First, you learn change can be instant
When you lose a parent at 19, you become somewhat of a taboo among your friends. People do their best to dance around your uncomfortable experience. They’ll quit mentioning their parents, cautiously ask about your family or flat-out tell you they have no idea how to talk to you anymore.
Yeah. That happens.
My life changed in many uncomfortable ways on November 8th, 2012. A major lifeline was gone. My relationships with friends, neighbors, and family were just a bit different. I couldn’t explain it, and I still can’t, but there is a shift in your entire paradigm. In a new, terrifying way, you are out of touch with most people around you.
I wasn’t sure if I was okay most of the time.
But you learn how to pretend you’re okay
On my ride home the day after he passed, I didn’t speak very much. But when I did speak, I didn’t cry nor did I shiver. Most of the time I looked straight ahead and spoke carefully. I was now at the center of a spectacle.
Each moment was history.
By far I am the biggest crier in my household. I am known for my empathy towards friends and coworkers. Many men struggle with tears, but I never have. I invite them in and enjoy the release.
Something was different about those first few weeks. I cried upon impact. Cried in my bedroom. Cried in private. However, the outside world was different. The tears were for me. I knew I had to carry on with my life.
If I let every moment destroy me, I would never escape.
So I held still.
You learn death isn’t a movie
Most people say death isn’t fair. Despite this, I still hear it at every funeral. Grief, it seems, is much easier at a distance.
Take popular culture. On almost any television show these days we anticipate a character death, even in comedy. But when a real death happens we are completely unprepared. Many people do not know why.
In real life, there is no dramatic music. No irony. It is absent of ascending action or justification. If you don’t stay present you’ll lose yourself in the past. If you don’t recognize your humanity and come to grips with it, you’ll fall into the ground.
Three days after my father passed, my grandmother walks down the aisle of our church. She looks straight at me, her eyes tired and body moving slowly.
“It should’ve been me”, she said.
It took me a while to understand what she meant.
You sometimes act out
I’m not a person who likes to sit still. Within weeks I had a regular therapeutic schedule. A one-on-one counselor, group therapy sessions, calls from family members and a lot of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
So yeah. I was okay, I guess. But my body wasn’t.
I drank a lot but pretended it was because I wanted to have a good time. At night, I would wake up and throw my hand over my stomach as it contracted and expanded at a rapid pace. The tension and fire in my legs burned as I longed for escape.
There was no telling when this train would stop.
So I had to stop it myself.
You stop when you commit to your own longevity
In the past year, I made a pledge to start treating my body with respect. Long gone are the days of rolled up joints, 4am bar crawls and nights full of Netflix. My body, as grief has shown me, is not permanent. Its end date isn’t set in fairness, but in a rhythm I can at least partly control.
When I wake up for morning meditation I thank the world and my body for the strength it gives me. I give thanks for the life I have with its abundance of nutritious food. I commit to my future. One day I may have a partner, children, a thriving business or young people needing my guidance and wisdom.
I don’t grieve anymore. I channel the negative energy, ground myself and look forward. It’s what I know my dad what have wanted.
We’ll talk about it some day, him and I.
I haven’t learned that. I just know.