who was named Natalie. When Natalie was 19 days old, she died unexpectedly from complications associated with spinal meningitis.
After the death of Natalie, Georgette took over the responsibility of making all the funeral arrangements. She also provided the much-needed strength and support that her family needed to deal with their loss.
When we met, Georgette was still struggling with Natalie’s death. We spent a great deal of time talking about the sudden loss of a child. I was able to relate to what she was going through because I had previously experienced the loss of my younger sister, Kathryn Mary, who had died when she was 13 months old.
One of the burning questions that Georgette was trying to find an answer to was, “Why would God allow a child who was born into a loving family die after only 19 days?”
The key word in her question was “Why?”
When I was a boy, my mom told me that I was “a late talker.” She said that instead of learning to talk at an age that a child would ordinarily begin talking, I simply observed everything that was going on around me. Mom said that when I finally got around to talking, my favorite word was, “Why?” She told me that I drove her crazy because all I did was follow her around the house and ask questions. Every time she answered one of my questions, I would follow-up by asking “Why?”
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a desire to figure out why people behave in certain ways and why events happen the way they do. I believe that God blessed me with a very powerful gift — the ability to observe and ask the right questions to figure out why a person is behaving in a certain way or why something has occurred or will occur.
My first experience with a sudden, unexpected death was when my cousin, Tommy LaHood, died. Tommy was 11 years old when he died as a result of a tragic accident. I was a year older than Tommy. He was the third child in a family of nine children.
Tommy had everything going for him. He was handsome, charming, kind, athletic, and good-natured. More importantly, he had a pure heart and a genuine love for his family, friends, and relatives. He was the only one of my cousins who periodically lectured me about how important it was for me to refrain from cursing, looking at dirty pictures, and engaging in inappropriate behavior.
After Tommy died, the one burning question that kept repeating over and over in my mind was, “Why?”
Why did God allow him to be taken from us? He was the crown jewel of his family. He had such a bright future ahead of him. Why was his life snuffed out at such a young age?
Tommy’s death forced me to deal with several unfamiliar emotions — confusion, disbelief, guilt, loneliness, regret, sadness, and uncertainty.
Those were the same emotions Georgette was dealing with when I met her. They are the same emotions most people are forced to deal with when they suddenly lose someone who is precious to them.
So what’s the answer to the one question everyone always asks when someone they love suddenly passes away? That one question always starts with “Why.”
I’m going to do my best to answer that question next week.