Emotional Firefights

There are times when I feel normal. There are times when I forget that my life is upside down. There are times when I am not completely consumed by the fact that Charlie is no longer physically with me. These moments are fleeting and always end with the subtly of a punch to the face. I’ll be busy at work, working out, or playing with Danny and I’ll be so caught up in the moment that Charlie won’t be at the forefront of my thoughts. Then I’ll get lit up in an emotional drive-by shooting.

I feel the grief ripping through me like bullets as tears fill my eyes. It feels like I got the wind knocked out of me. A sharp pounding fills my head. I feel weak and struggle to breath. I am wounded. But this wound does not bleed. It’s not visible.

Or maybe it is visible? Maybe my countenance screams, “This unrelenting and visceral agony is too much to handle.”  Maybe you’ve been around me and noticed that I am detached from the conversation or aloof in a social setting?  I find myself daydreaming about what Charlie would be doing with me at that moment the majority of my time spent awake. (I simply cannot turn it off.)  Maybe the dark circles under my eyes reveal the cold hard truth of sleepless nights spent staring out my window hoping for Char to come bounding into our room in the morning?

You’ve seen us around town, at parties, or at work and we probably seem to be doing better than you would’ve expected. You may have even talked about the strength we’ve exhibited throughout this tragedy. You need to know that right under that thin veil of composure is a parent destroyed by the death of their child and maintaining that stiff upper lip is a constant fight. At any moment something can set me off. A song on the radio. The recoil sound of a diving board. Everytime I start the lawnmower. (In the picture on Charlie’s prayer card, his right hand is on my lawn mower. “Can I use Daddy’s lawnmower” was a question he asked ad nauseam.) Tempering my sadness, or at least trying to temper it, whenever I’m being riddled with these bullets of grief is my new normal.

We have an amazing support system and we are extremely grateful for it. Our friends, family, and even strangers have all rallied around us. I was grocery shopping early one Saturday morning (no one is at the grocery store at that time and that’s how I like it) when a woman I did not know approached me. With a shaky voice and a quivering lip she asked, “Are you Bryan Tobin?” “I am,” I replied knowing exactly what was coming next. “You don’t know me but I know you. I will never pretend to know the depths of your pain but I do know that me and my family pray for you daily. I wish there was more that I could do but I know there isn’t. His life, your eulogy and your blog are an inspiration to us.” BOOM!  A shotgun blast to the soul. It’s painful to absorb but I like knowing Charlie inspires people.  I also hate it.  I hate the fact that Charlie is the cautionary tale that reminds people to cherish everyday of their life.  I hate the fact that parents who are feeling frustrated with their bratty kids remind themselves, “At least they’re still alive, unlike Charlie Tobin.”  I hate having to carry this burden of grief all day everyday.

This grief I carry reminds me of a quote I heard watching a 9/11 special this past weekend. “I carry this sadness everywhere. It’s like a brick in my pocket.” Perfectly said. It’s heavy. It’s hard. It’s rough. It’s awkward. But it’s mine. And I’ll always carry it with me as I run around dodging those bullets in this grief stricken firefight. It’s my normal.

I haven’t had any “signs” or instances in which I’ve felt Charlie.  I’m desperately waiting for my first one.  However, I heard a song on the radio the other day that inspired me to write this post b/c I interpreted the lyrics as Charlie talking to me.  (Almost all songs are about love and they all take on this angle for me now.  Yet another example of my new normal.)

“But the space between where you’re smilin’ high
Is where you’ll find me if I get to go
The space between the bullets in our firefight
Is where I’ll be hiding, waiting for you

The rain that falls splash in your heart
Ran like sadness down the window into your room
The space between our wicked lies
Is where we hope to keep safe from pain

Take my hand ’cause we’re walking out of here
Oh, right out of here, love is all we need, dear

The space between what’s wrong and right
Is where you’ll find me hiding, waiting for you
The space between your heart and mine
Is the space we’ll fill with time”

Char, the day I get to go to the place where you’re smilin’ high cannot come soon enough b/c there will be no more space between us if I get to go.  There is no space between the bullets in this firefight.  I’m under constant fire and I’m unable to find where you’re hiding and waiting for me.  The sadness doesn’t merely splash my heart, it floods it.  I tell myself wicked lies to keep me safe from pain but I know they’re lies so they don’t protect me at all.  Will I hold you again?  Please, I beg you to stop hiding from me.  Where is this space between what’s wrong and right?  This space between your heart and mine was filled with too much time the second you were gone.  I don’t think I can wait any longer.  Come talk at me in this space between.  PLEASE CHAR, COME TAKE MY HAND AND WALK ME RIGHT OUT OF HERE. . .


5 thoughts on “Emotional Firefights

  1. This is a very moving post. I just want you guys to know that I would do ANYTHING to make you feel better. Even if just for a moment. If I could take the bullets in your grief stricken firefight, I would. Love you guys.

  2. Bryan,

    You are doing your son a great honor by keeping his memory alive in your blog. Your words are just so moving and relateable. As you know I too lost a child recently and I can totaly understand how you feel. Those days were you feel like a shotgun has ripped your heart out are just unbearable. I feel like I am having one today. I am having one of these “Emotional Firefights” today. Please know that my wife and I always pray for you and your family and Charlie. We know that he and our daughter Zayana and Steven’s boy Colin are hanging out in heaven watching over their parents. Take care and know that I am hear if you need anything.


    BTW-Thank you for adding us to your blogroll. Take care!

  3. “There are times when I feel normal. There are times when I forget that my life is upside down.”

    I think this describes my grief at this particular moment in time, although lately it’s been a roller coaster of emotions. The thing about it is that I’m not able to put into words what I’m feeling at any given time. I used to be able to do that, but not anymore. I go to work and do what I’m supposed to, but the passion that I had for the job isn’t there. The passion isn’t there for many of the things I used to do, either professionally or personally. But there are times when I feel good and “forget that my life is upside down”.

    I also wonder whether my grief is “visible”. I know I’ve changed and I don’t have the same reaction to people that I did before. So is that in some way making people look at me differently because they know what I’ve been through, or is it all in my head? Either way it’s not pleasant.

    In normal life, people in general tend to project thoughts about themselves into other people’s minds, when in fact, those same people are either thinking you’re staring at them for some odd reason, or are totally preoccupied with their own thoughts and lives and couldn’t care less what you’re going through.

    When I lost my daughter 10 months ago, you can magnify that thought projection by thousands of times. I sincerely thought that people were staring at me with that “poor man” thought, and I suppose they were at the time. But time moves on for everyone and other people get on with their lives. Though real time moves slower for us, I try like hell to keep in mind that people aren’t looking at me any different than they were before Allison died…they’ve moved on with their lives… but it’s very difficult. THAT’S my new normal.

  4. I love you, Bryan. I wish I could do something, I really do. I think about you guys all the time. Your blog is awe inspiring. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions with us.

  5. Bryan,

    Thanks for sharing Charlie with us. You may do this blog for an outlet. You may do it for a place to reflect on your thoughts and emotions. Whatever the reason is, keep posting. Sometimes when I am struggling to put into words what is going on in my head and heart, it helps to get another perspective from a Father who gets it. Thank you!


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