Column: A lesson in grief and gratitude
I originally intended to use this space this week to write about Thanksgiving, the nostalgic memories, the things I am thankful for.
That was until Thursday morning, Nov. 19, when a phone call got me out of bed instead of the usual 6 a.m. alarm. One of my good friends from high school (I’m withholding his name out of respect for his family) was dead.
His services were this past Saturday, and when I started writing this hours after hearing about his death I already knew that I couldn’t be there. Time is money, money is time, and I did not have enough of either of those to make it back to Cincinnati.
In context, my life has been extremely easy; relatively free of tragedy. I suppose that could have made the “thankful list” in the previously planned column had it not taken the death of a friend to come to that realization.
That is one of life’s odd realities: the family, friends, health, possessions and other items that make conventional lists of things we are grateful for … they are all status quo. We rarely take stock of all those things until one of them is lost.
The good goes unappreciated until the bad surprises us. And when it does, we cling to the thought of a silver lining: He lived a good life; her suffering is over; they are in a better place.
I have never been one for silver linings. I believe they are an attempt to temporarily ease grieving minds and sorrowful hearts. The fact remains a mother and a father lost their son, a brother lost his brother, and many friends lost a friend far too early, even though he listed his birth year on Facebook as 1905 — a true example of his absurd and sarcastic sense of humor.
When I started writing last Thursday I thought that if there was sense to be made from his death, I had yet to make it. The separation between my friend and I over recent years combined with the knowledge that I would not be there at his funeral tortured me — a sort of paralysis that left me absent minded nearly all of Thursday.
When the sound of a fire truck rang through downtown that day I remember thinking: “I simply don’t care.” My mind was flashing back to watching UFC matches, listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Zeppelin, smoking pot while our parents slept, and the other things we did during those rebellious high school years.
Such was the mindset when I sulked to my car and headed to Parachute for the monthly trustee meeting that same day.
“How am I going to sit through a three hour meeting and focus?”
That is what I was thinking when a deer darted across Interstate 70 just before the Parachute exit. A powerful stomp on the brake pedal did not stop me from clipping the animal with the front passenger end of my car — which caused me to fishtail and come within roughly three feet from sliding off the road. The deer was nowhere to be found, as was my front headlight which was completely obliterated.
I laughed — my normal reaction when bad things pile up. It’s my way of giving the bird and an expletive to life. I drove to town hall and set my things down in the meeting room.
“I guess it could have been worse,” I concluded after explaining the event to a town employee. I didn’t really believe the words coming out of my mouth.
“Yeah, he could have gone through the windshield,” she retorted.
I laughed again and said, “that’s true.”
Life really is funny, sometimes. Until that moment, I had been consumed with grief. During the day I had stated my admiration for people who can bury themselves in work and other endeavors during times of mourning, for I am not one.
But just like that, 11 straight hours of sorrow evaporated, and all it took was some cosmetic damage — at least that’s what I hope the extent of the damage is — to my car.
It really could have been worse. The deer could have went through the windshield. Had any other vehicles been nearby at that moment there could have been an accident. I could have rolled off the interstate. I could have died.
The severe depression from the death of my friend has not returned since then. I have thought about the reality that I’ll never see him again; never watch a new video of him laying down some of the sickest guitar playing I’ve ever heard. And over the weekend I checked his Facebook page to see posts from friends and family before and after the services. He truly was loved by many during his unfortunately abbreviated life.
And when the day comes to a close this Thanksgiving, I’ll crack a beer, listen to some Stevie and try to smile, because in the current equation of emotions, gratitude outweighs grief. And I am thankful for that.
Rest in peace, my dear friend.
Ryan Hoffman is editor of The Citizen Telegram. He can be reached at 970-685-2103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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