On the way to work my boss, Mike, and I, stop to get gas and a bite to eat. As we climb back in the truck, the phone rings. He answers it and steps outside. When he returns, I know something is wrong. “We need to run by the church. I have to sign some papers for a committee I’m on,” he says.
Then there is silence. A silence that is all too familiar. An uncomfortable silence – one that only accompanies bad news. The sinking feeling in my gut tells me that there were no papers to sign. For twelve long minutes, my mind races. Could it be my grandmother? She is 84. I just talked to her on the phone yesterday. She was fine. Has my uncle been arrested again? I wouldn’t be surprised.
We enter the church office, where I am greeted with tearful eyes. My youth pastor, Bruce, calls me into his office. Mike and Herman follow, closing the door behind them. “I don’t know how to tell you this other than just saying it,” Bruce said before a long pause, “but…your dad died this morning.” In utter disbelief I collapsed into the chair behind me, with tears pouring down my face.
In that moment, my life changed forever. The words “your dad died” muffled the noise of the world around me. After minutes that seemed like years, I barely choked out a very weak, “how?” as I was told that my grandmother had found him lifeless earlier that morning. After having lost my mom at the age of four, being faced with death of my father was my worst fear. And, suddenly, it had come true.
I learned that day that loss does not give us permission to remain the same. Those five words were the preface to a life that would never be as it had been before. Loss changes us. It makes our lives different. It makes us different. It changes our perspectives in painful and unexpected ways.
After having our worlds turned upside down by experiencing the death of someone we love, we are forced look deeper within ourselves, acknowledging our own mortality and the mortality of those we love. We learn more about what really matters. We begin to “get it.” It is in those moments that we truly begin to understand the value of a minute – of a breath – of a heartbeat. The words “I love you” become more visible in our actions and more audible in our words. We realize that in the grand scheme of things, so few things matter.
That hot July day changed my life in so many ways. I was forced to find a new normal – to incorporate the experience of loss into my life – To face it, find meaning in it, confront it, and make the best of it. I was forced to change.
Updated: May 8, 2015