BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The purpose of this article is not to produce a tear jerker. It's not designed to bring feelings of sadness or pity. It's simply to pay tribute to my best friend Taylor Begnaud, his beautiful wife Angelle and their little angel…Camille Alyse Begnaud.
Camille officially passed away roughly a week ago. She was only two years old. Little Camille contracted a form of E Coli and eventually lapsed into a coma. As there was still hope to save her, I approached church for 10 a.m. mass two Sundays ago…hoping the power of prayer would bring her through. Before I hit my knees, the cell phone went off at 9:55 a.m. It was Taylor's father, Mr. Toby. Camille was gone.
Fourteen years ago, at almost this exact time, Taylor and I buried one of our best friends, Yancy Duhon. He died instantly when a land rig he was working on in Louisiana exploded during the summer of 1997. We were pallbearers, and carried our buddy into a church of shrieking, screaming, sobbing mourners. Those sounds were so intense, they're still seared into my brain today. Poor Yancy was only 21 years old. I thought certainly nothing could've been worse for us…than that day. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
The feelings after Camille's loss are hard to describe. The sun shines brightly, the temperatures are in the 90s…yet you really feel nothing. There's a numbness, a sadness, an instinct that just causes you to shake your head "no" repeatedly. You take deep breaths to slow your heart and you wonder why. Eventually…you explode into tears.
Unfortunately, I don't think I got to know this precious child the way I should've. You know the drill, don't you? We are all so entrenched in our careers. We load up on caffeine, rush from one deadline to the next and time simply escapes us. A few days quickly becomes a few weeks. It's Labor Day. Wait a second…it's Thanksgiving. Beads and jazz music are filling the air…it's Mardi Gras. And now it's time for patriotic hymns and fireworks…the Fourth of July. You blink and five years are gone. You take a few steps, look back and a decade is behind you.
During Camille's 780 days on this Earth, there was the opportunity for a few visits. I say a few because Taylor and Angelle moved to Katy, Texas…making it a little more difficult to see them. But I was able to make one special rendezvous during this past spring and saw a young girl that flew around the house…like Chris Paul sprints up and down the basketball court. Like Paul, tiny Camille wasn't afraid to charge towards anyone or anything.
Before last week, I don't believe I knew what it was truly like…to hurt for someone else. Sure, we've all felt badly for others. We've shared sadness with our parents, when their parents (our grandparents) have passed. But until you've seen a father stare at his 2-year-old's casket…until you've seen a mother so stricken with grief she can hardly stand…you don't know what it's truly like to ache for another person. Taylor and Angelle are wonderful, successful, caring people. They didn't deserve this. And as most people echoed at the funeral and wake, "No parent should go through this."
My boy, Taylor, has always been a strapping dude…6'0" and at least 235 solid pounds. He sports a shaved bald head and could easily pass for one of those bouncers you don't want getting a hold of you. And he indeed was a rock through this whole ordeal. He was bleeding on the inside more than anyone could ever imagine…yet he stepped into the line of fire to take even more bullets. Simply put…he was a MAN for his wife.
Legendary sportscaster Bob Costas once said his pet-peeve in the business was the saying, "This puts everything into perspective." Costas pointed out people often utter that line immediately after a tragedy, then are caught saying it again just a short time later. Costas joked, "So, you're meaning to tell me we've already lost perspective in two weeks?" And for me…my pet-peeve was quickly becoming the phrase "thoughts and prayers." To me, those words just seemed too easy to say, too effortless to mumble anytime something horrible occurred. It just rang empty…and indeed felt cliché.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with you," ok whatever…let's move on to the next story. But the reality is this…many clichés, are true. This shattering turn of events with Camille does indeed…put all of those trivial things "in perspective." The promotion we didn't get, the 10 pounds we need to lose, the girl or guy who didn't call back…it's all so ridiculously meaningless. And unfortunately at a time like this, with a senseless loss like this…most of us likewise feel helpless. And In many ways all we can offer…ARE those "thoughts and prayers."
Reverend Louis Richard was Taylor and I's childhood priest growing up in Milton, Louisiana. When I served as an altar boy (I'll give you a second to overcome the shock), Father Louis used to fuss at me on the altar because Taylor (sitting in the pews) would make me laugh. I mean a lot. The mischievous Begnaud would stick his tongue out or make whatever stupid face…and I'd just lose it up there. You know how it goes…when you're absolutely forbidden to laugh, you WILL.
Not long ago, Father Louis married Taylor and Angelle at Sacred Heart Church in Broussard, Louisiana and I stood as the best man. Somehow we went from that day of ultimate joy…to one of crushing pain and devastation. Why? We don't know why.
But as Father Louis told the overflow funeral crowd, "Taylor and Angelle have one message for you today…celebration, celebration, celebration. We are here to honor the life, no matter how short, of Camille Alyse Begnaud."
So I will end in this in that spirit. We could certainly finish with…"this isn't fair," because it sure as hell isn't. But we do our best to avoid the temptation of that anger and rage. I'm not a father…so for me to even discuss these emotions…well, I'm speaking out of turn. But I do know this…
Hundreds of people, perhaps thousands of them who never knew this little girl have now been touched immensely by her. The Facebook messages and posts have been overwhelming…the support from absolute strangers staggering. It's one of the many things we love about South Louisiana…we rally around each other, we love each other.
The softball tournament Taylor and I started 18 years ago (The Doucet/Begnaud Invitational), has become a powerful charity fundraiser for Louisiana troops. It was Taylor's idea initially to give the money to the military, after he served our country in the United States Army. That wonderful tournament may soon take on Camille's name. The Blue Star Mothers of Louisiana are likewise already in the process of a new, military, college scholarship fund to also be named after this precious, little angel.
So we will never forget. And I won't forget about my dear friends…who will need me for years to come.
We love you, Camille.