On Dec. 1, 1996, at around 8 a.m., my mother woke me to say that my dad wasn’t feeling well and needed to go to the hospital. I was tasked with giving my sister a ride to work and I remember feeling annoyed that I had been pulled from my slumber that morning to drive her across town.

The house was empty when I returned, but it wouldn’t be that way for long. Less than an hour later, my sisters burst in, screaming hysterically and crying. As they ran over to hug me, I asked what was wrong and my sister blurted out, “Dad’s dead!”

I never got to say goodbye. It is my biggest regret. Dad had a heart attack in the car while my mom was driving him to the hospital. The doctors couldn’t resuscitate him. I found his body at the hospital, laid out on display for the family to see, still connected to various pieces of medical equipment. It is an image that I cannot forget.

My father was a strong man. I once saw him throw my brother’s idiot teenage friend a good 10 feet like it was nothing. To me, he always seemed invincible. The body I found at the hospital that day was nothing like that. What remained on the table was frail and vulnerable; two feelings I would soon become acquainted with myself.

I couldn’t tell you much of what happened between the day of his death and the funeral. I don’t even remember how many days it was, but it seemed like an eternity. I spent the days shifting rapidly between anger, fear, anxiety and the deepest sadness I have ever felt.

By the day of the funeral, I was emotionally exhausted. I had cried so much in the previous days that I was actually afraid I wouldn’t be able to cry at the funeral. Of course, I did cry that day and many times after that. Sometimes, I still do today.

The death of a parent is not something that you get over. When my father died, part of me died with him. My life had been relatively easy up until that point, but his death threw me into a deep depression. My still-forming world collapsed in on itself and left me full of uncertainties that I struggle with to this day.

It’s been 17 years since he passed, and I’ve now been alive longer without my father than with him. Things have gotten better, but I am not over it. I am not sure if I can be, as it has affected who I am. His death left me with a whole host of abandonment and attachment issues. Depression is a reoccurring theme in my life story. I am fortunate to have friends and family to help me through this and I can’t stress how helpful therapy has been. Between the three, I’ve managed to grow into the semi-dysfunctional person you’ve all come to know and love.

Why am I telling you all of this? Many of us have lost someone close; be they a parent, sibling, spouse, child or friend. If it hasn’t happened to you, I bet it’s happened to a close friend of yours. Perhaps, my story will help you understand what it means to lose someone close. Maybe it will assist you in helping your friends.

So how can you help? The most important thing to do is listen. The pathway from depression and shock is communication. The person in mourning just needs to vent sometimes, to vocalize all the crazy feelings and thoughts they have bottled up inside. They need a non-judgmental person they can trust to not blab their business to everyone. They don’t need you to tell them to be strong. Tell them that it’s OK to cry if they need to. Encourage them to seek counseling for their mental well-being and don’t judge them if they start taking anti-depressants to help.

For those going through this now, know that you are not alone. It may not feel like it now, but you will survive this. Your life will certainly be different, but that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. You’ve learned a painful, yet wonderful lesson: life is precious. It is such a simple statement, but you don’t truly understand it until you lose someone close.

Life is short and it sometimes ends abruptly; so, make the most of it. Don’t get lost in the minutiae. Tell those close to you that you love them as often as you can, always say goodbye and live life to the fullest. You don’t have to be afraid. There can be life after death.

Bocephus Chigger