There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Each stage looks different on every one, but there are always five stages.On August 7th, 2000 I lost my Papa. He is the one regret in my life. He was an abusive alcoholic. As a child, I was innocent and only knew but to love him. As a teenager, I was angry at him. His mental instability forced my Grandma to come live with us. There are times I remember, going over to the house, to check on him with my parents. The house reeked of alcohol, feces, body odor, cigarettes, and rotten food. He lied on the floor covered in his own filth and blood too weak and too drunk to even get up. It was heartbreaking to see. Eventually, his body could not take anymore and he died.
Before he died, my parents brought my brothers and me up to the Veteran’s Hospital to say “good-bye.” My brothers were first. As it came for my turn, a knot grew deep in the pit of my stomach. The man lying in that hospital bed was not my Papa. He was yellow. He was tiny. He looked like death. I leaned into his forehead, kiss his cheek and whispered good-bye. As I turned to leave, he grabbed my hand and with all and any strength he had left…he pulled me back to his bedside. He whispered, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” I retracted my hand and quickly left the room. I sat in the lobby overwhelmed with emotions. I angrily waited for my parents to take me home. Three days later he passed away.
The only time I ever touched a dead body was when I went into the church for the funeral. I walked into the room, which held his casket. I touched his hand. I kissed his face and in his ear I whispered, “I forgive you.”A “forgive you” that came too late, but I had to say it. I had to hope on some level of a miracle, he would hear me.
The only time I have ever been to a military funeral was my Papa’s. I cried as they folded the flag. I cried when they handed the flag to my Grandma. I cried when my cousin played TAPS. I cried as they shot their rifles into the grey sky. As the last shot rang out, the tears stopped. Life moved on and I no longer missed him.Here’s the funny thing about grief, just when you think you are over it. It comes back full force.
Christmas the following year came fast. We were at Grandma’s house. We ate a wonderful Christmas dinner and shortly after began to open presents. I sat in my usual spot on the couch. I looked down on the floor, expecting to see my Papa there, lying on his big brown pillow. I looked and smiled… hoping he would see me smiling at him and there was nothing there but carpet. I got up and ran to the den, bursting into tears. I was sobbing uncontrollably and screaming, “He’s gone! He’s gone! He’s gone!” The family overheard, came into the den to comfort me and we all just sat there, holding one another and crying. It took me a whole year to accept the fact that Papa was gone. He was not coming back. There would no longer be the big brown pillow on the floor holding up his body. It was bare. It was empty. He was gone. He was gone.Family was always the one constant in my life. Suddenly, that constant changed. Life changed…I changed. I quickly realized that nothing in life is constant. It is forever changing; forever shifting; forever morphing. I cherish the moments of constancy; as I never know when life will shift and be thrown off balance. Life can change in an instant. Love life; live life in the here and now—“go live your freaking life.”