On July 29th, 2010, at approximately 6:30 am, Bradly Calhoun, age 21, got into his car, headed for work, and changed my life forever.
Brad left this world just 19 days before his 22nd birthday. He didn’t make it to work that day. As he traveled up a winding mountain road we’ll never know why his car crossed the center line and ended up under the rear axle of a logging truck making it’s way down the mountain. But instantly he was gone, gone from this world.
Everyone dies. No one escapes it, and our departure has an impact on those we leave behind, you can’t avoid that either. There will be grief. No matter what your beliefs tell you happens when life ends, those you leave behind are left to deal with the loss of you. After a prolonged illness with intense suffering, there may be a sense of relief mingled with the grief. In many instances grief is mixed with greed as everything you once owned in this world is now up for grabs. But of this you can be sure, your leaving changes the world you left behind.
Horrifying phone calls were made and parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends were forced to deal with the shock. Suddenly life as they knew it stopped as everyone dropped what they were doing to gather and grieve the loss of Brad. They flew from the East to the West Coast, drove from the North, South and West. As they cried, laughed, ate, slept, sat quietly and even played together, one thing remained… the hugs never stopped.
I experienced my first Calhoun hug seven years earlier when I began spending time with my husband. We’d been friends and were becoming re-aquained after not seeing each other for many years. Leaving the restaurant we gave each other a quick hug at our cars. Well, I thought it would be a quick hug, but he just held onto me, for what seemed like the longest time. Hmmmm I thought, maybe he really likes me? I was eventually to realize that’s the way Calhouns hug. They hold each other as though it may be the last chance they’ll have to say; “you are really special to me.”
To my shame I admit I’ve felt uncomfortable at times when enduring a Calhoun hug. Not because they are inappropriate in any way, but because there is so much warmth, and coming from a family void of affection I didn’t understand them. We’ve had three deaths in my family. Those that could gathered, never making eye contact we talked about things that made no difference to anyone, no one hugged, no one cried, and we all went our separate ways to deal with our grief on our own and never talk about it.
I’ve now spent four days watching and feeling grieving done right! I’ve seen people lean on each other for strength, I’ve heard gut wrenching sobs come from the depths of the pain of loss, I’ve seen the pictures that show a life filled with joy, I’ve heard the testimonies of people that were touched by that life. I’ve watched a family bond together and be a family through one of the most horrendous experiences a family can be asked to go through. This is now my family.
I’m very sorry I never met Bradly Calhoun. I know now that it's my loss. I would have loved to have seen your smile, heard your laugh and especially felt your hugs. But after having spent this last week with our family Brad, I’m inspired to laugh more often, love more deeply, and be ready for any fun that might come my way. Brad was on his way to work, but in his car he had; a change of clothes, fishing poles and a tackle box, his rifle and a box of bullets, his baseball glove and a baseball cap. He was ready for anything that might come his way that day. During the funeral service his youth pastor confirmed he was even ready to meet his Savior. So Brad, because you brought me into our family during a very intimate time I now can say; “I am a Calhoun and I will always give Calhoun hugs!” I’ll be looking for my hug when I get there…. Heck-a-sick dude!