Litsa and I write on WYG about our personal grief experiences with regularity. We talk about our grief so much that I’m sure every once in a while you think to yourself, alright already, but in our defense it’s often the easiest way for us to convey an idea or put a concept into context. At the same time we frequently talk about how, although there are certain semi-universal truths, grief is unique to each individual griever and the relationship they had with their deceased loved one.
When Roni emailed us wanting to share her and her dad’s story, we had never considered doing interviews with WYG readers. To be perfectly honest we’d gotten in the habit of saying no to things like guest post requests because they seemingly always have a book to sell or a blog to distribute along with it. Roni’s request, however, was different than any we’ve ever had because all she wanted was to help other grievers feel less along by sharing her story. After thinking about it we realized it might be helpful for us to feature, from time to time, a more diverse range of voices and experiences and so we asked Roni to answer a few questions for us about her experience with grief. Your experience may not be the same as hers, but do you recognize anything about it ? Is there anything you can learn about grief from her? Is there any wisdom or support you, as a fellow griever, can offer?
Today happens to be the one year mark of the day Roni’s father, Ron, died of an accidental Fentanyl overdose. So please everyone give her a warm welcome on this difficult day.
Thanks for talking to us Roni and our condolences on the death of your father. Tell us, if you had to pick the three of your dad’s qualities that you treasured the most, what would they be?
My first favorite quality of my dads was how brave and fearless he was. When my dad was seven years old he had half of his lung removed. Despite what the doctors told him he could and could not do, he set his mind to becoming a police officer.
My second favorite quality of my dads was how protective he was. I remember when I was a little girl and I would lay in his bed, he would lay on the side closest to the door just in case someone broke in. When we would go on walks he would always walk on the side closest to the road. Whenever I was going somewhere he would say “seat belt!” and he would make me text him as soon as I got there, otherwise I would get a call within 20 minutes.
My third favorite quality of my dads was how funny he was. There really are no words to describe just how funny he really was. We would go into stores and he would have the employees laughing so hard they’d cry. He was Jim Carrey, Dane Cook, and Jerry Seinfeld all in one.
Did he have any funny Dad phrases that made you laugh or roll your eyes?
He had so many! But there’s one that really stands out. When I would tell him about something that happened or that I did, he would get this overly interested sarcastic face and say “Did yaaa??? Realllyyyy??” in a funny voice; he was kind of mocking what I was saying but it would always make me laugh.
Growing up with a policeman for a father, were you aware that his job might put him in danger? If so, what was that like?
Yes! I remember like it was yesterday. When I was in elementary school he would drop me off and I would cry in class because I missed him. I was so scared he was going to get shot and killed. It was my biggest fear and I cried about it all the time. My teacher would let me call him and talk to him to calm me down. Sometimes he even came to the school and sat with me in class.
Your father died suddenly at a pretty young age. What would you say is the hardest part about losing your father so young and so unexpectedly?
My dad always told me, “I will always be here for you no matter what, no matter what decisions you make, as long as you are happy, I’m happy”. He always told me he was my biggest fan. I don’t have that anymore. I don’t have someone who looks at me like I hold the world. Now I feel so ordinary without him.
I always went to him for advice and he had a way of making sense of things. Once you lose someone who makes you laugh all the time, who loves you with all he has, who thinks you’re the most beautiful person in the world; nothing else quite measures up. Everything seems so mediocre.
We talk a lot about secondary losses (the losses that happen as a result of a death); do you feel like you’ve experienced any secondary losses and what have they been?
Yes, there’s been a few. First, the loss of my dream of becoming an EMT or a police officer. Once my dad died I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle being around emergencies because I’d think of him and relive his death every day. I was so excited about following my dad’s footsteps and so was he, but I just know I wouldn’t be fit for it now.
Then there’s the loss of a support system. When I was eighteen I moved out and got an apartment. Even though I’ve been living on my own and doing well, he always told me his house is still my home. He told me that if I ever needed to come back home, he would give me his room and he’d sleep in the living room until we got a bigger apartment. When my dad was here, I knew I had a place to call home no matter what.
What has been biggest challenge in adjusting to life without your father?
Everything. Sometimes I still reach for the phone to call him. Sometimes I wake up in the morning thinking it was all a nightmare then it clicks within a few minutes that he is actually gone when I wake up I don’t have a text from him that says “good morning beautiful, have a great day! Call me when u get this. – dad”. My life has completely changed. I’m not the person I was a year ago.
Your father died of an unexpected accidental overdose. What do you want people to know about your experience with grief as a result of accidental overdose? What do you think would be helpful for other people to know?
Nothing I can say can prepare anyone for the kind of loss I went through. My dad was given medication called Fentanyl by someone he thought was his friend, and he wasn’t told how to properly use the medication. He gave my dad three times the amount typically prescribed. After doing my own research I’ve learned that each recommended dose takes nearly eight hours to release into your system. Which is around the time my dad died after using the drug.
If there’s something I wish I would have known it would be that my dad was in pain. If he would have communicated this, he could have consulted a doctor and got proper treatment. If I could give any helpful advice this would be it, ask your loved ones how they are doing. Find out about their aches and pains. Get them the help they need from a doctor. Treat each day like it’s your last. Wake up with a plan to make at least one memory that day. My dad lived his life that way and now I have memories to look back on for the rest of my life.
You were 19 when your father died and I imagine at such a young age many of your friends had yet to experience major loss in their own lives. In your experience, do you think age and experience impacts one’s ability to support their grieving peers?
In my experience, my friends didn’t know how to react. There are still a lot of people I haven’t talked to or hung out with since my dad died because they don’t know what to say or do. What I find most comforting is being able to hang out with my friends and not feel as though I’m being treated any differently.
What was the most helpful thing a friend said or did? If you’re willing to share, what was the most hurtful?
I love when people ask me about my dad, like what kind of person he was. The most hurtful thing someone said to me was to “get over it”.
Do you have any suggestions for young grievers who feel alone?
I have found that when I go to the cemetery and talk to my dad, he gives me signs to let me know he hears me and that makes me feel like he’s still with me. I find dimes in the most random places where I know I didn’t put them, that has kinda become our “thing” now. Whenever I have a bad day, I’ll find a dime in my bathroom or in truck by the dash, always in really weird places. That always makes my day better. His favorite band comes on the radio all the time and it didn’t before he died, so to me that’s a sign he’s still here. Communicating with my dad like this makes me feel like I’m not alone whenever I start getting down.
Are there any services, organizations or groups you wish existed to help grievers that, to your knowledge, aren’t?
Yes, I wish there was a group in my city where I could go every week and talk with other people who have gone through a death from an accidental overdose or someplace where I could go and hear similar stories so I wouldn’t feel alone. I haven’t met anyone who has lost a parent at my age from this.
There are a few songs that come to mind right away…
I’ll See You Again by Carrie Underwood
Over You by Miranda Lambert
Paradise by Tesla
The one year mark of your father’s death is today, October 27th, do you have any plans?
My family and my dad’s friends are all going to the cemetery and bringing candles and we’re going to share memories.
Thanks so much for talking to us Ronnie. We hope you, your family and all those who love your father have an okay day today. For anyone grieving the loss of a loved one due to overdose or young adults grieving a parent or other loss, the following resources may be helpful:
Resources for Those Grieving a Death Due to Overdose:
The Grief of an Overdose Death: Part I (article)
The Grief of an Overdose Death: Part II (article)
Resources for Young Adults Grieving a Parent or Other Loss:
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