The first days of Grief

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    When sifting through memories it’s always difficult to pinpoint a beginning. Dealing with grief is the same. Of course I can remember the very instant my life changed, but the actual lasting importance of that moment took some time to really settle in. This is the first portion of that realization. It encompasses the the first two days (or so) of grief. I’ll be adding journal entries later as comments to help fill in some details especially in regards to what I was thinking and feeling. I’ll also be adding new posts describing the phases of grief I encountered as they occurred. I’m hoping that this will serve as one public record of the billions of experiences people face everyday. This is a small endeavor to make grief more acceptable to discuss publicly. Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below.

    It was September and I was 26 years old. Saved in my phone is a picture of me with my future brother in law at some type of concert. I’ve saved that picture and returned to it from time to time. It was the last night where my life didn’t have the missing piece that it has had since the following morning. I look back and wonder if I’d have done anything different on that last night had I known how much my life would change the next day. It’s a pointless endeavor but grief never leaves me short of “what ifs” to think about.

    My fiance and I had talked to my parents on the phone earlier that day before heading to the concert. We were planning on talking to them about our wedding that December but my parents seemed tired and my father was looking forward to getting to bed due to a chukar hunting competition the following morning.

    My dad was never one to say “good bye” at the end of a phone call. It was always, “alright,” or “love ya,” then the sound of the phone hanging up. But that night before the call ended he said it. “Goodbye.” It struck both my fiance and I as strange. I remember thinking, “man he must be changing his ways. He finally said goodbye.”

    The next morning I awoke to my mother calling me on Skype. Usually it was my father calling me and never at that time. As soon as I answered I knew something was up. Immediately my thoughts jumped to some of our older relatives and family friends. “Oh shit. Who died?” I thought. “Mom, is everything ok?” I asked. I can recall the quiver in her voice. “No, Josh…Your dad’s dead.”

    I have often thought about my dad’s last morning on earth. He’d gone for an early morning run and then went off to a bird hunting competition (he ended up winning by a mere 3 seconds). It was after his last hunting round of the day, on his way back to the truck, he had a heart attack and died.

    No one’s ever really prepared for that moment. My world became jello. That brief period between hearing and understanding stretched out tenfold. When it finally hit me tears began to silently flow down my cheeks. I don’t even remember the rest of the call but after we’d hung up I looked over to my fiance and asked, “do you know what going on?” “I think so… Who was it?” “My dad.”

    I’ve never cried harder than I did after that. It was a sorrow so deep guttural moans of sadness cascaded throughout my entire body. I cried onto my fiance, the pillow, the blanket, everywhere. Looking back and trying to recall the feelings and emotions is a bit blurry. What comes to mind is a big blue blob of sad. It’s body travels aimlessly throughout the tiny apartment, it makes horrific wails, and leaves a shimmering pool of memories wherever it moves.

    I’d been trying to up smoking but after I’d calmed down a bit I immediately went out, bought a pack, chain-smoked, had a beer, called a few people and tried to figure out how to make it back home. It seemed as if every few minutes a new wave of emotion would crash back down on me. I called my mom back and got more details and I got a ticket to return home from the other side of the globe. The ticket was a for a day later than tomorrow and looking back I’m glad I had a little time to prepare for the trip. I’m so thankful that my work was more than willing to help during this time. My supervisor/friend came out to see me after work and chatted with me as I chain smoked and drank at a little park next to my apartment. That little gesture really made things better at the time. The people in my life really stepped up to the plate to be there for me during this time. I’m forever indebted to their kindness. If you’re one of those people thank you so much.

    It’s hard to describe how I felt at the time. I suppose after the initial jolt of grief I was lulled into pure unadulterated shock. On the one hand I was stupefied by the idea that this man I thought was a living super hero was gone forever. On the other I was so happy to have had him as a father and happy that he’d “gone out with his boots on” during his chukar shoot. Even now, years later, I’m glad he passed while doing something he thoroughly enjoyed. If we can all be so lucky what a blessing that would be.

    The night before I left I called one of our close family friends and was too distraught to think about the time difference. His wife answered the phone and thought that bitching out someone who called them late-ish in the evening was a good idea. I cried so hard and was so bitterly angry about that. So now I’ve logged that into my mind, if someone is calling me at an obtuse time there is probably a good reason why. I don’t blame her now. Who doesn’t want a peaceful night of sleep?

    Two days after the news I was at the airport beginning my journey home.

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