I feel my hands grow cold and a hot pain shoot between my shoulder blades. Like the early morning rush of too much caffeine, blood begins to race its well-worn path under my skin and the room is suddenly smaller. Unable to stay still but frozen in place, I stared at the screen.
I knew it was him.
The phone rang and the voice on the other end, once a stranger and now a friend, told me he was okay. His text messages, direct and tinged with sarcasm like the man behind them, told me he was fine. His colleague and my friend, the one that knew his brash humor concealed a deep heart and that he was what we needed, reassured me. But the words did nothing to stop the rebellion inside.
Death haunts the living, its cold fingers lingering on the listless bodies left behind. Nerve endings scream in agony, too painful to be touched and too lonely not to be. Hair once soft grows brittle, and skin once pliant is left parched and colorless. Grief courses through the body in an angry denial of its exhaustion. And when restless sleep comes, death pulls us onto its dark playground. As days bleed into months pain’s sharp edges grow dull, giving way to numbness and then to sparks of life that appear like fireflies in the dark before the sun climbs over the horizon.
But loss never leaves. Like a virus, it slumbers unnoticed until jarred awake.
He came into our life because a little boy needed him, not to replace the father he had lost but to be a friend and mentor where none existed. Afraid that my son would demand too much, I watched as the man gently guided him through his anger and uncertainty with laughter and discipline. I watched as he enveloped the feisty little girl, hungry for the father fading from her memories, in laughter and listened patiently to her uneven stories. And as their laughter filled the house, my own returned.
But resting just beneath the surface of our contentment are the whispers and hot pain of fear. That grief will come back to us. That those we love and draw close will be lost again. That the pain of loss will cripple me as it did before. That I will have to look into their eyes and break their hearts once more.
Reading the words on the screen, their laughter fills my head and shallow breaths become deeper. The fear of loss will never leave – because we are living again.