The sharp pain lasts for a long time, until one day it feels like a bruise. One day, the time you spent sleeping in cattle pastures seems like faded memories.

The moment I first heard of my father’s death, I wanted to run. I don’t know why. It was a gut instinct. I wanted to dart out the door, past ponds, down dirt roads, into the creek-bed, and keep going until I hit Baton Rouge.

I flew toward the door, but didn’t unbolt it fast enough. They caught me while I flailed like an idiot. A room of people watched while I cried.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. I wasn’t supposed to feel so naked, with so many gawkers. But that’s the way it happens.

The following days were black. I cried myself to sleep. I couldn’t eat. I looked in our kitchen and saw more casserole dishes than I’d seen in my cotton-picking life. I tried to eat chicken and dumplings, but couldn’t keep them down. I ended up vomiting in the sink.

There was a live oak, at the edge of our pasture, behind the cattle fence. I went there to be alone, my Labrador followed me.

She and I passed entire days there, until I’d fall asleep with her on my lap. Sometimes I didn’t get back until well after dark.

Once, I even fell asleep in the shower. The water turned ice-cold and I realized I’d been out for nearly thirty minutes.

Nobody tells you grief feels a lot like exhaustion. It’s demoralizing, and reshapes your mind. During the nighttime, you feel afraid. In the days, you wonder why the sun seems so dim. You still want to run, but you don’t know where to go, or why.

Food tastes bad. Conversations feel shallow. Your friends seem selfish and disinterested. And whenever you remember your loved one, you hope it will bring relief. It doesn’t. It slices like sheet metal.

Why am I telling you this?

Because two out of two people die. One day, you’re going to go through this—if you don’t die first. Chances are you’ve already endured it.

The sharp pain lasts for a long time, until one day it feels like a bruise. One day, the time you spent sleeping in cattle pastures seems like faded memories. Mornings are brighter. People, nature, and food are more important than before.

It happened so slow you hardly realized it. Then, you look at the calendar and remember how long it’s been. You think of how much you’ve learned. Like: how good it feels to pet dogs, sit on porches, or play Scrabble. Or: how human life seems to last about as long as a six-pack.

Anyway, I don’t know who you are, friend. But I want you to know that you’ll smile again.

When that finally happens, drop me a line.

Because I’m praying for you.


  1. Myra - September 14, 2016 1:22 pm

    Thank you! Your words make my heart smile! My parents are both 95 yo!!!! I will remember your words someday and maybe sooner than I’ll be ready……

  2. Jan Johnston - September 14, 2016 4:45 pm

    Ah, Sean. this heartfelt post brings back fresh memories of those dark days that crushed our church family with the loss of your father. Little did I know that a few years later, I my brother (at age 55) would end his life with a gunshot wound. I experienced many of the same things you went through, but the main thing I remember is that my mind just wouldn’t work right. I couldn’t follow through with a train of thought. I couldn’t read. I think my mind was just shutting down to stop the pain. You’re right about one thing. Time WILL ease the pain. I started to function again. I just want to encourage everyone going through recent loss to remember that the way you’re feeling now will pass. Yes, there may be pockets of sadness along the way, but over all, it WILL get better.

  3. Carol - September 14, 2016 5:45 pm

    Sean, the day my son died changed me forever. I will always divide my life into before and after. I ran, too. Right back to work after 4 days! I had to keep running so nothing would catch up with me. He was hit by a train, so I had nothing to say goodbye to except a body bag. I likened my grief to a heavy, scratchy, dark blanket that I wore daily, even to bed. It pulled my shoulders toward the ground so I slumped over, never looking up. After a year+ of one-on-one grief therapy, I noticed one day the blanket had slipped off and by golly the sun was shining! Wow! Just wow! Now, almost 20 years later, I still grieve, just differently. Thank God! And thank you for sharing your soul with us.

  4. Beta - November 2, 2017 7:39 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss. Someone shared your words with me when my own father died. Your words helped that person when her mother died. Thank you for writing this. I’m now hopeful for that day to come when I can smile again. Thanks much.


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