The People I’ve Known

...I don't know what happens when people die. I'd like to think we go to a big party up yonder. A place with rodeos, big symphonies, kids born into normal families.

I knew a man who lived in a tent with his twelve-year-old son. He was plumb crazy. The real kind of crazy. He camped in the woods and wouldn’t accept money from anyone.

Sometimes, his son would wander into the church next door during potlucks.

The kid’s daddy had a heart attack. The last day we saw the boy, a few of us gave him a Tupperware container full of cash—since we didn’t know what else to do. The boy just looked at us. I’ve never felt so pathetic.

He finally said, “God bless you, guys.”

If he’s still alive, that child is a man today.

Another fella I knew: he was a rodeo king. We’d drink beer together. I’d ask him about the old days. He’d tell me about the steel pins in his hip, plate in his skull, neck fusion, and spinal surgeries. God, could he rope.

When they diagnosed him with prostate cancer, he retired from the circuit and started working at a hardware store.

Once he told me, “The hardest part about dying is wishing I could’a done a few things different.”

Hardly anyone came to his funeral. I sat beside his daughter. They put his ashes in a saddle bag.

His daughter said to me, “I thought more people would’a shown up. God bless you for coming.”

My friend Davey and I painted houses. But he wasn’t a house-painter. Long ago, he taught music at Auburn University. Symphonic composition. The man had orchestras playing in his brain.

He was bad to drink.

Sometimes, I’d visit his one-room apartment and find him face-down in his vomit. He told me once, “It ain’t me who drinks, it’s my demons. I just can’t kill them.”

He was purple when the paramedics found him.

His landlady and I stood watching the ambulance taillights disappear. “God bless poor old Davey,” she said.

Look, I don’t know what happens when people die. I’d like to think we go to a big party up yonder. A place with rodeos, big symphonies, kids born into normal families. But I guess the real reason I’m writing this is because sometimes I think about people I’ve known. People like you.

I don’t know what you’re facing today—everyone faces something. I don’t know how much longer you’ll have strength to keep kicking against it. In fact, I don’t know anything. But no matter who you are, who you’ve lost, or what your religious persuasion, I want you to know something.

This isn’t all there is.

God bless you.


  1. Maureen - September 20, 2016 8:41 pm

    Thank you for the blessing – I guess it’s a mystery none of us can answer from here…

  2. Will - November 13, 2016 4:02 pm

    Yes this life is not all there is. But heaven is not for all humans we were made for this earth and this earth was made for us,not like it is now. Humans were made to work but not like now. When there is no more pain,sickness and death. When this earth is restored back to the way it was intended. Then work and life will be a pleasure to live.

  3. Buddy Naylor - November 14, 2016 6:54 am

    We lost Leon Russell today. I graduated from the same high school as Leon. Just 10 year later
    But still gives you a feeling of connection. That and listening to his music for 50 years. It’s hard to sluff it off as nothing much happened. My heart is heavy and I know it gets better. But right now I want to be sad. I want listen to the Shelter People. Have a beer with me Sean, listen to Stranger in a strange land lets just listen. It’s going to be fine, just listen.

  4. Celeste Sheppard - February 23, 2017 2:47 pm

    Thank you Sean, I needed that today! I just found you recently and I love your writing. Keep up the good work!

  5. Jack Nelson - February 23, 2017 3:44 pm

    Hey Sean, I enjoy reading your articles. My step-sister “likes” or “shares” them on Facebook. Yes, we can know what happens when we die. Jesus talked about this topic more than any other. If we truly want to know, God has provided the answer. Yes there is a heaven and yes there is a hell. If there weren’t then God would not be a just God and there would be no justice. Thankfully Jesus has paid our price to escape hell, if we will accept Him… When you do, there is no longer any doubt where you’ll go when you die. Death no longer has any teeth. God does something in our soul and spirit and you just know that you know…


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