The following was sent to me by a fellow grieving dad. It’s about his experience after the death of his 17 year old daughter.
It’s been a little over eight years since my daughter’s death and as I think back now I can remember some really sad times. For example, I can still remember getting the telephone call at work that hot August morning in 2002 from the Jackson, Mississippi police officer. After identifying himself, he asked me a very peculiar question, “Where are you” he asked. I asked him if he was asking me what my home address was. “No”, he said, “Where are you right now?” I told him where I worked and he said that he would be there in a few minutes. I remember thinking as I hung up the phone that he had to be bringing me bad news. Police officers don’t visit you in person with good news. When he arrived at my work place, he explained that there had been a serious automobile accident that morning, that my 17 year old daughter, Bonnie, had been driving, and that there was major impact to the driver’s side of the car she was driving. I recognized that he used the term “major impact” to let me know that there was heavy damage to the vehicle and that my daughter likely had a very serious injury.
After he escorted me to the hospital, and I got the really bad news-“She didn’t make it”, the doctor told me, I felt so strange. She didn’t make it, how could that be? I thought she was still in her bed that morning when I left for work. I didn’t realize that she had been out all night and had chosen to drive someone else’s car the next morning. Bonnie didn’t have a driver’s license, although she had a learner’s permit in the past. According to the policeman, witnesses said that Bonnie tried to turn right too late onto an exit off the highway, and when she realized that she wasn’t centered on the exit ramp she over compensated by turning the steering wheel to the left and ended up going straight across the two lanes of the highway where she was struck in the driver’s side by a larger vehicle.
When the doctor said those fateful words to me, I remember how strange I felt. It just didn’t compute. Bonnie had been a living breathing soul some hours earlier and now she was gone? I didn’t really feel anger at that time, but I do remember walking around the waiting room, pounding my right fist into my left palm and saying, “Nothing’s right about this, nothing’s right about this.” In retrospect, those were exactly the right words. Poor Bonnie, under the right conditions, she could have lived another 60, maybe even 70 years. Now the rest of her life was forfeited.
When we got home from the hospital, there were plenty of phone calls and in person visits. And I think that was a good thing-it helped keep my mind off the bad news. I remember sitting out in the side yard that afternoon and watching the garbage truck pick up garbage. It didn’t seem right, here were the garbage men picking up and emptying the trash cans just like nothing had happened. That whole first day of the death was a surreal day.
I didn’t call the funeral home, I waited on them to call me. I dreaded going to the funeral home to pick out the casket and select the date and time for the funeral service. I remember that our older daughter had given me a bag with the clothes to dress Bonnie in and how sad it felt to hand those clothes to the staff member at the funeral home. My voice broke as I made the selection for the casket-what an awful piece of metal furniture.
I was quite calm at the visitation the night before the funeral service. In fact, I was surprised at myself. I had expected to be upset and somewhat emotional, but instead I was calm. I was able to have a conversation with a good friend from the past that I hadn’t seen in a long time. We even laughed about some reminisces from our past. I put my arm around the waist of one of my female co-workers at the visitation (I was just glad to see her), but I thought later that my behavior probably seemed inappropriate to some people. Why didn’t I show more sadness, more remorse? I realized later that I must have been in emotional shock. It is my impression that emotional shock is there to protect us, to allow us “ease into” the new, unpleasant situation. During the two weeks after my daughter’s death, I puttered around the house, took walks, and generally carried on like I had before. I can remember exactly when the emotional shock ended. I had been back at work about a week. It was 21 days after my daughter’s death and I was sitting at my desk when a sadness came on me. I don’t know how else to describe it. I think I shed a few tears and somehow I understood that the emotional shock was leaving me and that Bonnie really was gone and I would never see her again on earth.
I moped around at work. My co-workers were respectful and generally left me alone. My sister gave me the name and phone number of another bereaved father and suggested that I call him. I did and he explained to me how his daughter died in a tragic automobile accident. Then he said something that really scared me. He told me that he thought the second year after his daughter’s death was the hardest. He said that he kept expecting her to come home that first year, but the second year he knew she wasn’t coming home. Naive as I was about grieving, I thought everything was over with in some reasonable time, a few months, maybe?
As I look back now eight years later, I’ve forgotten about some of the really, hard, sad times. And that shows that time does, in fact, provide some healing. What if God hadn’t built us to heal physically and emotionally. What if we had to feel exactly the same intense feelings every day for the rest of our life that we felt in the early stages? Could we stand it? But in fact, it does get better and I think there are several things we can do to help ourselves.
I found that writing is a tremendous help to me. Putting one’s thoughts on paper, I and then forwarding that writing on to a bereavement website is very therapeutic. Making a memorial area in your yard is also a very good idea. Support groups help some people-it’s probably worth a try. And finding something good to put your child’s name on (charity walk-a-thon, etc.) is also good. These things are a way to keep our child’s name “alive”, and that is what we seek.
As I think back over the emotions that I felt early on in the stages of grief, I recognize that I certainly felt sadness and some guilt. The guilt came about because I had been a fairly permissive parent and I have to remind myself that on her own my daughter had corrected several things in her life and was going down a better path. Of course, that also makes me realize that had it not been for a simple, inexperienced driver error, her life was about to improve.
I close with a short poem I wrote about a year after my daughter’s death:
“Death is such a final thing,
Or so the saying goes,
It has such a terminal ring,
And keeps us in the throes,
Of sadness beyond bounds,
But just remember this,
The memory of the person goes on,
As long as we refuse to forget.”