Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.


That’s how Joan Didion begins what I consider to be one of the truest treatments of grief—The Year of Magical Thinking. Prior to February 23, 2021, I bet I’d read Didion’s book ten times, at least. Why? Well, in addition to a book about death and loss, it’s also a book about love. In other words, it’s a love story, and I’m a sucker for love stories. We currently seem hesitant to shine too much light on love stories for fear of being seen or called out as sentimental. To my mind, you’re either sentimental or you’re cold and most likely brittle.

Yes, Ms. Didion, you are correct—life changes fast.

I reek. I don’t want to stink, didn’t make a conscious choice to smell. But the stench of death is on me, and I cannot scrub it or wish it away. I can sense it, and I feel others can too, even if they don’t know my father died almost a month ago. I’d prefer to say I now walk with a limp, like one who wrestled with God. But that would be trying to shoehorn my foot into some dainty slipper, make the experience somehow acceptable, make the image fit. It doesn’t fit, not at all. Instead, I say it feels like a scarlet D has been sewn into my skin, leaving a grievous wound so those around me, especially the ones I love, don’t know what to do with me.

I don’t know what to do with me either.

Whether you loved him or hated him, once you stand over your father’s lifeless frame, you are no longer the same. You are changed in the instant.


So like a shatter’d column lay the King;

Not like that Arthur who…charged

Before the eyes of ladies and of kings.

—Tennyson, “Morte d’Arthur”



Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,327 other subscribers


  1. Jacky on March 20, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    Ahhhhhh… John. All I want to say is “you don’t have to do a thing with yourself”…. except maybe write…which somehow you are doing well in this state of being…and then perhaps do the “next thing” before you… for your family. Your words do provide scaffolding for my own grief, you must know.

  2. Deborah Vigneaux on March 20, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    I am very sorry for your grief. When my father died, I was shattered— and surprised by depth of my grief. His death was expected, but that didn’t make a difference. May the Lord visit you with comfort and peace.

  3. Rhonda Wray on March 20, 2021 at 7:34 pm

    It’s a necessary journey, but oh, the path is rocky and muddy.

  4. Marsha Harvey Hall on March 20, 2021 at 9:46 pm

    John you are so correct. Once you stand over the lifeless frame of your mother or father, you are forever changed. Life will never be the same. My mom passed away last May 15th. My life is so different and will never be the same. My prayers go out to you, Anna, and Shawn.

  5. Karen Erwin-Brown on March 21, 2021 at 5:04 am

    Prayers. the year my Dad died I remember the grayest spring ever. I couldn’t see colors that year. I had a new job as a therapist. I’m sure I was totally ineffective. Two years they say is normal grief. About right, maybe?

  6. Marcia on March 21, 2021 at 8:49 am

    Pain. Oh the pain. You have to sit in it, stew in it, and at times you will reek. You have to walk through it one moment at a time. And then one day, in YOUR time, you won’t reek so badly anymore.
    Life changes fast. Cherish every moment. So that when life changes, fast, you will have memories to last.

  7. Amanda on March 21, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    As someone who lost her father in a completely different stage of life (I was 6), I cannot possibly agree more. It’s been almost 25 years for me, and I’m still learning how it changed me. Thank you for your words, John.

  8. ALice scott-ferguson on March 22, 2021 at 11:43 am

    Once more, your stark-raving honesty, compels the echo to reverberate in the hearer’s heart. Oh, Yes.!Mine died but hours before i arrived after a journey of 5, ooo miles. That day, as a fully grown woman , wife , mother and grandmother, i became an orphan!

Leave a Comment