Lakers' Lamar Odom has to deal with death all over again
Odom, in New York last month for a slain cousin's funeral, was a passenger in a car that crashed with a motorcycle, leading to the death of a pedestrian. 'I've been burying people for a long time,' says Odom, whose mother died when he was 12 and who lost an infant son in 2006.
August 2, 2011, 6:52 p.m.
Lamar Odom's voice on the phone frequently was barely above a whisper. The pain clearly registered in words that flowed in stops and starts as he delivered a soliloquy about death and the effect it has had on his psyche.
The Lakers forward spoke deliberately and expressed how emotional it has been for him to deal with two recent deaths.
Odom attended a funeral in New York on July 13 for his 24-year-old cousin, who Odom said was murdered.
The next day, Odom was a passenger in an SUV in Queens when it collided with a motorcycle. The motorcycle went out of control and hit a 15-year old pedestrian, Awsaf Alvi Islam, police said. The boy died from head injuries the following day. No charges have been filed, and the accident is under investigation, police said.
The toll of these tragedies has weighed heavily on Odom.
"Death always seems to be around me," Odom said in a low tone. "I've been burying people for a long time. When I had to bury my child, I probably didn't start grieving until a year and a half later.
"I think the effects of seeing [my cousin] die and then watching this kid die, it beat me down. I consider myself a little weak. I thought I was breaking down mentally. I'm doing a lot of reflecting."
Odom said he didn't eat much for "eight or nine days" after the events. All the while, thoughts of dark moments in his life consumed him.
His mother, Cathy Mercer, died of colon cancer when he was 12. His grandmother Mildred Mercer, who reared him, died in 2004. His son Jayden, not quite 7 months old, died of sudden infant death syndrome in his crib in 2006.
There are aunts, cousins and friends, Odom said, all of them "taken away from me."
As he began to soul-search yet again, Odom concluded, "I may need to see a psychologist."
Meanwhile, he has been reading a book, "Embraced by the Light," by Betty J. Eadie, that touches on prayers and devotions for daily living.
"I like to think about things to guide my decisions," Odom said.
His trip to New York last month was supposed to be for a Nike commercial shoot.
Before he left, though, Odom was told his cousin had been shot. The funeral was on a Wednesday.
The next day Odom was in the back of a chauffeur-driven SUV getting his hair cut while on his way to Queens, where he grew up.
Odom said they made a left turn and all of a sudden, "I hear a 'ka-boom!' "
A man doing "wheelies" on a motorcycle "had jumped in front of us," Odom said, coming toward them so fast that it was impossible to avoid the crash.
"When he [the motorcyclist] slid, I thought it was two people on the bike. But what actually happened is that [after] the guy that hit us, as the motorcycle was sliding, he ran into someone else.
"And when I saw him run into someone else, I heard another 'ka-boom!' I looked at the person that was hit by the motorcycle and I kind of knew that 'this kid just received death.' I'm sitting in the car looking him right in the face. I'm like, 'I think he's gone.' "
Odom paused a few seconds to gather himself. His breathing was deliberate and his words were slow to come.
"The first thing I did was call my wife [Khloe Kardashian] and I told her we got into an accident. I said, 'This kid is dead.' I think just because I had seen death with my cousin, I was like, 'Oh, I can't believe I'm seeing this two days in a row.' "
Odom, 31, offered his condolences to Islam's family. "But I'm sure they're in shock," Odom said.
The death of his cousin has also put more weight on Odom's shoulders.
He had the responsibilities of being the head of the family, of making the funeral arrangements, of pulling the family together. It's a role that normally went to Odom's "grandmother or someone that was much older," he said.
Now the burden is on him, although he has the help of "a very strong wife," Odom said.
"I was leaning over the casket and I was talking to my cousin. I was telling him that I wish the first words from Khloe to him was 'Hi and not bye.' It's tough when someone gets murdered.
"Then it's what it has done to me emotionally and physically. It's someone that you love. I've had to tell myself that I will get through this. And I will. I have to."