It is December 8.
Eleven days before Reggie White’s birthday.
Eighteen days before the 11th anniversary of his death.
Less than a month away from what would have been his 31st wedding anniversary with his wife, Sara.
Sara, Jeremy and Jecolia (her and Reggie’s two children), are sitting on a living room couch in Sara’s Mooresville, North Carolina, home—eight miles away from Reggie’s gravesite. All around there are memories. Photo collages hanging on the walls. Display cabinets with wedding photos. A wooden cabinet nearby with ancient Torah scrolls from Israel inside. Plastered on a wall nearby: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
As the three of them sit together and reflect on the last decade—one that was without their family’s leader and cornerstone, a husband and father who was as widely respected off the field as he was on the field, which is saying something considering he was arguably the best defensive end in NFL history—there are moments of seriousness, sure. After all, what they experienced was traumatic, blindsided by the course of death, when Sara awoke at 7 a.m., the day after Christmas 2004, to Reggie coughing and choking. Reggie died later that day—from a cardiac arrhythmia triggered by sarcoidosis, a disease where nodules form in the lungs, liver, lymph glands and salivary glands. The holidays, though the Whites do not celebrate Christmas, are still undoubtedly poignant.
Overall, however, the mood in this room is joyful. They laugh a lot whenever they reminisce about Reggie. They laugh a lot, in general, whenever they are together. Sara is sitting in the middle of Jecolia, 27, and Jeremy, 29. For once, Sara is the quiet one. And Sara is never the quiet one. But sitting there on the couch between them, she can hardly get a word in between their playful bickering, Jeremy’s random rants, and Jecolia’s attempts to keep Jeremy on prompt. Jecolia knows better. Her older brother cannot be tamed. Perhaps none of them can be tamed when they are together. Watching the Whites interact is like watching a sitcom unfold. Hilarious havoc.
The interview with the Whites was supposed to last only five or ten minutes, simply to gather some video footage for the story. It has already lasted over an hour and a half. Maybe they have forgotten they are being recorded.
Today, Sara and her children’s lives are intertwined on a number of levels. Jecolia recently moved into her mother’s basement to save money. Jeremy and his wife live down the street. Sara owns her own real estate business in Charlotte, North Carolina, called CLT Residential, and Jecolia is one of her agents. Both Jecolia and Jeremy teach in the Charlotte area. Jecolia: at a local high school. Jeremy: kindergarten.
They are all together on a regular basis.
It might be easy to think that this is the way it has always been with them. And for a time, it was. Sara says that in her and Reggie’s 19 years of marriage, there were only 18 days when neither of them saw their children. Sara knows that might sound crazy, but she and Reggie felt most whole, most fulfilled, when they were with their children.
Sara and Reggie always told one another that once they became empty nesters, when both Jeremy and Jecolia went off to college, they were going to purchase an RV. On one side, maybe they would paint the words, “JEREMY’S PARENTS”; on the other side, “JECOLIA’S PARENTS”. Then they would travel back and forth between their universities, embarrassing their children.
When Reggie died, all of that changed. Jeremy was a freshman in college. Jecolia was a junior in high school. Sara did indeed become an empty nester two years later. But she never did purchase an RV. There was no one to ride beside her.
Laughter floods the room, as it has been all evening.
Sara’s pet parrot keeps ringing its bell and occasionally squawking in the background.
The question is asked: If Reggie was here today, is there something you want to tell him?
The mood changes, but only for a moment.
Then Sara smiles. Humor is welcomed back into the conversation.
“When there is a new earth and we come back with new bodies, I will tell him: ‘I cannot believe you left me with a 16-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son! Really?’” Sara laughs.
Her children join in.
“I know what I would say,” Jeremy says, before telling a random story about how he found value in journaling.
“Jeremy,” Jecolia says, “stay focused.”
“I’m mad,” Jeremy eventually says, getting to his point, “because he was supposed to see how Marvel Cinematic Universe is taking over, okay? Every single time I see a superhero movie, I’m like, ‘You left at the cusp! When you left, two years later, Batman Begins comes out. You would have flipped out! Every superhero movie, I’m telling you. Except Green Lantern. Green Lantern was terrible. Don’t go see Green Lantern. (Jeremy goes on a miniature rant about Green Lantern.) Anyway, going back, you had to leave on the cusp of superhero movies. Was Ironman not the best superhero movie at the time besides Batman?’ The kid in him would have flipped out. I love my wife, but she doesn’t like superhero movies, so I go by myself. But if he was here, I would go with him.”
Jecolia and Jeremy then talk about how impossible it is to watch superhero movies with their mother.
“She talks too much,” Jecolia says.
“She asks too many questions,” Jeremy says.
“Or she tries to guess what is going to happen next,” Jecolia says.
Jeremy then talks about how much Reggie loved comic books.
And about how much Reggie loved Star Wars.
“How much can you explain this?” Jecolia says.
“He was a geek,” Jeremy says. “And nobody knows he was a geek. He’s the one person I know who would appreciate all of this so much…We could have talked about adult things, like the psychology of Joker…”
“Your point has been so proved,” Jecolia says sassily.
“And here’s the other thing,” Jeremy says, “He would have loved how many black superheroes have become popular.”
“Well, they’re making black people into superheroes on the screen,” Jecolia laughs. “They’re actually not black superheroes.”
Jecolia and Jeremy then start to argue about The Falcon.
Sara speaks up, “This is what Jecolia would say to Dad: ‘Look at what you left me with,’” and then points at Jeremy.
“Here’s what I would like to say to him, okay?” Jecolia says. “‘One, you shouldn’t have talked about all the things you were going to do once I graduated college, because then maybe I would have started career planning earlier. Thanks for that. Blaming you.’”
Jeremy and Sara laugh.
“And then, two, ‘Thank you for always talking about how you were going to intimidate my future boyfriends, because that has resulted in not really having any,’” she jokes. “Also, it’s kind of hard in the dating world when your dad was this real famous, big football player. It’s kind of intimidating for everybody. So my dating life is not good. ‘Blaming you.’”
It is December 8.