How my sorrow upon the death of my best friend has changed through the years

Grief is a powerful thing. It’s been a pretty predominant theme in my life for the last couple years. As some readers know, I lost my best friend, Cobby, unexpectedly in June of 2013, and I have been exploring the complexities of grief ever since. When I read about Marion Britts’ journey with grief after the loss of her husband, I could totally relate.

Sylvester Cobbs

It reminded me of an email interaction I had this summer with a woman I’ve gotten to know in a professional capacity. I have no idea why, but in one of my emails, I apologized for being a bit off. I confessed that I had lost my best friend a couple years ago, and I was embarrassed to admit that there were still those days that I miss him more than ever. On those days I can be a bit off.

Much to my surprise, she responded with understanding as she was coming to grips with a loss of her own. She could totally relate, and we shared our grief in a couple cathartic emails that day. Much like Erin Rhoda described in her piece about Britts, grief is an inherent part of aging that we don’t talk about much or understand.

But when we do, it helps. My grief process didn’t start with the denial the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross five-step process suggests. It was shock. Total mental shock that I couldn’t see for what it was until the first anniversary of his death approached. I realized I had been operating on autopilot for a year. In hindsight, it looked like walking through a fog.

It’s not that I haven’t lost people before, just not anyone to whom I had been so close for so long. And it’s not that I don’t have other people to whom I am close. I am blessed with two boys I adore and a truly diverse circle of family, friends, former students and colleagues who enrich my life. I’m so blessed sometimes I feel guilty about my ongoing grief.

As his marker in the Veteran’s Cemetery here in Augusta reads, Cobby was a photographer, a teacher and a friend. Though we were immediately drawn to each other upon meeting, our appreciation for each other grew each year as our friendship aged. He was a vet who did multiple tours in Vietnam and Korea who understood I was a vet of sorts of the traumas of life.

And we both loved to laugh. We had so many inside jokes and ongoing gags, it only took one or two words at the beginning of a phone call to get us both laughing. The phone calls eventually became a part of our daily routine — if only for a quick laugh.

I thought at first that it was the laughter that I missed the most. Then I thought it was our regular visits. The feel of the recliner in his living room, the TV blathering in the background of our conversations that were inclined to travel in any direction in time and space.

For 29 years he watched my life unfold. He saw me come of age and my relationships begin and end — and he was always putting in his two cents about why each was doomed to fail! He saw me become a mom, photographed my babies as they grew, and taught my oldest about why photography is really about photographing light.

While we shared our life events and worked together in creative capacities, we confided in each other and grew to love each other unconditionally. I got stuck on my grief there for a while, thinking it was the unconditional love I missed the most.

Now I realize it’s something more. Over the course of such a span of time and confidence sharing, he came to know exactly how broken I am. And I came to know exactly how broken he was. And we loved each other anyway.

In fact, I think loving each other through all the brokenness made us laugh all the harder and made the conversations more rich.

He was 34 years older than me, so one of my pet names for him was Old Man. It was tongue in cheek because he looked and acted shockingly young for his age, except when he was driving or riding in a car. Then he acted like an old man, and I would tease him.

I’ve said, “I miss you, Old Man,” to the air at least 838 times in the last 838 days. It’s my way of continuing our phone calls.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.