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“Hell to the No”: Why I’m Upset About the Death of Whitney Houston

It’s not like I knew her personally. We weren’t buds. We didn’t have a whole lot in common, other than being almost the same age. And being American. And being sultry, soulful mezzo-sopranos with two-and-a-half-octave ranges who, in our prime, could knock the crap out of any song we sang.

Oh, wait. That was her, not me.

A few hours after she died, I was driving home from a choir retreat. I didn’t know she was gone. All I knew was that every station on the radio was playing Whitney Houston. I didn’t find out why until the next morning.

When I found out she’d passed, it felt like I’d lost something. How could that be? Like I said, I didn’t know her.

But some people play out their lives on the public stage. And in so doing, they become our Gods and Goddesses, our archetypes. We feel like we know them, and we project our own lives onto theirs.

So what was it about Whitney’s death that affected me so strongly? And what did it have to do with me?

First of all, I wasn’t just pissed when she died. I was sad. I was sad to hear about her struggle with addiction, and the toll it took on her once-magical voice. I was sad to know that this woman who had lived so many public triumphs had also lived a private hell.

I first became interested in Whitney in the late ’80s, when rumors were circulating about her and her then-personal-assistant Robyn Crawford. Was Whitney Houston something other than straight? I have no idea. Just like I have no idea about so many elements of her life:

Would she have been an addict if she hadn’t been in the limelight? How was her struggle with addiction related to her fame? To her background? To her sexuality? What was she trying to avoid by using drugs and alcohol? Why didn’t she get clean? Why did she have to die?

In the weeks after Whitney Houston’s death, I sat with these questions and my own emotional reactions to them. Overall, I felt depressed and contracted, and I wasn’t sure why.

And then it hit me.

I was pissed at her for not sticking around. I was pissed at her for dying, and taking her gift with her. I was pissed at her for straying from what she’d been given, and for letting herself be buried by the residual gunk of stardom.

Though even as I thought this, I realized it was ultimately my projection. I didn’t know her. But I do know that, when she sang, I got chills. It was like hearing God sing.

photo: Richard Young

Whitney Houston was a model for me, in terms of taking your God-given gift into the world. Taking that Spirit-fueled talent and sharing it with others. All of us can do that, including me. Whitney inspired me to take what I’ve been given and share it with others. And to not let anything stop me from doing so.

And then she herself was stopped.

Maybe there’s a gift in that, too. Maybe that was her final gift to us.

To remind us to be fierce. To remind us to look adversity in the face and answer “Hell to the No,” a phrase she popularized. To remind us not to be stopped by our fears or compromised by our addictions.

Maybe that’s a gift we can give to her now. To share our talents and abilities with the world. And to say “Hell to the No” to anyone – or anything – that tries to silence us.

Who have been your inspirations? And how have you said “Hell to the No” to those things that tried to stop you?

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16 Responses to “Hell to the No”: Why I’m Upset About the Death of Whitney Houston

  1. Veronica March 6, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    You made me recry for Whitney. Her human journey was arduous and difficult but her spiritual journey was a resounding success. We truly live our lives on two distinct levels until we are granted the wisdom to merge the two. The human experience and the spiritual journey.
    I remember feeling her sing inside of me. Like you said it was” God’s voice” It was perfection. I am so grateful for experience. Although I miss Whitney and I mourn with her family-all I can say is Baby Job well done. Your light shined so bright for the entire world-it could not be sustained. Whitney-with love (so MUCH love you would not BELIEVE IT) and no judgement-thank you so much. and JOB WELL DONE. I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU.

    • Z Egloff March 6, 2012 at 10:31 am #

      Veronica,

      Your comments brought up more emotion for me about Whitney’s life. It’s that grief cycle – seeing, appreciating, mourning. And I totally agree: Baby, Job well done. I too have so much love for Whitney and what she gave us. It really can’t be taken away, even by her death. She gave us something amazing, and I really do believe that we can take that inspiration into the world and continue that joy and that gift.

      XOZ

  2. Marcy March 6, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    Z – thank you for expressing and articulating what I’ve been feeling about Whitney. I agree with you in regards to being uplifted and inspired by Spirit-given talent. As with Elvis, Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson, it makes me sad when such gifts leave this planet too soon. And yet their voices and music live on, to bless and bring us joy forever. It helps to tap into gratitude and awe ~ appreciating them rather than feeling loss. And knowing that I am made of the same stuff they are – there’s a gift in all of us, including me. “Spirit gave me a Light, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine”. Sparkle on dude! XO

    • Z Egloff March 6, 2012 at 10:27 am #

      Hi Marcy,

      Yes – “I’m gonna let it shine.” Absolutely. That’s what it’s all about – with us and with Whitney. I’m glad that the post was meaningful for you. I have been really impacted by her death, and felt like I needed to try to express at least some of what was going on inside me. And I know that many of us are involved in a group mourning of her passing. And that she represents something for all of us – not just what she brought to the planet, but that potential that we all have. Sparkle on indeed!

