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Filed under Opinion, Top Stories

A call for compassion

Sophomore staff member reflects on death of brother

The+Cummings+family+during+Avery%27s+childhood%2C+before+the+birth+of+Avery%27s+younger+brother.
The Cummings family during Avery's childhood, before the birth of Avery's younger brother.

The Cummings family during Avery's childhood, before the birth of Avery's younger brother.

courtesy of Cummings family

courtesy of Cummings family

The Cummings family during Avery's childhood, before the birth of Avery's younger brother.

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Blood isn’t as dark as I imagined it would be. It’s light, and almost playful. No. The strange color is unbefitting of something as horrid and painful as death.

People don’t think much of what happens after they insult someone. Sometimes they don’t even realize they’ve insulted someone. Personally, I’ve faced little bullying, and I can usually handle it well. But I can’t say the same for my brother. My 13-year-old brother who was quiet, had an amazing laugh and would stand up for anyone, regardless of the consequences. Let me tell you a story of what can really happen after you bully someone.

It was Thursday, March 13. Spring break was almost over, and I had visited a friend’s house to dye my hair. I chose purple. My mom had just picked me and my younger brother up, and we were headed to Taco Villa. We were calling my other brother to see what he wanted, but he didn’t answer. That was normal for him. He usually had his music and video games turned up so loud he couldn’t hear a tornado siren. We bought him two bean burritos.

My mom was the first inside. I took my time, grabbing my backpack and the food with caution. I just made it up to the door-step when I heard it. Screams. My mother’s. They were blood-curdling and full of what I now recognize as fear. I dropped everything in my hands, running into the house. The words reached my ears. She was screaming, “phone.” Those were the only words she said. I pulled out my phone and began dialing 911. I walked into her bedroom as the phone was ringing. By the time the words, “911, what’s your emergency?” came out of the phone, it was no longer on my ear. I was screaming with my mother. The blood. It didn’t befit him. He deserved something more beautiful.

If someone had been that person for Corey, I wouldn’t be holding a locket with his picture and the pictures of those whom I love and have shown me the most love in it close to my heart for comfort.”

— Avery Cummings

That night was difficult. But as I would later find out, it wasn’t going to be the hardest. My parents stationed themselves and my younger brother at my grandmother’s house. I stayed with my aunt and cousins. I was exhausted, but sleep was something I didn’t want. Sleep meant nightmares. But none came to me that night. My hopes of the death of my brother being fake were shattered the following morning. I woke up on an air mattress in my aunt’s house, tears already beginning to force themselves behind my eyes. I could almost still feel the dirt under my fingernails from clawing at the ground as I called my father time and time again. I had to remind myself that was a memory from the previous night, and not happening all over again.

I didn’t go with my parents to see him the first time. I didn’t want to. I was tired, and I was trying to avoid sorrow at all costs. I dreaded the day when it finally came. I loved him. But I didn’t want to see him like that. I was still holding on a small sliver of hope that he was still alive. And once I saw him, I’d be crazy to believe he was still breathing. He smelled heavily of make-up. He was cold. Not freezing, but the cold of Coke that has been left out of the fridge for a few minutes. His face was purple. Not the fake, bright purple of my hair, but the real, dull purple of a bruise. One that won’t heal.

The funeral home didn’t have enough chairs for everyone. The foyer was filled from edge to edge. I didn’t expect everyone to cry, and I was okay with that. In fact, I welcomed the stern faces that held memories behind their eyes. I was tired of wet, salty tears. The support was amazing. I hugged people I’d known for years, people I’d never met before in my life, and people whom I hadn’t seen since third grade. It wasn’t a glorious occasion, but I knew that it was one of love.

I later found evidence that he was bullied. This hurt me. A lot. Because that was when I knew I couldn’t have saved him even if I had an idea. I had no clue. I told him he could tell me anything that he didn’t want to share with our parents. He said he was fine. He wasn’t fine. He was lost and confused. He was sad. I still have difficulty understanding how people can show that much hate towards others. I’ve been told I have too much compassion for others. My belief is that most people don’t have enough compassion.

Words have a larger impact than most people realize. They think they have little or no effect on the other person, and refuse to believe that their words can be the deciding factor of life or death. Words can kill. The argument that the individual controls their own actions and that other people aren’t at fault for the event of suicide is a lie. It is a huge, disgusting lie. The thought of sharp knives across skin may have never even formed if the words “ugly” and “freak” had never been whispered or yelled.

To those in pain: life is a lot longer than it feels. It may be taking a turn for the worse, but I promise you that it will get better. I’ve been down the road of pain that seems unending and undefeatable. I know that pain. And I know the pain of losing someone to that dark chasm. Suicide and harm aren’t worth it. “Savior” may have only come by the breaking of the plastic noose, or the arrival of a sibling seconds after the medicine bottle was emptied, but it wasn’t just to save one person. It was to save the family and friends of that person.

To those who simply stand by: think about words before they are spoken. They can be the final words passing through the mind of an innocent teen before she ends it all. Suicide isn’t funny. Bullying isn’t funny. It can happen to anyone. Be the person who compliments people on their appearance and learns their name. Be the person who helps the kid who dropped their books in the hall. If someone had been that person for Corey, I wouldn’t be holding a locket with his picture and the pictures of those whom I love and have shown me the most love in it close to my heart for comfort.

