The telephone rings.
There is a knock at the door.
You discover a loved one dead.
There is no warning, no prep time, no time to pre-grieve, no time for anything but stunned silence. There is simply shock and disbelief. It happens in a moment, a timeless instant that seems never ending. Life as you have known it comes to an abrupt end and there is absolutely nothing you or anyone else can do about it.
Death, an unexpected, sudden, death.
There is a crushing, unalterable truth that your loved one has died while at the same time your mind is racing madly to find a way out of the unbelievable back to the normal you knew only moments ago. There must be a mistake, there must be a way out of the silent scream, and there must be something other than the stark reality that my loved one is dead. There must be.
No matter how the news is delivered or who delivers it, it seems to go this way.
It is so sudden, so unexpected that you can barely breath. There seems to be only two initial reactions – an overwhelming, unstoppable flood of emotions or a numbing nothingness. Then the denial, the questioning, the demanding an answer, the anger and rage, the need for meaning comes roaring in to your mind. All of this is going on along with life and the need for order, decisions, arrangements, and calls to make to friends and family, boss to talk to, paperwork, lawyers, funeral directors, never mind keeping the family life running. All of this with no warning at all – from normalcy to all out chaos in the uttering of a few words. Life has changed and there is no way to turn the clock back.
I will always remember the call I received on May the 5th, 1988. It was a Thursday night. It was around 10:30 pm. Roy, my late sister’s husband was on the telephone and all he could say was, “Jody’s gone.” His mom took over and explained what had happened. I asked if anyone had called my folks to which she answered “No.” I said good-bye and stood in stunned silence, phone in hand.
Something clicked on and I went into this kid of automatic business like mode. I drove to my folks’ home. I guess it was near midnight. As I pushed the doorbell I had a moment’s panic – what the hell was I supposed to say to the mother and father who had just lost their daughter to a sudden and unexpected death? I quickly clicked back into autopilot.
I survived the emotions of it all by being rational and just getting things done. I survived the awkward moments by smiling and nodding. I labored on hoping for life to get back to normal.
It never did.
What was most difficult was the emotional silence of it all. The pat phrases, though I understand why they are spoken. The expectation that we get back to everyday life.
The suddenness of Jody’s death, how unexpected and untimely it was, the sheer shock of it was what stunned me the most though. No time to say good-bye, no time for a last hug, no chance to say one more I love you, no opportunity share fond memories, no time to get ready, no time to prepare family and friends, no time to carve out a quiet moment to remember. From a standstill to a sprint in not time flat.
It was gut wrenching!
All there is to do is to end the silence of it all. To find an attentive ear and a strong shoulder to let the rawness of it out. To remember your loved one and speak of them when you are drawn to. To feel the theft of their life by an unexpected robber – death. To accept that there is nothing you could have done to prevent it. To accept that it may never make any sense at all.
To accept it over time not all of a sudden.