Vickie Burse still feels the same pain that every other mother feels when she has to leave her child in a cemetery.
“Holidays are the worst. Can I just be honest about it,” Burse said. “Most holidays, you can’t get out of bed. You just stay in bed and try to sleep through the day until it’s over. Holidays are debilitating.”
Thanksgiving is a day when families gather to offer gratitude for life and all its blessings.
In the midst of a global epidemic this year, everyone is being asked to stay home. That’s what Burse was going to do anyway. There is no joy in gatherings without BJ.
Barry Burse Jr. was gunned down in North Memphis on July 1, 2013, while visiting an ex-girlfriend. He had just come home after completing freshman year at Lyon College in Batesville, Ark. BJ would always come home on break.
“I saw the video of his shooting,” said his mother. “BJ walked up to this guy, the girl’s present boyfriend, and reached out to shake his hand. The man pulled out a gun and just shot him in the chest. The girl said she wanted the two of them to fight over her. I am angry.”
Burse admits there are families who can inspire others with declarations of hope and faith, but she is not there yet. He left a family shattered and broken-hearted.
“Just this week Monday, we had BJ’s cars moved,” said Burse. “Barry Sr., his father, owns a trucking company, and we had BJ’s cars moved to the lot where Barry Sr., keeps his trucks. His sister, Britney, fell apart. I had to go over and comfort her.”
BJ was gifted a Mercedes sports coup from his parents at graduation, and bought a Camaro with his own money. The Camaro has been in Burse’s garage, and the Mercedes was kept at Britney’s house.
“The tow truck was at Britney’s house for nearly an hour,” said Burse. “She just cried when the car was moved. I can’t bring myself to sell those cars, and I can’t even take seeing someone driving down the street in one them. For Britney, losing BJ is still very painful.”
Burse is chief operating officer of the COGIC Publishing Company, and Britney teaches school locally. Britney was in college living away from home when BJ was killed. She moved back home after the tragedy.
Burse joins her voice with other Memphis families who have railed against the rampant wave of gun violence on the streets of Memphis.
“You know, you get them through high school and off to college,” said Burse. “That’s when you sigh with relief that you got your son through the most dangerous time. Even living in Twinkletown, a very, good neighborhood (in Whitehaven), I couldn’t keep my son safe.”
Holidays are a time of solitude for both Britney and her mother. It has been over seven years since BJ’s death, and Burse realizes that people who don’t understand the depth of their loss, simply feel that “it’s time to move on.”
“I know some feel like I should just be over BJ’s death by now,” said Burse. “But when I stop talking about BJ, people will forget him. I want them to always remember that he lived, that he was here.”
BJ was working on a degree in international business, and he played semi-professional soccer while studying at Lyon.
Burse relives the tragedy of losing BJ, over and over. She had flown on business trip to Baltimore. BJ had dropped his mother off at the airport.
“When I got in the car, I fussed at BJ for riding around without gas in his car,” Burse recalled. “He just laughed. Everything was a big joke to him.”
Burse got out and discovered she had left her laptop in BJ’s car. She called him back, and he came back so she could retrieve it.
“Before I went in to the airport, I remember that I hugged him so tightly,” Burse said. “My phone was off during the flight, but as soon as we landed, I turned it back on and saw that I had a message from BJ’s father. I called back and he said, ‘BJ has been killed.’”
Her son’s assailant received five years for second-degree manslaughter, Burse said. That’s when she realized that closure would not come in the killer’s punishment. Closure would come from God and her faith.
“One day, I know that I will be better,” said Burse. “This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my daughter and all the wonderful memories BJ left us. We won’t be going out on Thursday. I’m just going to stay in and love on Britney. I have our pajamas and hot chocolate all ready.”