By Dave Miller
It is certain that no one is immune from loss. Who has not been touched by the death of a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a parent, a sibling, or a close friend? For the youngest among us, the passing of a cherished pet ushers in the knowledge of “the way of all flesh.” May my own crash course help in your own grief observed or to come.
The inexorable facts:
At 11:46 p.m. on Friday, February 15th, the cell starting to play my ring tone. I remember thinking, “Who could be calling at this hour?” It was the phone call no parent ever wants to get. Renee and I were in bed watching a forgettable movie that we’d downloaded from Amazon.com. We did not finish the movie that evening and I doubt we ever will.
“Are you the father of Marquelle Miller?”
“Yes.” I’m thinking this is not good.
“This is ____________ from Victim Assistance.” My first thought was Kellie had been assaulted. What else could this be about? She was living with her friend in Denver, a big city with more crime than in our little town.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you that your daughter was killed in a car accident this evening…”
“No!” I slam the laptop shut. By now Renee is standing up with the realization that something is seriously wrong. I speak out the words that will change her life forever, “Kellie was killed in a car accident.” As the sentence, like electricity, flows into her being, her legs buckle and she kneels on the floor crying out, “No God, please, no, not my little girl, not my Kellie…”
In incoherent sentences, I try to talk to the victim assistance woman. (She came over a half hour later, and was very kind to us in our grief.)
This was the beginning of a journey that we–and many of you who knew and loved our daughter and Malachi, the young man who was also killed–have been shoved into. It’s one we would never choose nor wish on anyone, but our path is irrevocable. As is all of ours…
Though it’s excruciating to remember those first traumatic moments, I’d like you to have a window into such a gut-wrenching loss and how I dealt with the events that followed. I can’t go into much detail here but hopefully enough to reassure you that you can handle more than you ever thought you could, even the death of a loved one.
In this kind of a loss, some of the things you do will be automatic, some will take more thinking, but be at peace with whatever you do or decide.
We drove through the night with our family to be near Kellie. We stayed at our niece’s house in darkness. In the morning, I contacted the insurance company, spoke to the coroner, made a decision about seeing the body—he advised me to wait. Try to sleep, drink water, can’t eat. My son-in-law proved to be a godsend as he made calls to the towing yard and the police when the grief would overcome me.
Arrangements have to be made: Transportation of the bodies (both Kellie and Malachi came back over the mountains for the last time together in a van), funeral preparations (some funeral homes require payment upon services rendered. Ours let us pay later), burial or cremation (burial), open casket or closed (open). Will the graveside burial be for close friends and family or open? We decided to have the burial be small and the memorial service be for the community at large. Upwards of 700 people filled the local high school auditorium to remember Kellie and Malachi.
Dealing with the raw grief in the first days: I built Kellie’s coffin. It seemed the right thing to do. Activity is good. A dear friend helped me design and build it along with his son, my son, and son-in-law. My two brothers helped put the finishing stain on the Alderwood casket. It turned out to be beautiful beyond words, a worthy container to hold such precious contents. Her cousins made the cushion and found a suitable blanket. They wrote poems and verses on the cushion and the boys wrote and drew on the boards below. With every board I cut came a little healing, even though the realization of what I was building would force its way in.
There is so much more to say. Just know that people will come around you, help you take care of details, support you, love on you, feed you, say well-meaning but sometimes insensitive things to you. Let them. This is their way to help you deal with your grief. It will also help them heal from their own sorrow.
Perhaps you’d like to get more of the “raw footage.” I aired my grief to the public on Facebook. Scroll down to February 15, 2013. I’ll warn you, though, the cost of tuition is your tears. For it is in your tears that healing comes. http://www.facebook.com/davidjoelmiller
Feel free to add your comments either below or on the FB posts.
A professional educator since earning his teaching credentials at San Diego State in 1985, Dave’s 26-year teaching career has been both challenging and rewarding, often in the same day. He and wife Renee have lived and taught in San Diego, Germany, and Colorado, traveled to dozens of countries and are still raising six great kids. Along with his role as Guidance Counselor at The Garden School, Dave has been reinventing himself as a work-at-home dad and recently promoted to Vice President at Lightyear Wireless. Now he gets to teach people how to live the life of their dreams.