      XOZ

  3. Deborah D-G March 6, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Dearest Z, thank you so much for your post, for taking the time and for articulating so well your thoughts and feelings about the death of Whitney Houston. We all feel the loss and you expressed it so well. I look forward to reading more of your posts. I am glad that you are choosing to shine your light for us with your words.

    • Z Egloff March 6, 2012 at 11:24 am #

      Hi Deborah,

      Thanks for reading. I know that people die all the time, including celebrities, but Whitney Houston’s death hit me particularly hard. And I know that I’m not the only one who felt that way. It’s such a strange mix of gratitude and anger and hope that I feel, in thinking about her life and death. And I’m grateful for the readers, like you, who are sharing in the grief process.

      XOZ

  4. Jo Lauer March 6, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Kennedy, Joplin, Hendrix, King . . .the list goes on and on, ending most recently with Whitney. Is the “Light” snuffed out, or just transformed, spread around, ready for re-uptake somewhere else. Are we it? Are we the re-uptakers? I chose to think so.

    I stood before a hard-edged, fast-talking NY editor at a panel last year to give my elevator pitch and answer a few questions so she could either deem me publishable, or squish me like a bug. Her feedback was: “I’d never (fill in what she’d never accept in the first paragraph, or the title of a book, etc., etc.–all things I had just “done”).

    Did I crawl under a rock? Only for a day or two. In the end, it motivated me to enter the world of self-publishing. You’ll be the first to hear when the book is ready.

    • Z Egloff March 6, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      Hi Jo,

      Yes, I agree that we are the re-uptakers. And I think that’s one reason that these deaths hit us so hard – they are a call to action. A reminder to let our own voices be heard. I’m glad that your stay under the rock was brief, and that you reemerged to continue to write and share your gifts. I look forward to knowing when your book is ready!

      XOZ

  5. Susan Muir March 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    Thanks Z, for sharing your feelings, I met Whitney many years ago at a fundraiser for battered women in LA. She was there with her female lover, and ironically she was there to raise money for battered women, and yet she spent all those years with her husband who was a batterer. Since I used to work with battered women I know how hard that addiction can be, and that is not to sound mean but its true, I have helped over 10,000 women to freedom, and I know what goes with it, drugs, alcohol, etc, etc. It sad and when I heard the news I thought wow, I wish she could have gotten out of her relationship before it was too late. She will be missed, she was a beautiful person, but when you have been battered the abuser robs you of your inner beauty unless you have the strength and courage to get out and get some help. So I will never forget her, nor the night I met her . Wow that was so long ago……….

    • Z Egloff March 7, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      Hi Susan, Thanks for sharing your memories of Whitney. Very cool that you were able to meet her. It’s so hard to even fathom how things were for her. I’m sorry that she’s gone, but I’m also grateful for all that she gave us. You’re right – she will be missed. XOZ

  6. Marion March 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    She gave us “The greatest Love of ALL”. That’s enough.

    • Z Egloff March 7, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks, Marion. I agree. XOZ

  7. Jill Shinn March 6, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    I said “Hell to the No” (sort of) this morning when I my smug OBGyn tried to tell me that I didn’t know what was going on with my own body when i knew I did. I argued with him and wouldn’t back down, even when he cranked up the “smug-o-meter.” Then I went home and blogged about the need the question authority, especially of the medical profession/ medical system. That felt good.

    • Z Egloff March 7, 2012 at 11:53 am #

      Hey Jill – You go, girl!! Sometimes you just got to pull out the ole “HTTN”! I look forward to reading your post about it. . . . XOZ

  8. C.I. March 13, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    I could go personal or Big–Decided on BIG. The biggest “Hell to the NO” of my lifetime in the face of adversity was when my generation ended the unjust and lethal Vietnam War. It took years of protest marches, circulating 18-year old vote petitions, folk songs, political organizing and media coverage of the body bags coming home, etc.to accomplish it. We didn’t back down! Joan Baez was a major inspiration.

    It gave us a sense of power, which seemed to diffuse over the years, but we the people (especially the 99%) still have the power to turn this nation around to serve us—increase minimum wage, feed our own hungry, stop the continuously-increasing health insurance premiums and educate us for the 2 million jobs that go unfulfilled.

    Didn’t mean to go steam of consciousness, but it’s a great feeling!

    Thanks for your thoughts on Whitney–I share the sadness for her and all the great celebs and others we have lost this way. Legal Pharmaceutical drugs are killing us! Adelantate, mujer !

    • Z Egloff March 13, 2012 at 10:02 am #

      Hi Cheryl,

      Go BIG or go home!!!

      I appreciate your comments. I especially like the awareness that “Hell to the No” can be used in so many powerful, productive ways. And I love having a reminder of the Power of the People to make a change, especially in this climate, where that reminder is so needed and so necessary.

      Rock ON with your bad self!!!!!

      XOZ

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