Reacting to tragic news



My Grandpa Chet, one of the few relatives on my mom’s side who was a constant presence in my life, passed away about a month and a half ago.

In the time since, I have felt a sense of guilt over his death. Not in the usual sense of “I wish there was more I could have told him” – although there is that, too – but more in the way I have been grieving. My friends sent me condolence messages; my family gave me hugs and told me how important I was to him.

I knew how important I was to him, and so it came as a surprise when I felt almost numb to the news. I didn’t know how to react. In a way, I had been expecting it for some time – he was a smoker, a regular burger eater and was not able to exercise much due to his job as a truck driver and past leg injuries from his sporting days.

Still, there were little warning signs. I saw him just the day before, and he seemed better than ever. He brought over a pot roast for all of us to share and asked how things were going in my life.

Despite the recentness of his death, my family and I are all handling it well. There are days when I forget it happened at all – that the man who checked in on me every week, either through a phone call or a visit, was no longer with us. It makes me uncomfortable, to say the least, coming to that realization.

I think in times of crisis – whether it be a breakup, a death in the family or something else – people are often poor at anticipating their own emotional reactions. I knew my Grandpa Chet would pass away within the next few years, and I knew it would be tragic for us all. But when the time finally came, I was shocked at how it hit me. I cried and shared beautiful stories with my family, but inside my head, I kept thinking I should feel more.

After all, here was a man who cared more about me and my brothers than life itself. Any chance he had, he would brag about our achievements, offer financial help or treat everyone to dinner. He loved spending time with us. I think the answer is simpler – it always is – than I’m making it out to be: I have accepted it. I accept my future children will not meet the man who was once so prominent in my own life. They will never hear his famous tough-love advice, or his stories of glory days as a high school track star. I will no longer be able to see him. I accept it, and I will move forward.

But when I stop and think about him, as I am now while writing this, I miss him dearly. That, perhaps, my tendency toward rationalizing the way I’m feeling clouded my reaction in the wake of his death. It might sneak up on me on the days I’m least expecting.

For now, I will cherish his memory and not worry about my outward reactions. I know what he meant to me – the world.

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