It was April 22, 2002.
It was on a Monday— the hardest most stressful day in my work world as the manager of the Illinois Department of Human Services Office of the Inspector General Hotline in Springfield. The 24-hour hotline only had emergency staff on call through the weekend and Monday’s challenge was compacting the two-day backlog from the weekend into a third day of calls from citizens reporting potential abuse and neglect of adults.
I knew no end time for my day, but leaving by 6:30 in the evening was a good day. April 22 was a good day and I went to the Y for a workout before going home for dinner. I got home a little after 8:30 p.m., hungry but less stressed from the workout. As I came in my phone was ringing and the light message was blinking.
I heard the voice of my friend and spiritual brother, Rev. Bobbie Timms. In as calm a voice as you would want to hear anything, Timms said, “Brother Price, Joi has been in an accident and is at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington.”
When I called him back, I could hear my former wife, Mary, Joi’s mother crying in the background and I asked what he knew about my 19-year-old daughter’s condition and why was Mary crying. He told me that all they knew was that the accident was serious and that the hospital was waiting for my call. When I called the hospital, they advised that I needed to get there as soon as possible, and they told me that they had been in contact with airlines in St. Louis and Chicago. They went on to give me contacts at both and advised me that the costs for the trip were already covered. I just needed to get there.
I called the airlines. Chicago had a flight leaving at 1:30 a.m. A non-stop drive from Springfield to Chicago was at least three hours. Maybe I could make it. But the flight was not direct and at best it would be 8 a.m. before I landed in Lexington. I told them no thank you. I would drive.
I hung up and ran towards the door. Then I realized that I had left my wallet. I ran back into the kitchen to grab my wallet and I started to run again when I stopped and knelt down at the phone stand and started to pray. When I got up, I called Mary and told her that we could drive. Thirty minutes later, Mary, our son Kwame and daughter Aisha were making the six hour drive to Lexington.
On arrival, we walked through the packed emergency waiting room. More than 60 students from Joi’s school, Kentucky State University, the school’s chaplain, the school’s chief of police and the dean of students were in the waiting room.
There was no time to talk. I went straight back to the exam room and saw my Joi, laying there like the angel she is.
It’s hard to believe that a decade has come and gone since that April Monday when Joi’s one-car traffic accident ended her life on earth.
She was not drinking. No drugs. Seat belt buckled and cell phone off. In fact, she was filled with joy.
Joi and seven other student representatives from KSU were returning from a weekend retreat for Historically Black Colleges and Universities at Alabama State University. The accident occurred less than a half mile from the school’s main gate. Joi’s friend, Alicia, said Joi was on fire from a side trip they had taken to a church in Birmingham. They had gone to dinner off campus to share and fellowship and were returning when the accident happened. Alicia said Joi was moving to the left lane to turn. She told her to slow down and noticed Joi was looking straight and not responding. We think she may have had a seizure.
Joi was driving her 2001 burgundy Chevy Nova with the vanity plates “RUNT 82.” Runt was the nickname her mother gave her and she cherished being called “runt” but only by her mother. 1982 was the year she was born. Joy was the baby. The last of our four children—two girls (Aisha and Joi) and two boys (Malcolm and Kwame).
The car could have been named Joy for the fool I had acted in the bursar’s line that past August. During Joi’s freshman year, half of her education was paid by scholarships and grants. The other half was Dad paid. KSU allowed monthly payments. At the beginning of Joi’s sophomore year, she and I stood in line for 45 minutes with parents and students waiting to pay our bill. When we finally made it to the window, I had my check book out, waiting for a final amount so that the monthly payments could be set up. The honey brown-skinned sister with fly hair and nails that quickly click clacked over the computer key board said, “Where would like the remaining $400 dollars to go?”
I was baffled and said “I’m here to make arrangements. I don’t want to leave and get a bill later.”
My remarks were met by one of the strongest neck circular motions that I believe any woman has ever attempted and executed. Tapping her pen, she asked me who was on the money side of the counter. She went on to tell me that Joi’s every expense, including books, had been paid and there was $400 left.
“Now, where do you want it to go?”
I began yelling multiple “thank you Jesus” for this blessing and folks in line laughed and shared my joy.
But Joi said, “Hold on, buddy. Your blessing is having a daughter that that can make you so happy. Now you can bring me a car and not your 10-year old Pontiac.”
Behind that rebuke every parent in the room roared.
I bought her a 2001 burgundy Chevy Nova.
Tears and Anger
When Joi died, I didn’t sleep for eight months. It was frightening because I wondered how long I could live without sleep. I would come in at night after work, sit down on the couch and literally stare at the television, but the television would be off.
I hated when people brought food. I was a guy who would not waste a bread crumb. After serving in the military in Vietnam and seeing incredible poverty and being the son of a father who grew up during the Depression, I valued food and didn’t want to just throw it away. What do I do with all this food? I froze some of it and I ate most of it. I ended up gaining about 50 pounds. My blood pressure went crazy.
