Sunset Strangers

I didn’t see him as he fought for his final breaths, but we shared the same beach and the sunset as strangers. My grief doesn’t make sense and guilt floods me. I think that I am not entitled to these emotions, regardless, I feel them anyways. I want to honor him and those who knew him well. I want to heal wholly.

My thoughts are an imperfect hybrid of anger, fear, sadness, and I can feel my faith shaking underneath it all.  I’m not – NOT talking to God, but it’s as if I have nothing to say. I’m at a loss for words.

I always heard the saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Okay God, I’m keeping my lips zipped for now. I’ve been on the receiving end of the infamous “ghosting” that is so prevalent these days. Never have I done the same to another, but I think I get it now. I feel I’ve, “ghosted” God, simply because I’m at a lack of anything nice to say. Even my questions are laced with an undertone of strife. I know he understands it and I can feel him loving me through it.

If my faith was strong enough to believe that there was a good answer, or that I’d receive an answer at all, I’d ask a heap of questions. I’d start with, why did Sam have to die that night? I’d quickly follow with, why didn’t our prayers work?

Who shot him?


How could they do that?

Why hasn’t the murderer been found?

It could have been us, why did you spare us?

Thank you that we were safe. No. Even that seems so wrong to feel.

I’m perplexed. I feel I’ve missed out on a friendship with such a unique, fun person who shared a similar, humorous outlook on life. For starters, our unexplainable shared love for 7/11 hotdogs. I’ve scrolled and scrolled through his Facebook feed, grasping for any information to help me learn and connect with this person. It’s almost like if I can, it will validate my sadness. And yet, the only thing that truly connected and bonds us is his death. Tragedy.

I remember so clearly, driving down I-5 with the wind in my hair, music filling my car as excitement and gratitude built in me. A sunset BBQ with some of my best friends. Bliss.

We must have walked passed him and his friends at least once on our trips to the parking lot that evening.

Why didn’t I see him?

Moments prior to the chaos, I was on a giant pink flamingo floaty, telling stories to a four-year-old. We floated down the shore telling stories about baby dinosaurs and werewolves. Carefree and life filled.

Did Sam and his friends see us? Did he think of his daughter, Apple? Were they down by the water dipping their toes next to us? Did they laugh at the girls who borrowed our floaty for a really weird photo shoot? I feel like he would have laughed with us about that.

I was drying off, eating dinner and burying my toes in the sand when a “pop” interrupted our conversation. A cloud of sand was kicked into the air as frantic feet tried to flee the horror and confirmed our fears. Reality struck deeper as a woman and her children ran passed us towards the victim and her rattled voice fearfully exclaimed, “He dropped to the ground!” My heart sunk, she must have known him.

A calm sadness washed over me. I sat with my friends’ son as her and her husband’s walk quickly turned into a sprint towards the group of people crying out. I could see my friend push through the surrounding group to kneel down next to the victim and provide pressure to the wound. I could see grown men giving compressions with all of their strength and endurance. I heard words of encouragement being yelled, urging Sam to hold on to various loved ones and telling him he would make it through. I could hear them counting for the compressions that they hoped would keep him alive. Those cries feel permanently engrained in me. Those voices have woken me up every night for the past week.

Minutes went by and the encouragement turned into deep cries trying to grasp such a sudden loss.

All the while, the calm sadness and peace bathed me. Remembering this gives me strength. I’ve only experienced this one other time in my life, when my dad was passing away. A peace that surpasses all understanding. In this moment, it was enough peace to calmingly explain to Denzel why his parents were up by the crowd and entertain his insightful questions. Life questions from this wise four-year caused me to ask my own.

He started with, “Dessika, do guns work in the water? If we get in the water, can the bullet get us?” He followed up with, “Why my mom and dad up there? Why that person shoot someone?”

Denzel shut his eyes tight and we prayed together.

Faith swelled in me. Seeing his little eyes clenched tight mustering little prayers with big faith. Surely more than a mustard seed.

Maybe it was because it sounded like a toy gun, or maybe it felt promising because it was ONLY one shot, but I truly believed Sam would be okay.

The medics arrived and the pain filled cries confirmed it before the medics could declare it – The man we were all rooting for had taken his final breaths.

I have a million questions for God, but it’s radio silence on this end. I feel I’ve ghosted God. I want to ask so much but I’m too sad and frustrated to try to care about what he will say. It is done and this time a bullet won. Despite all efforts, all faith and prayers, a young man, Samuel Fast Buffalo Horse, age 27, was shot and killed as he tried to enjoy the beach with his friends that evening, just like I did.

I’m flailing here.

I believe God is good and all things work out for good. I believe Sam is in heaven and that he is in no pain. Equally, I feel fury inside me that my prayers fell flat on their face, that a young father was murdered merely feet away from me and my friends. Helpless.

I’m mad that a community lost an incredible brother that evening. I’m mad that I’m scared to go back to our favorite spot on the river. Not only because of the reality that it could happen again, but more so because of the intensity and unpredictability of the emotions I may feel when I enter that space again.

Among all of my disappointment and the heartache surrounding this season, I’m still hopeful that the person whose action caused this reckless death, will be found and held accountable. I’m hopeful that divine healing will come for those who mourn Sam. I’m hopeful that as they heal, their cries from that day will fade from my memory and allow me to sleep peacefully again.

I’m not only hopeful but fully believe that Sam’s memories and his legacy will only get stronger from here on out and he will continue to empower others to live vibrantly, peacefully and wholeheartedly.

I know with all my might that God sees and hears my pain as I struggles with this, even when I don’t hear his answers. I also know that he is big enough and loves me deep enough to hear my heart cries regardless of my silence. As much as I feel I’m ghosting God, I know more than anything that he embraces me in this place of awkward, undeserved grief. I believe that even if he didn’t author this horrific event, he wastes nothing and eventually this will somehow make us stronger, more united. Whether whether here on earth or in eternity, justice will be fully and rightfully be served.

Rest in Peace Sam. Your legacy will live on in those near and dear, and also through those who are barely strangers, sharing your final sunset.

Xoxo, Jess





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