Less than an hour into Sunday morning as my wife and I were casually sipping coffee and swapping sections of the newspaper, Dorrie interrupted the serenity with, “Oh no, did you know that Jeff Woodford died?”
No, I did not know.
Right on the heels of the immediate shock and disbelief was the bothersome question, “How did/could I NOT know this?” because the newspaper article indicates that Jeff “lost his life to over a month-long battle with COVID-19 on March 22.”
I’ve known Jeff and Misty Woodford since they were newlyweds, an absolutely delightful couple, active in their church and community, and in their children’s lives. How did I not hear that Jeff was seriously ill? I read our local newspapers (emphasis on plural) daily, so how did I miss an obituary? How is Misty not thinking that I obviously knew about Jeff’s death but never reached out and just opted not to attend the memorial service? What kind of friend am I that I was absent and silent?
Okay, I have been much less active on Facebook this year, sometimes going weeks at a time without checking it. But still…
In this very moment as I write I’m feeling a competing swirl of emotions and feelings—shock, disbelief, grief, sadness and confusion. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “Our moods do not believe in each other.” Each emotion, feeling, thought, and memory are elbowing one another for position in my brain.
I’m looking at the featured photo of Jeff & Misty and their two children at the beach and right now I cannot comprehend that Jeff is not at home at this very moment or somewhere in town driving his truck, in either location wearing his trademark big smile and some UT orange. As a husband and father myself, I’m thinking about Misty and the children. My heart aches for them as Father’s Day is this Sunday.
I’m reminded of another friend and neighbor named Jeff—Jeff Yelton, who died much too young. He and his wife, Tara, were on vacation and Jeff contracted a rare form of bacteria that killed him within a month. Attending the memorial service back in Greenville, South Carolina was both painful and surreal. I couldn’t comprehend not being able to walk down Planterswood Court and ask to bother another tool from Jeff or us shoot baskets in the cul-de-sac with our boys.
When you lose someone unexpectedly there’s an extra layer of denial that disguises full reality. Or maybe denial is a cushioning that softens the blow so that profound loss hits you in the jaw with a boxing glove instead of a bare brick fist.
But are we ever prepared to lose someone dear to us, someone whose life made our own life richer, brighter, fuller? When does a death, expected or unexpected, of the young or the elderly, not feel like the worst of all thefts? I recall one of my patients commenting on the death of her mother, “But I wasn’t done loving her yet.” That statement beautifully describes the protest and resistance mixed into our grief.
Beginning the journey
Sometimes when experiencing profound grief, turning to something concrete— like a book— can help you process your feelings in a more organized way. Dr. Elizabeth Neeld never intended to become a grief expert, personally or professionally. But when her healthy husband had a fatal heart attack during a run near their vacation cottage, Elizabeth’s world instantly changed. Neeld is best known for her outstanding book, "Seven Choices: Discovering Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World." Frankly, while the original is very thorough at 450+ pages it is therein a challenge for someone in the midst of grief’s drain of energy and focus. Consequently, I often recommend starting with the newer condensed version of the book and working through the original version when ready.
In the meantime, I’m trying to wrap my mind around a single difficult truth—Jeff Woodford is not here. I know a lot of other people in our community and beyond are likely still trying to accept that as well.