I see him in the most random of places. Sometimes I see a car just like his on the highway and I perk up for a minute before remembering. Sometimes I hear his voice and I go to respond before realizing it was just a stranger behind me. Sometimes I see his face before accepting that the face is someone else’s.
It’s been almost a year since I got the call that he had died in a single-car accident. Since then, nothing has been the same. I lost more than a cousin that day. I lost my family.
This isn’t to say that I’m angry. I may never understand what about his death tore us apart. And I can’t say that I blame anyone for reacting the way that they did. But no matter what anyone says, it happened.
And I am still broken by it.
I’ll never forget running out of my economics class the next day, tears pouring down my face and those ugly sob noises coming from my throat. My chest pulled away from my body, and every inch of me burned. Because you see, no one knew that we grew up together. After all, we didn’t look anything alike…we didn’t share a last name…and we didn’t often venture into public together. But that didn’t mean it hurt any less to hear people talk about his death as if I didn’t know him. Oh, but did I know him.
I knew the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Losing him wasn’t the first experience I had with death. In the years before, I lost some of my best friends. My grandpa. My “second dad” and partner in crime. My grandma. My “second mom” and baking teacher.
Each time that it happens, the hole grows deeper. Many days, I can make it without much thought. But then sometimes they show up and my world stops.
During times of sorrow, I get lost in their memories. In the times that I made mistakes and each of them were there to lift me up and dust me off. In the moments of laughter and tears. In the dreams we shared and the heartaches we walked through together. Those places are where the grief lurks the most.
In those moments when grief flows through me like the very blood in my veins, I have no choice but to simply let it happen. I have to soak up the sorrow. I have to let myself feel broken.
Sometimes, the only way to heal is to let it hurt. And when the pain is something as raw as losing someone you love…there is no choice but to.
So I plug in my headphones and listen to the saddest songs. I don’t talk for a few hours. I hop in the car and hit the road until I’m lost. I sing, and I cry. I suffer as if I were back in the moments when I lost them.
Because I’ll never forget the phone call, or my mom waking me up at 5 a.m. to tell me, or sitting in that hospital while we waited for grandma to take her last breath.
I’ll never forget Mike O’kon and all of the stories he told me and the beenie weenies he made me.
I’ll never forget Dan Williams and the times we went fishing and laughed about nothing.
I’ll never forget Margaret O’kon and her passion for the Lord and our JCPenney trips.
I’ll never forget Karen Williams and the recipes she left in my heart and the late night talks.
And I will never forget Dorian Cash and how we watched baseball together and how he left before I could say the things I had planned.
So when grief hits me like a brick wall or a Mack truck…I’ll let myself remember, if even for just a moment.