By Talia Perrea
Sunday, November third, was a good day for me. I had a good night’s sleep, woke up early, and was excited for my coffee date that morning at 9 a.m. I left early, so I had enough time to find parking, and my date was waiting for me when I got there. Everything was going swimmingly.
An hour into my date I noticed a missed phone call and voicemail from my Dad. We had plans to meet up later in the day, and he was supposed to call me before he left, so I ignored it. I was having a good time, a phone call with my dad could wait.
I called back at 10:48 a.m. after my date and I said our farewells. My Dad asked me what I was doing, and if I was alone. “Why, what’s up?”
He didn’t answer me. Something seemed off. I stayed on the line with him during the drive back and we made small talk, him teasing me about the date along the way.
When I walked into my townhouse he asked if any of my roommates were home, and at the moment my roommate, Emily, came down stairs. “Can I speak to her.”
I handed the phone to Emily, with the warning that he was being weird and proceeded to put my stuff down. I’m not sure what my Dad said to her, all I could hear was her agreeing, then the phone was handed back to me.
“Do me a favor and sit down.”
“Talia, I hate to do this to you.”
“What’s going on, you’re scaring me.”
“Talia, your grandfather is dead.”
I’m angry that funerals cost so much, and that newspapers make a profit off of grief.
It felt like my Dad just hit the pause button on my life, and all I could think of was, ‘This can’t be happening’. I started sobbing and I got this chill in my body that still hasn’t left. I felt alone.
My Papa and I were close. Days during the summer and nights after school were spent with him. We passed time with made-up games and tractor rides, always ready for the next adventure. We would plant trees as our family continued to grow, and fight with the squirrels who got into the bird feeders. When I got older, although I spent less time at his house, he always knew what was going on in my life, and supported me in whatever I did. When it came time to go to college, we started a new tradition: weekly phone calls. Once a week Papa would call me and we would chat about what was new in my life. During the last month our weekly phone calls came to a halt. Papa, 73, had been sick, and we were waiting for him to get better to resume our calls.
I remember walking upstairs to pack a bag, but all I ended up doing was sitting on my bed, and I remember looking outside as it started to hail, thinking “Mother nature knows how I’m feeling right now: frozen.”
I was living a nightmare. My brother carried my bags downstairs and we got in my Uncle Pete’s truck. My Uncle Nate was sitting in the back and he gave me a hug, and with that we left. My parents were waiting outside the emergency room entrance. They both gave me a hug. My mom stuck by my side, as we walked into our private waiting room.
Not long after we hovered in the doorway as I gazed at the body that was once my Papa. I stared at him as the nurse explained that she could uncover his face, but he still had a tube in his mouth. “Hospital policy,” she said.
We kept the cloth pulled up as I at least couldn’t bare to see him with a tube in his mouth. I tried to understand what happened. How my Papa, who was doing well, died so suddenly. How I could lose someone so important to me. How my whole life seemed to be torn apart in a matter of seconds.
We spent our days at my Nana’s house as we tried to process and plan. We wrote the obituary together, and learned the hard way just how expensive it can be to grieve for your loved ones. Newspapers charge per word in an obituary, and funerals are expensive.
The system is flawed. We live in a country where it is mandatory to have health insurance, but no one cares about life insurance. People are denied all the time due to pre-existing health conditions or are stuck paying a higher fee, so they just opt out.
The United States isn’t built to grieve. When a loved one dies it’s up to you to pick up the pieces. You have to sign the dotted lines, make the official phone calls. Notify all the various doctor’s offices they went to, just so they will stop calling the house with appointment reminders. We don’t need a reminder that they died, waking up and not seeing them is enough. We shouldn’t have to email professors, and track down who to notify in the dean’s office so we won’t be marked with an unexcused absence.
In this country many workplaces only allow two days off when a family member dies. If there is one thing that my Papa taught me it’s that family is critically important.
Death isn’t just the loss of one life. To everyone who feels that loss, it’s their own mini crisis. Death is a part of our existence, and it’s about time that our country starts to understand that. It’s about time that the grieving are allowed to grieve.
People keep telling me that they’re sorry for my loss, or giving me these pity looks. Then you have the people who don’t mention it at all. Who would rather pretend that there isn’t an essence of sadness everywhere I go, then try to provide comfort. They make me feel I need to pretend to be okay. I’ll force a smile on my face, and say that I’m doing fine, when I’m not. I feel this pressure to go back to school, to go back to work, and to go back to my life. No one tells you who to call when the person who you want to speak to is dead. No one tells you how to keep on living.
I need to be treated normal, but at the same time realize that I may need time and space. I need to know that it’s okay to randomly burst into tears, because a song made me think of him, or something happened that we would have laughed about together. I need to feel as if it’s okay for me to miss him, because I do. Everyday.
I’m angry at the system that failed him. I’m angry at the people that couldn’t keep him alive. I’m angry that I’m from a small town and it took so long to get him to the hospital. I’m angry that funerals cost so much, and that newspapers make a profit off of grief. I’m angry that I went so long without talking to him.
Years ago, my Papa started the tradition of planting a tree for every family member. As soon as someone entered the family to stay, a tree was planted that spring for them. My Papa is the only one who can tell you whose tree is whose, but we all know we have one. I don’t want to forget him. I’m scared that one day I’ll wake up and won’t be able to remember his smile, just like we’ve forgotten whose tree is whose.
Grieving isn’t a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of, it’s part of the human experience.