Justin died on Sunday, March 21, 2010. I will never forget that day. Tate and I were at my mom’s house with a few friends trying to keep our minds off of him in the hospital. I remember sitting on the couch with Tate and looking up at him to ask when we were going to go back to the hospital. When he said he didn’t think we should, I got irrationally angry. “You’ve given up! How can you give up?!” I cried. Now I know that Justin’s fathers voice was ringing in his ears; “That’s not my son…” I feel terrible for how I reacted now, but when you are grieving you can do and say things you shouldn’t sometimes.
It was shortly after Tate got up and went in the kitchen when I got that fateful text: “LJ passed” was all it said. I remember yelling “No! No!” and crying out, but the next hour or so is just a blur. I vaguely remember my sister holding me, and my brother coming over and my family giving me and Tate words of comfort. I was numb. And angry! Oh, God, I was angry.
They say that in times like these you go through stages of grief. Although that term was originally penned in reference to patients with terminal illnesses, I think that it can somewhat apply to the death of a loved one, too.
The first stage is usually denial, followed by anger. In this case, I switched those two up and then felt them both at the same time. Right after the text I was angry. Angry at God, the driver and life itself. Then, for the next few days I was in total denial. Deep down I knew that he was gone forever, but it was like I just couldn’t convince myself of that fact. This was all a cruel joke, or a bad dream. I would wake up tomorrow and it would be over, or Justin would call me and say “gotcha!” But it wasn’t. It was real. And it took going to his viewing to really cement that in.
I remember walking into the funeral home that evening. When you walked into the front door, you were in a lobby area. To the left was the entrance room to the chapel. There were pamphlets on a table next to the entryway. I picked one up.
As I walked down the aisle, staring only at the casket that lay ahead, my heart pounded harder. The denial was still there, up until the last moment. The protection part of me said he won’t be in there…this is all fake. I didn’t notice the rows of pews filled with people, their eyes puffy and bloodshot from crying. I didn’t notice his sister standing at the very first pew. None of that mattered; I was about to wake up from this nightmare and realize that none of it was real.
He didn’t even look like himself. The accident had given him a black eye and his head was still very swollen, so there was makeup caked on his face. I broke. As I ran toward the exit, I felt a hand slightly grab my arm. I later found out that it was his sister trying to comfort me. What an amazing family, he has. They are what has given me strength.
When I finally made it outside I collapsed to my knees against the outside wall. The denial was gone; this was actually real. Again, I didn’t notice the throngs of people around me, but this time it was because I couldn’t see through the tears.
From that night I went through the next stage; bargaining. If I could just convince God to take me, instead, the world could have this wonderful man back! I begged God, pleaded with him even, but of course it did no good.
When the depression finally set in, I started self medicating. I went through four jobs just in the two years after his death. Whereas before I was on time every day and was dedicated to what I did, now it just seemed like nothing mattered. I would show up late every day if I even showed up at all.
After a couple of years of self-medicating, I was finally admitted to the hospital for suicidal ideations and attempts. I spent Thanksgiving week getting my head back on, and then was able to spend the actual holiday with my entire family.
I am now clean and sober, and I have my family and Tate to thank for that. Without them, I would have probably joined Justin a long time ago. I still think about him every day and dream about him almost every night, but now the thoughts don’t make me cry every time. His birthday and the day of his death still put me in bed for a day and I don’t know if or when that will change, but for now that is okay.
His death has taught me some valuable lessons, though. First, you only have one life and it could be a very short one. Make it count. Second, choose your loved ones over petty things, you never know what tomorrow will bring. Third, I will not spend my entire life in this city, like he did. I will travel as far as I am able, and I will not let any strings hold me down. Lastly, everyone grieves differently. I always thought there was something wrong with me, since I couldn’t move on. I’ve realized, though, that there is nothing wrong with that; what was wrong was how I was handling it. The next time (and there will be a next time) someone I love dies, I will know to go straight to therapy instead of helping (read: hurting) myself.
If you or anyone you know has lost a loved one, please don’t ever make yourself or them feel bad for their grief.