Dancing with Death: What We Can Learn Through the Grieving Process
In October of 2016 my world was turned upside down when my father was involved in a serious bicycle accident.
He was out riding with my uncle while on vacation in Hawaii when an unassuming truck driver pulled out of his driveway at the exact wrong moment. With only seconds to react, my dad collided with the middle of the truck face-first at high speeds.
My uncle watched the horrific scene unfold just twenty feet in front of him. Thankfully, he was able to avoid the collision. As a trained first responder, he quickly got emergency medical services on the way while doing his best to stabilize my father’s spine.
I was with my mother at the start of a hike a few hours away when she received the phone call.
“Kelvie, Joe has been been seriously hurt. You need to get to the emergency room right now.”
I could hear the tone in her voice change, signaling to me that something bad had happened. When I learned it was my dad, I remember kneeling on the ground, struck by a panicked wave of nauseating fear.
“Is this it?” I wondered. “Will I ever see my dad alive again?” I’ll never forget the moment that I first saw him in the hospital.
His eyes were surrounded by dark black circles. His face was smashed in, and blood still covered his torn-up bike jersey. When he saw me, he gave me a little grunt and a small wave of his hand. By some miracle, his spine was still intact.
I finally broke down as I watched him being airlifted from the emergency room. I felt helpless and adrift. I knew he was going to live, but I didn’t know if he would ever be the same man that I knew growing up. That prospect induced a level of fear I had yet to experience in life. My dad was incredibly fortunate to survive his trauma, and as challenging as the next few months of recovery were for my entire family, I learned a lot about myself through the process.
As a person who tends to keep my emotions more internalized, I realized how empowering it can be to embrace vulnerability in the face of adversity. For too long I have tried to suppress my emotions during tough times because I believed they could somehow be seen as a sign of weakness.
After succumbing to the gravity of the situation, I allowed my tears to flow. They seemed to wash away those worries, and opened the door for me to begin to heal.
I learned to grow more comfortable confronting each feeling – uncertainty, frustration, guilt – and how to begin to accept them. I extended this practice by reaching out to my friends and family. Rather than retreating into my own thoughts, as I may have done in the past, I pushed myself to open up.
Through this experience, I gained a healthier relationship with my emotions, as well as a renewed sense of confidence in my ability to navigate through future obstacles.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences