by Jeremiah Caleb
Grief is a necessary element in embracing our humanity. It is a part of us we cannot escape. It is a menacing character in our story. We can choose to ignore it and become cold with indifference. Or we can know it, listen to it, and learn to walk with it.
I had barely turned twenty-one years of age when I first encountered grief. It began when the phone rang in my college dorm room in the middle of the night. My heart began to beat a mile a minute. At that hour, I knew that it could not be good news. I answered the call, and my life was forever changed.
I made a dash for my car and sped over the freeway towards home where my father, my hero, my mentor and my best friend was rapidly losing his battle with ALS. I made it to his bedside with just enough time for him to briefly slip out of his coma. Even as a young boy, I felt the urgency of the time I had left with him. I held him, kissed him, and told him everything I ever wanted to.
That night, I felt an excruciating ache, a heat in the pit of my chest, and I knew deep down that Daddy’s soul was slowly departing his body. I kept checking, watching his body rise and fall with each labored breath. By morning, he was gone, and I, his only child, was left with the weight of responsibilities on my shoulders.
I didn’t cry. My mother fell apart, but I didn’t feel the freedom to do so just then. I watched helplessly as two men in naval uniforms carried Daddy’s body out of the house and drove out of sight. He would never return to the street where I stood. There was little time to process. I fulfilled my duties from the funeral arrangements to the decisions that needed to be made right away. I mustered up the strength to join the men who carried his casket up the hill to his final resting place, and I watched, numb with disbelief, as they lowered him into the ground. Through it all, I was stoic, seemingly strong on the outside, but crushed on the inside.
It wasn't until a week later that I broke down in tears. It was triggered by a box I’d found hidden under the bed, containing Daddy’s chocolate brown wedding suit. It had been altered to fit me. He had hand sewn it himself during his final weeks, with the intention of giving it to me for my twenty-first birthday. Only with his memory loss, he never got around to giving it to me. Alone in his bedroom, away from the awkward crowd who did not know what to say to me, I began to sob with the old suit held against my chest. My tears were the result of deep sorrow and the realization that I would have to live many milestones without him.
If I listen hard enough, my grief speaks back to me.
I felt his absence. I missed him when I graduated from college two weeks later. I missed him when I moved to New York to find my way in the world, and when the path became dark and riddled with struggle. Despite many regrets in life, I found that it was as necessary to my growth as the grief itself. I missed him on my wedding day a decade later, hoping desperately that the heavens parted for a moment so he could see my fulfilled promise from above. I miss him each time I celebrate a new milestone. Yes, I have never stopped missing him…
It’s been sixteen years since that day. The day I suddenly had to grow up. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of him. In embracing my grief, I find that I could embody Daddy’s life into my own journey. He truly lives on in me. I find comfort in carrying his legacy on to the next century. The first work I ever published as a writer was my biographical novel based on his life. So his story lives on. He has become a muse who fuels my creativity and my calling. I see his brown eyes in my own reflection in the mirror. I hear his voice in my own. I feel his passion when I am compelled to stand against injustice. I sense his childlike wonder in the things I love and savor.
The pain never went away. There are days I still grieve and feel the deep void and sadness in my heart. I simply learned to open myself to it and empathize with others who hurt. Over the past decade, I have lost many loved ones from family members to my thirty-five year old best friend. Each time, I mourn, I press through, and then I listen to my grief.
If I listen hard enough, my grief speaks back to me. It tells me that grief indicates that I loved deeply. And I would much rather love well and grieve its loss in due time, then never to have loved at all. We keep our loved ones close when we grieve them, and we honor them when we press forward fully engaged in our humanity.
He has become a muse who fuels my creativity and my calling.
Jeremiah Caleb is an actor, author, public speaker and activist who resides in Los Angeles, CA. His debut novel, He Walks With Me has sold globally. He has made numerous appearances in film & television, stage productions and national commercials in the United States. He is the founder of the Caleb Hope Foundation, which aids destitute children with education and justice in the slums of India.