Friday, February 17, 2012

What We Can Learn from Whitney’s Death (and It’s Not Just Say ‘No’ to Drugs)

Another songbird has flown away. Ms. Whitney Houston. Her unexpected death has left so many shocked, saddened, and reflective. And we’ve lost so many others in recent months that conjure up these emotions as well: Nick Ashford, Heavy D, Etta James, Don Cornelius, and now, America’s first black “darling.” When we lose someone unexpectedly—be it our Uncle Skeebo; our sister, Deborah; or a musical idol that inspired us to set up countless impromptu concerts in the bathroom mirror (hairbrush microphone and imaginary audience included)—we can’t stop thinking of how they touched our lives and, more painfully, how they’ll never be able to do so again. And then we forget the money they owed us; the one or two holidays they ruined; or the boyfriend they stole from us (that wasn’t good for us anyway). And instead we begin to celebrate the good they did; the laughs they gave us; the support they offered us; and even the “soundtracks” to our lives they provided us.

Much like pop icon, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston’s rise to fame and celebrity in her latter years was more infamously notable than famously celebrated. Michael’s fight against pedophilic allegations, plastic surgery mocking, and a number of misunderstood actions, undeservedly earned him the moniker of “Wacko Jacko” alongside his well-earned title of “King of Pop.” And then there was Whitney’s struggle with drug abuse, a questionable marriage, erratic behavior, and notorious interviews, which caused many to question whether she would ever regain her rightful place in music history or would we simply be mourning an untimely death. Yet, ironically, at the time of her death, her fans were doing both, for it seemed she was back on her way to the top, yet struggling to let go of what kept the Whitney we grew to love away from us so long. But in the end, it was not meant to be. And what inevitably followed was the expected negative press. But what is ultimately prevailing is a celebration of her life.

There is so much she—or most entertainers for that matter—can leave us standing around the water cooler for hours gossiping about. However, what often rises in the end is a reverence for a person’s unequivocal legacy. In this week, I’ve learned of several charities Whitney contributed to, medical wings named in her honor, and the maternal love and guidance she gave to so many young stars that were lucky enough to work with her. Yes, the talk of drugs is still a constant as the final cause of her death is still being determined, but it is not what we are choosing to remember her for. And that’s the beauty in choosing how we celebrate and treat each other every day.

And so, this is what we can all learn from Whitney’s untimely passing: focus on the positive of a person; celebrate their triumphs and quickly forget their mistakes; pray for them as much as we praise them; and never, ever stop letting a person know they are authentically loved and appreciated. I can’t help thinking if we would do this more often with the people we encounter every day as well as with the celebrities we admire, there would be less searching in unwelcomed places, unfamiliar faces, and deadly substances to “feel” these things in a world that is quick to highlight your failures and slow to recognize your triumphs. After all, isn’t that what we all want in life and how we want to be remembered in death? Let’s not wait until someone leaves our presence to start doing what we can in the present. That is, loving each other fully, wholly, and unconditionally—every day.


  1. What I have taken from Whitney's death is to not allow anything or anyone push me to have to find unhealthy alternatives to dealing with my reality. There are a lot of people who have the whole world at their fingertips, yet there is something dark happening inside of them that does not permit them to exhale. The day Whitney passed I made it my business to lighten my mental load, count my blessings and, as Floyd Mayweather says, "Protect yourself at all times!"

  2. Well said, Nik. Those are def great daily "tips" to live by for a fruitful life!

  3. I would like to add that it is never too late to celebrate a LIVING person. All good points and things to consider.

  4. Indeed and the point of this post. Too often it's done when people have left us and not done enough when they're still here.