Signing with a heavy heart

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CHARLOTTE — Signing an NFL contract should be a time of great celebration for any player.

But for new Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu, the only thing he could muster was that his news offered a brief moment of happiness for his parents, a small glimmer of joy in a time of deep sadness for their entire family.

Luvu came into the Panthers' facility Tuesday dressed casually but wearing a reminder of the man he could never forget. The 24-year-old linebacker had a large button pinned to his shirt which read: "Rest in Jesus — Till We Meet Again. Frazier Luvu. Sunrise July 9, 1986, Sunset March 6, 2021."

Frazier was the oldest of Veresa and Faaloiloia Luvu's eight children. Frankie is the youngest.

Frankie recalled being with his brother the week before his death, speaking slowly but plainly about the grief.

"I've lost teammates, I've lost an uncle, but losing a brother that I looked up to and molded myself to be like, everything he did I wanted to imitate, . . . It was hard, it was really hard," Luvu said. "I was in Arizona when it happened, I was by myself, I didn't have any family around me, I was out there for training.

"It was really hard, I didn't work out, I didn't feel like eating, I felt stuck."

Luvu explained that his brother took his own life, a shattering bit of news he was still processing, and which made his joining a new team more difficult to enjoy.

"Yeah, it's hard talking about it now," he said. "Just knowing he's not going to be here is hard. At the end of the day, I want to make him proud."

The family was together last weekend for the funeral in Seattle. The togetherness was necessary, the balm they required. The absence of one, however, will take much longer to recover from, and it made the contract offer from the Panthers hard to concentrate on.

That's what he was doing Tuesday, moving quickly through his paperwork, taking a physical, signing his contract, and getting on another cross-country flight. Luvu had to get back to his parents, as they try to figure out each day how to take their next steps.

"The whole family was all together," Luvu said. "That's the thing, when we're together, we were all happy. But once everyone started going back to their own routine, . . . Mom and Dad, we just tried to make sure they were OK.

"It gave them a little bit of a spark when I told them the news. They thought I was leaving for good (Monday). I told them, no I'm just going for work, I'll be right back. I just want to try to keep their spirits as high as I can."

As hard as that may be right now, Luvu said he wanted to honor his brother's memory as he enters a new chapter of his career.

"It was a tough weekend," he said. "At the end of the day, I had to switch my mindset and think about what I needed to do and what he would want me to do, which is take care of the family."

Luvu called his new job here "a blessing," though blessings can be hard to see during a time of sorrow.

But when Frankie Luvu walked in, he walked in with his brother Frazier near to his heart — taking another small step together on a journey of healing, knowing there's no map, and only time.

View photos of linebacker Frankie Luvu during his time with the Jets from 2018-20.

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