The loss of my brother is a scar bigger than the one on the back of my head left behind by childhood cancer. It won’t ever go away, but it is beginning to close up with the help of stitches. With the help of others. I don’t like thinking about the pain that people go through on a daily basis due to words. So simple, yet, so powerful. Compassion could have saved the lives of many. Compassion will save the lives of many. Compassion is saving the lives of many. And the only people capable of saving lives, and the only people who are capable of being happy, are those who have compassion.

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12 Comments

12 Responses to “A call for compassion”

  1. Jenni Young on April 30th, 2014 10:40 am

    This piece is so touching and it’s amazing that you are so strong Avery…I’m very proud of you and I definitely admire you!

    [Reply]

  2. Cheryl Freeman on April 30th, 2014 11:28 am

    What courage you have shown in sharing your pain with us! Not only sharing, but guiding our emotions to a productive end. I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother. I hope your words make more people consider theirs.

    [Reply]

  3. Lance Culbert on April 30th, 2014 10:03 pm

    Sharing such a personal experience is hard but I am so proud that you were willing to do it in order to help people see the positive difference they can make and calling them to do it.

    [Reply]

  4. Scott McMillan on April 30th, 2014 11:34 pm

    Speaking as a CHS grad (Class of ’83) and as a college journalism grad, this is a great piece of writing. That said, it touched me on a personal level. I went through something very similar when I was your age. Jan 6, 1981. That was the day my grandmother walked into her daughter’s house and found my aunt (her daughter) after she had taken her life with a shotgun. Anger, sadness, and confusion followed. I never saw her body at the funeral, but I did see the suicide note. Even though a person reads the “reason,” it never really makes sense. Thirty-three years later, when my grandmother died and I had to go to the cemetery near my aunt’s grave, it was still hard to process, just as it was and has been for a CHS classmate whose son took his own life as a teenager. So, know that you are not alone.The universe will support in your hours of darkness.

    [Reply]

  5. Janice Cordle Sumler on May 1st, 2014 12:37 am

    Avery, you are so brave and articulate with a spirit as beautiful as sunshine. I am so sorry for this loss, for everyone who hurts because others are cruel. Your wonderful letter may save other children and I pray it does. I love you and your family and wish you peace. Your cousin from Tennessee, Janice

    [Reply]

  6. Melissa Fangman on May 1st, 2014 10:20 am

    You are a wise young woman and I applaud you for having the courage to share your story. Words are powerful, and yours are making a difference.
    Continue to use compassion, Avery, it is your gift. God gave you a big heart knowing you would have the courage to use it. The world needs more people like you.

    [Reply]

  7. Brenda Veerhusen on May 1st, 2014 1:20 pm

    I am Annetta’s (your grandmother) first cousin. I’ve known you from our family reunion. You were all such beautiful babies (I hope I don’t embarrass you about that)!

    I want you to know that your loss is huge and has touched all of our hearts. Corey was a delightful young man whose heart was crushed. There was nothing you or your family could have done because I know he was greatly loved by all of you. Now, your family has to become closer to one another in your grief.

    As someone who knows loss caused by someone else, I can tell that you have a strength and wisdom beyond your years. Our family is well known for our steadfast faith in God to get us through our tragedies. You are right about the scar that is worse that a physical scar: give it a lot of time to heal and water it well with your tears.

    I will continue to pray that your family finds comfort in one another. Give Annetta & Lezley. your father and brother my love. May God bless you always!

    Cousin Brenda

    [Reply]

  8. Grace on May 1st, 2014 4:54 pm

    I was in band with him he was the best clarinet player.

    [Reply]

  9. CHS Class of '11 on May 1st, 2014 7:49 pm

    “Be the person who compliments people on their appearance and learns their name. Be the person who helps the kid who dropped their books in the hall.”

    To current students: this means more than you’ll ever realize when you do it. Even if you don’t understand why it would make a difference, keep an eye out for those who don’t have what you have. Do the little things to show people they matter. You may never know how big of an impact you’re having, but it can make such a difference.

    [Reply]

  10. Kirstan Puryear on May 1st, 2014 11:46 pm

    Avery you are so brave I am so so sorry for your loss. Your piece is very touching and brought tears to my eyes, you your family and your brother’s friends will be in my prayers. My sister knew Corey very well and wishes she could have helped him.

    [Reply]

  11. KIM SMITH on May 4th, 2014 1:53 am

    Oh my gosh I am so extremely sorry about this tragedy! My son is in 8th grade and he told me about this happening over spring break and I had no Idea it was your brother. I worked with your mom at AIG. I remember when you had the tumor and you were a little girl, I gave you a fabric flower, you came up to AIG. Well you are a great writer. But once again I am so sorry and shocked. please tell your mom Kim Smith is thinking of her and will pray for you all.

    [Reply]

  12. Jasmine Sexton on March 9th, 2015 12:15 pm

    love you babe

    [Reply]

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A call for compassion