My brother’s best friend died last week, in a freak accident.
I hadn’t seen Justin since my brother’s wedding three years ago. We were both groomsmen. It’s impossible to say how often I’ve bumped into him before that on various visits home. He was a fixture in the world. I’m sure there were a dozen times I saw him without noting it.
I’ve known him his whole life. He and my brother were just a year behind me in school, which meant we shared a classroom every other year at Trinity Lutheran (one hundred students total, two grades to a room). From then all the way through to adulthood, he’s been one of the few who could puncture my brother’s often overblown big-talk bravado. He’d do it with nothing but a perfectly-placed “Sure, Jon.”
It’s almost impossible to say something about grief that doesn’t verge on cliche, but that doesn’t make the things we say about our grief less true.
There’s the slightly nauseated feeling of heartbreak for Justin’s family — his wife and two small children; his parents; his four brothers — and for the many other people who knew him.
There’s surprise and shock at the randomness of the accident. There’s the sneaking selfish worry about whether or not it could’ve happened to you, bound up with an impulse to figure out exactly what happened, what the facts are.
A thing I have to keep relearning about grief is that focusing on the details of someone’s death — on what happened, and when, and how — which I found myself doing as soon as I heard the news is, ultimately, an escape. A focus on the event keeps me from facing the real and brutal fact of unexpected loss.
Knowing the facts of the accident don’t change the facts that matter: that he was here, that he mattered so deeply to so many people, and that his absence leaves a hole in hundreds of hearts.