A Few Thoughts on Grief and Stress

This year has been pretty rough for everyone.

I don’t know who I’m writing this for, but I’m sure there’s someone out there that’s got the same pain going on as I do.
We started the year with whatever personal and financial challenges we have every year. There are always more bills than there is money to pay them. We all would like to get paid more and have more leisure time to enjoy our families. That’s a constant struggle under the best of circumstances. Then, we had a pandemic. COVID-19 swept the world, bringing with it fear, stress and, ultimately, grief. Here in the USA, we didn’t get a lot of leadership on how to handle the raging infection rates, so things got worse. Then, we had conflicting information thrown at us until no one knew what to do or not do to best stay safe. That’s still the case. On top of that, many of us lost jobs or had businesses that were in financial difficulty. In some cases, entire industries had economic problems, like the oil and gas industry. That alone would be enough to cause pretty severe emotional distress.

Then, a month ago, my father died. Now, I know not everyone has a great relationship with their parents, but my Dad and I had a great relationship. I talked to him every week on the phone for twenty-two years. Basically, every week since I moved to Texas in June of 1998, I talked to my parents on the phone. I would regularly call Dad for advice, simply because I could. I mean, I mostly knew what he was going to tell me, but, sometimes it was nice to hear him say it. Since he died, I haven’t slept well. Not that I was sleeping great to begin with, but it was definitely worse after he passed. I have strange body aches. Yes, those might be the result of being almost fifty-two and never considering the punishment my body was taking when I did stupid things, like drop out of second-story windows and other assorted bad ideas. But, my wife tells me that those are almost certainly symptoms of grief. She’s lost several people close to her, so she’s in a position to know. I feel strange. It’s almost a kind of mild body dysmorphia or depersonalization, which I tend to read as having eaten something bad or not hydrated well enough during the day. I just don’t feel like my physical body is quite right sometimes. Again, she assures me that it’s the physical symptoms of grief.
And, there’s the anger. I have such a limited capacity for other people being slow in any way right now. If I find myself at a loss for a particular word, I want to just push past it and move on with the conversation, but if anyone else delays or gets “stuck” on something, I get very quickly frustrated. I’m aware of it, so I think I’m keeping it mostly in check, but I am so very aware that it’s there, just beneath the surface.

I’ve read books on grief, but, as I told my Dad in our last conversation, we’re at the point of seeing just how applicable all that theoretical knowledge really is. Because let me tell you, there’s a huge difference between having read about death and grief and actually experiencing it. It does help, though, to know that I am, in fact, going through the grief process and that it is a lot more unclear and a lot less simple than any book explains it. It’s not a straight line through the five stages, that’s for sure. But, I’m learning to have some compassion for myself, which is its own challenge, and I’m learning to apply some of the practices I say I believe in. The struggle to apply the theory is there, but at least I’m aware and able to see what’s happening in my own interior life. One step at a time, one day at a time. That’s what I tell myself and how I try to take it. The next time I know someone who loses a loved one, I think I’ll be better equipped to help them based on what I’m learning here, about both the world and myself.

2 Responses


    It’s so hard, Jim. Sudden unexpected death may be even harder. I don’t know. But I feel a lot of what you are feeling. Since my dad died, I feel.like I’m walking around in a surreal world. The covid scare isn’t helping at all. I have resentments of all sorts and am mad I didn’t go see Dad after his initial fall. I feel your pain … keep hanging in there one day or one hour at a time. Whatever works. I’m so sorry

  2. J. K. Hoffman

    Yeah, Jennifer, it really is. At ninety-one, it’s not like I thought I had years to spend with Dad still, but it still seemed so fast. I talked to him on a Friday night and he was totally lucid, then, but Tuesday morning, he was gone. One of the ironies is that Dad knew so much about the process of grief and he was always trying to help people see that and help them let go. Now, he’s gone and he was the best person I had to talk to about it.
    Sharon’s been through it, too, and she understands, but it’s a different perspective than Dad’s. He had such a deep faith, deeper than mine for sure, and had seen so much life and so many things come and go. I think we’d miss our fathers no matter when they went, for pretty much the same reason.
    I’ve been kicking myself for not going up for my father’s birthday last year with the whole family. I know Dad understood and if we’d seen either his cancer or COVID-19 coming, I’d have gone. But, there’s no point in dwelling on the things I can’t change now. I just miss talking to him about home repairs and politics and, well, life. Yeah, it’s hard, isn’t it?
    You hang in there, too.

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