I was 21 years old when my dad killed himself.

Dad had left after a big fight with my mom. I had been talking to my mom for the whole week he’d been missing, and that morning was no different. I had to hang up with her to go to class, and I called her back afterward to keep her mind busy while we figured out where dad was driving to.

A man picked up the phone and asked who I was. The detective passed the phone to Mom when I told him I was her son, and that’s when she told me they’d found Dad at a reststop a few miles outside of town. His body baked for 2 or 3 days in the back of his Denali before someone found him. His toxicology report told me what I already could’ve guessed: cocaine, narcotic pain medication, and a bottle of red wine.

My family had been normal. In his youth my dad had been wild, but he was sober since before I was born, he was a middle manager at a major corporation. He was a good dad, always joking, everyone liked him.

When we lived in Mexico, he decided to have a taste of the old times while he could, and he got just a little coke. Five years later, his body rotted in the back of an SUV at a rural Ohio reststop.

The news literally knocked the wind out of me and knocked me off balance for a moment. That’s why people need to sit after news like this. I remember the exact view I had when I fell into my office chair, looking at my wife at the time, who immediately understood what I’d heard on the phone. Grief instantly struck her face as she fell back onto the couch. She, like everyone else, loved my dad.

A couple of numb hours later, I picked up a video game controller and pretty much didn’t put it down for the next three days. When I stopped playing, I’d start crying.

Reimagine

Grief is the process of reimagining what your life will be like now that something or someone you expected to be part of it, no longer will be.

You had one idea before your dad died, or before your husband left you, and now that idea doesn’t make sense anymore because those people aren’t in the picture anymore. They aren’t there, and the needs that were being met by their presence will no longer be met by them. Your subconscious goes into overdrive, deep down into the recesses of your brain, and has to tear that whole future narrative out from the root.

That whole process hurts like hell, and we call it grief.

I flew to my parents’ house to help with the funeral, and I was busy for about a week. I felt nothing really, I was just doing things like writing the eulogy, and arranging flowers and that sort of thing.

Someone had picked up a Stevie Ray Vaughan CD to play at the funeral, as that was some of my dad’s favorite music. I popped it in to figure out what song to play. I was sitting on my mom’s couch when “Life Without You” came on, and I lost my shit. I bawled like a heart broken toddler.

Distracting myself felt better than sitting and dwelling on my dad, that’s for sure. But remember what all that pain is for: it’s rebuilding the mental image of your life.

It’s identifying needs that used to be filled by someone, going through the pain and fear of feeling that those needs will no longer be met, then connecting with new resources to get those needs met in lieu of the departed.

So all those video games, busy work, alcohol, long work hours, only serve to slow down and stop the process of grief. You’re trying to make it go away, but the way you’re doing it is just making it stay longer.

Take breaks from the pain if you must, but let the tears, rage, and desperation flow through you until it’s said its piece. Then you’ll be free.