I would cry on the way to work every day. When I got to work, I would sit in the parking lot and cry before gaining my composure enough to go into work and immerse myself. I was bureau chief of the hotline. I was already a workaholic before Joi died. I just became more of a workaholic after her death. This went on for months.
I was the superintendent of Sunday School and a deacon at my church. I knew I was off base when a Sunday school teacher didn’t show up one Sunday and I went to the class to teach the lesson and I didn’t know what the lesson was. It was Easter Sunday. I told the pastor that I needed to be gone for a while. I stopped going to church. All of my bibles and books gathered dust.
At work, there was a lady named Troi. One day she approached me and asked if we could talk. We went to the cafeteria. I didn’t know her well and I never noticed a gold necklace and pendant she wore that had an etching of a little boy. It was her son and he had died at age 6 or 7. She told me about a support group for bereaved parents.
Bereaved Parents of the USA (BP/USA) is a national non-profit self-help group that offers support, understanding and compassion to bereaved parents, grandparents or siblings struggling to rebuild their lives after the death of their children, grandchildren or siblings.
It had been a little over a year since Joi had died. Troi invited me to a meeting. I wasn’t ready for that. But I agreed to receive the group’s newsletter. When they started coming, I would tuck them away in the drawer, unread.
In 2004, three people encouraged me to come back to church. I decided to go to a prayer meeting at a local church. I walked in and sat in the back. The pastor was at the front teaching. He said he didn’t know who this was for, but God had given him a message that someone was angry with God.
I knew it was me.
The pastor made four points that he said if you did these things, you would get through it. I still have the notes written from February 11, 2004:
Tell God how you feel (to be honest)
Focus on who God is—his unchanging nature
Trust God to keep his promise
Remember what God has already done
I knew I was angry but I had to deal with the fact that I was angry with God. When I was able to really tell God how I felt, I had my breakthrough in June.
People told me to get over it. Even family members told me it was time to move on. I had never opened one of the newsletters from the Bereaved Parents group. But one day, I decided to open the drawer. The first newsletter that I saw had an article, “How To Deal With People Who Say Stupid Things.”
They listed about 10 stupid statements that people say to those who are grieving like, “Get over it.” I had almost every one of them said to me. When I read that article, I was like, “I’m going to go to this group.”
The group met once a month on a Wednesday at a Methodist church. When I got there I was the only black person in a room of about 18 people. Every one of them had lost a child. They went around the room. You identified yourself and then said who your child was, how old they were and how they died.
When my turn came, the floodgates opened.
They let me scream and holler for 45 straight minutes. For 45 straight minutes I screamed and cursed and never repeated myself. I let out all the anguish of not only Joi’s death but of the hundreds of horrific cases of children’s deaths that I had investigated over the years with the Department of Children and Family Services. At one time, when a child died in the state, my name was the last one to sign off on the report. It was a heavy burden. I didn’t know how heavy until Joi died. I had compartmentalized all that death. It was separate from me and my family. But when Joi died, it all came together. So I screamed, yelled and cursed at God for 45 straight minutes.
And they let me. They understood me. These people who I had never met before understood me and responded to me in a way that only someone who had shared the same pain could.
I started embracing the pain, piece by piece, and I started to heal, day by day.
The Bereaved Parents of the USA is open to all parents, grandparents and siblings regardless of the age or the circumstances of the death of their children, grandchildren or siblings. There are chapters around the country that meet monthly. There are no dues or fees to become a member of BP/USA and there are no paid salaries within the organization. All work on both the national and chapter level is done by volunteer bereaved parents with a strong desire to help other families survive the death of their children just as they were helped when their own children died. I have been to the national conference and was the key note speaker at the 2011 holiday celebration of the Springfield chapter.
The group allows people to talk about their child with other people who are interested and understand. I don’t go to the monthly meetings anymore. But when I identify someone who has had a death of a child, I will take them to a meeting.
The symbol of Bereaved Parents of the USA is the butterfly.
My daughter Aisha had a bouquet of purple silk butterflies. The date was September 1, 2012. It was Aisha’s wedding day. Joi’s 30th birthday would be the next day.
Aisha wanted Joi’s picture on the altar but she also wanted to carry Joi next to her. She knew that the butterfly was the symbol of the Bereaved Parents of the USA and asked the wedding staff at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas if they could create a bouquet of butterflies.
Like a butterfly, my life has been transformed from the dark days after Joi’s death. Following the four steps that the preacher said in prayer meeting that February years ago not only restored my relationship with God, but expanded it. Today, I am a deacon and I teach bible classes at my church and two halfway houses. I preach every month at a correctional center. Next year, I will go on a missions trip to Liberia.
I have joy.
For more information about Bereaved Parents of the USA, visit their website at
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