“I’m sorry I’m crying.” My mom dabbed her face with a Kleenex. “I cry whenever I talk about this, but it’s good for me.”
I took another sip of orange juice and swallowed. Lukewarm, tart, something sweet to distract me—but I could feel my eyes start to water.
It was Easter Sunday, and Village Inn was crowded. Couples with little kids and high chairs. Old ladies with knit sweaters and walkers. College students with baseball caps and khaki pants. Servers with sore feet and unkempt hair. So many different people with so many different experiences. But I was sure none of them were having conversations like ours.
Another single tear slid down her cheek. “People think I should be over it since it’s been almost two years since Daddy died. They don’t realize it isn’t something you ‘get over.'”
Not something you “get over”?
I had. There were days that I hadn’t thought of it at all.
Things that serious don’t come up in a casual conversation. My friends and I talked about work and school and music and, well, trivial things. For a long time most of them didn’t even know my dad had died. I never knew how to tell them. What would I say, anyway? “Well, we’ve been friends for a few months now, so I guess you should know. My dad died when I was 18.”
For two years I hid from reality. So far from home, at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, with only a handful of people around who knew me when it happened—it was easy to pretend it didn’t happen. I rarely talked about it, and it became easier not to think about it, too.
One Friday night we got together at a friend’s apartment for vespers. To start off, we went around the circle and picked a question to answer: “What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?” or “What was the longest night of your life?”
I could think of only one thing to say.
Should I say it?
A voice I didn’t recognize came out of my mouth—shaky, small, and frail—telling truths that still seemed like lies to my own ears.
But even after my friends knew, it didn’t change much. They still didn’t know what it was like. They hadn’t lost their father. They didn’t understand. They probably thought I only thought of my dad when someone mentioned death. But I thought of him every time I saw a family, every time I saw children with their father, every time I saw a husband with his wife. Every time!
They didn’t know, and I couldn’t talk to them about it.
No one understands what grief is like until they experience it. You can’t control it. You can’t plan it. You can’t explain it.
Sometimes it’s just the memories. What it was like to drive home, walk up to our front door, turn the handle, and hear my dad inside. What it was like to see my parents kiss. What it was like to sit around the dinner table with my family on Friday night. What it was like to hear Dad lead a Sabbath school lesson. What it was like to have a father.
And what it was like to see him unconscious, his face green and bloated, as we lifted him out of the back of that U-Haul truck. What it was like to see someone give him CPR. What it was like to call 911 for an ambulance—for my own father—and not be able to tell them how old he was because I couldn’t think. What it was like to see him dead on a gurney in an emergency room, with blank eyes and a piece of plastic tubing sticking out of his mouth. What it was like to lose my father.
That’s why I hid.
But I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until that Sunday morning when I was sitting in Village Inn with my mom.
Her eyes met mine. “I know how your brother and your sister are doing, but you keep to yourself. I don’t have any idea what’s going on inside that head of yours. What are you thinking?” she asked.
I didn’t know what to say.
A week later while sitting in church I broke down. Suddenly everything around me reminded me of my dad. Every praise song. Every scripture reference in the sermon. Words like “father” and “suffering” felt like daggers. I could feel my eyes getting foggy and red.
My friend Ashley reached out and put her arm on my shoulder, steadying my shaking arm. Her eyes met mine.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as the organist began playing the postlude.
“I don’t know what it is—just something about being here, at church, I guess. Normally I don’t think about my dad very much, and I never cry about it. But today I am. I don’t know what’s happening.”
The next night it happened again.
I sat on my friend Ben’s bed trying to concentrate on my homework but unable to get past thoughts of my dad. I closed my laptop and lay down, my head in my arms. He could tell something was wrong.
“Do you want to spend the night?” He pulled a sleeping bag out of his closet and started spreading it on the floor. “What are you thinking?” he asked.
I closed my eyes and breathed out. “I hate that no matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing, I can’t get away from it. It’s always there.”
“I hate that every time my mom talks about it, her eyes well up and she starts to cry. And I hate that she has to live like that for the rest of her life. I hate seeing her that way. It just hurts.”
“I hate thinking about it. So I don’t. It’s easier.”
“What’s made you start thinking about it now?”
“I guess I realized I’ve been hiding from it.”
Long after we said good night, I laid there with my eyes open. Lord, thank You, I prayed. It’s been good to talk about it, to share some of my thoughts. There’s more to say, I know. But it’s a start.
I rolled over and adjusted the pillow under my head.
I’ll think of it every day for the rest of my life, and it’ll hurt. I can’t change that. But I don’t have to keep it inside. I can talk about it, pray about it, and share it with people who care about me. Even though they can’t understand completely, they know what it means to hurt, what it means to need comfort and reassurance. And they can listen. They can be there.
I looked up at Ben’s face peeking from under his covers.
I don’t have to hide anymore.