The Impact of Grief After the Loss of a Loved One
It was 8:45 am, only twelve hours until she and my stepfather were to return home from their week-long vacation in Canada. Only, my mother had a different set of news when she had called me that morning on May 15th, 2016.
My stepfather had a heart attack, and he did not make it.
He was fifty-three years old. This past September would have been my mother and Jeff’s three-year wedding anniversary, not counting the ten years of them being together as a couple.
All I remember was asking, “What/What happened/What did you just say?”
I paced around the house for about an hour or so, after hanging up with my mother, trying to figure out what was going on. And what would soon come. I was home alone. The more pictures I saw of Jeff, my anger just escalated. I threw all of the refrigerator magnets across the room and punched the dining room table.
I know that nobody is supposed to discuss grief, but Jeff was more than a stepfather to me—he was the dad I never had.
It was something that my brother-in-law and one of Jeff’s friend said to me days after his passing—Jeff had always spoken of me like he did with his own biological children. Worried. Maybe disappointment with certain life choices. But, at the end of the day, he was always proud.
I immediately went to therapy the week of Jeff’s passing. I had gone before, but this time I knew it would be different. More painful.
Within minutes, my therapist was guiding me through the process of grief and the stages that I was experiencing and ones that were, possibly, to arrive—denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance. It made sense, now looking back on it. For the first week, I slept in for ten to twelve hours, sometimes tossing back over, I guess not wanting to deal with anything or anyone. I also had a difficult time showing any sign of remorse because I did not want to worry my mother. I also had a difficult time doing what I love—writing and ended up losing two jobs because of my lack of interest and flat not caring about it.
It was a sad time. In fact, the rest of summer 2016 ended up being one of the most painful and scariest times ever. To be honest, every time I thought “it can’t get any worse,” I always felt it did.
It has been a common factor that when one loses someone close to them, especially unexpectedly as my loved ones and I did with Jeff, we tend to find comfort in things that we might have never imagined.
The following weeks after Jeff’s passing, I would force myself many times to go out with my friends, sometimes going to bars and clubs or a kickback at someone’s house. I hated it but felt sadder by staying home. The irony was that I felt even worst going out, especially after one night when I drank too much and realized the time—it was 2 am. I was terrified because Jeff was an early bird and, in my mind, he would turn the corner at any minute like he always did between 2-3am. He always went to bed early (something that we used to tease him about), therefore waking up even earlier. I started working out to burn off the alcohol, but seeing pictures of Jeff and all of the sympathy cards and flowers made me realize that he was already long gone. I snapped and ended up hitting and punching the speedometer screen of the workout machine. That scared the family cat away and woke up my mother. She saw the empty booze bottle on the counter and could smell the alcohol as we hugged. She was not angry but just wanted me to come to bed.
That was, what I would refer to as, my first meltdown because it was only a few weeks following when I had decided to go out to a friend’s going away party at the club. For two weeks, I had been running a fever and a head cold all week. So, it beats me that I decided to go—I guess to be out of the house. Without even thinking, I took some ibuprofen before leaving my house, on the little amount of food that I was not consuming due to stress and from what I was told one of the signs of depression. Long story short, I got really shitfaced and blacked out for most of the night.
But since the night had started off like any other, I thought I was just another twenty-something year old who wanted to hang out and drink with some friends. until the new reality sunk in. That following Monday and Tuesday was a funeral that I was to attend. Just the day after Jeff’s funeral, one of my friend’s little sister had suddenly passed. She was only twelve. Although I had only met her twice, they were two of the fondest memories of bonding with someone in their short life. In fact, it will forever be an honor that I had the opportunity to meet Isabelle.
I believe that is why I began to drunk text, dial, and then Snapchat a friend of mine. Well, a boy, someone I had reconnected with on my birthday just two weeks before Jeff’s passing. To be honest, it was what sort of ended our friendship. Something that I beat myself over. Well, to be honest, I still do.
The night was not completely over either because, by the time I got home, I was mortified for being THAT drunk girl and calling a guy. I truly felt my third meltdown had arrived when I saw Jeff’s truck in the driveway and started bursting into tears. The alcohol was almost forcing me to relive everything from where I was that day I got the phone call from my mom to even starting up Jeff’s truck and running the engine so the battery would not go out. Plus, Jeff had always freaked out about the condition of it–even if there was a full tank of gas. What got to me more in that moment as I was hugging the truck was the reality of starting it up just hours before leaving to the club and seeing snack crumbs on the floor. Jeff was always eating and never more than an hour without food. It was overwhelming for me.
I cried more in the shower, ashamed for losing my shit. The next morning, I woke up with the worst hangover and, now, with my period. I was sick to my stomach. My mom thought it was a bit amusing. Then, it was humiliating when some family had stopped by later that day, including Jeff’s two children. My mom had announced to everyone that I was hungover. They thought it was funny. I did not with my head hanging over the toilet most of that morning.
For the longest time, my mantra was “Trainwreck!” Especially the last time I went out to the bar/club and came home the next morning to not only throw up but ended up crying as soon as my mother came in and asked if I was okay. I told her I was not and just wanted the year to end. I think I had ended up staying in for the rest of my Friday and Saturday nights—or, if I did go out, I would always check out sooner to come home.
Then on Father’s Day, on my way home with my mother from a luncheon, I started crying and venting to my mother, who drove us. I was very drunk, which made me more vulnerable, considering that it was the first holiday without Jeff. Everything hit me even harder, as I sat in the truck and made the decision to take one of his work shirts into the house. I fell asleep with it on the floor that night, still crying and wondering when the hell the roller coaster of emotions would end. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I punched the floor after waking up from my nap, only finding my stepdad’s work shirt next to me.
In other words, it was a shitty day. And a shitty summer. It was a shitty year.
But, perhaps, my meltdowns have been more “good” than “bad.”
Maybe that can be the wonders of alcohol—a person just has no shame at some point because on a day such as Father’s Day, it was the first time I had truly wept in front of my mother, something that I had dreaded and held in since Jeff’s passing. Drunk me was blunt and had apologized to my mother how I wanted to be strong for her because I could not imagine how it is like to lose a significant other.
It took a few grief counseling sessions for me to realize that grief and alcohol are common hand-in-hand factors when we lose someone close. As someone who grew up with an alcoholic, you can imagine my anxiety and fear when I felt like going out to the bars and clubs in the weeks following Jeff’s passing.
But I can now say, after months of talking about this in grief counseling, that for starters…myself and anyone who knew Jeff (as well as Isabelle) sort of had a “pass” to just grieve. And for me, it was going out to feel “normal” and like a “twenty-something-year-old” that forced me, to be honest with not just others, but myself. I had to admit that I was hurt by a lot, including events after both Jeff and Isabelle’s passing. Both of their one-year anniversaries will be here this upcoming summer. I do not know what to expect but have been fortunate to have some tools to try and cope whenever I feel a moment of sadness.
No matter what grade or age one is, losing a parent is one of the hardest things to ever deal with. Jeff watched me grow up, coming into my life when I was twelve years old. He was there during my brightest and darkest moments, especially when it came to college, stressing out over exams or the yearn to just graduate.
I hear that things will get better and for the longest time, or from what it seemed like, I had a difficult time believing that. From what I have learned in these most recent months is to never take life for granted, as cliché as that sounds. Also, never take anything “lightly” because you should tell people how you feel. Tell them if they make you happy, angry, or sad. Just tell them because you truly never know if that is the last time you will see or hear from them. And from what I had learned with that is to NEVER feel ashamed for feeling a certain way about someone or something. That is what I hope to apply to my own life for now on—honesty with others. Life is way too short.