Name: Ashley Taylor
Tell me about the person who died:
I lost my father on March 1st, 2016. When my phone started ringing at 5am I knew something wasn't right, but since my dad was often in and out of the hospital, I assumed I would have to make the three hour drive to Cumberland, Maryland to see him. Most times it wasn't anything major but I tried to be there when I could. But it was my grandmother on the line, crying and telling me that my father was dead. All I remember from the next little while is my husband calling our boss to tell him we wouldn't be in.
Up until he and my mother split when I was 13 years old, I was always a daddy's girl. He taught me how to work on cars, use tools, build things, and do home maintenance. Never in a million years would I have guessed that all he taught me would be so valuable in my adult life. My dad was a painter by trade and the years of working with fumes and having your body stuck in one awkward position for hours took a toll on him. He suffered from degenerative disc disease, migraines, had 57 kidney stones in 17 years and a multitude of other ailments.
He started going to the doctors for pain. In the beginning they gave him all the pain meds he needed. He eventually went on disability and the pain meds continued. A couple months before his death, the doctors decided they were not going to give them to him anymore. I am not sure of the reason why, but they just stopped.
When we spoke to the detective that day to find out what happened, we could tell something was off. Apparently there was a girl with him who had called 911. Nothing added up right and the whole vibe was wrong. Two days later we were forced to clear out his apartment. My husband told me later they found a needle and a spoon hidden under a dresser. Suddenly, everything was moving in slow motion. I just couldn't believe my dad would have done that, it’s like signing a death sentence. I have street smarts, I would have seen the signs. His best friend had died from that, and my dad couldn't be that stupid. This couldn’t be happening to me!
After the doctors took him off his meds he must have needed something to replace them. He was addicted to pain pills, and I guess he replaced that with heroin. An autopsy later confirmed a heroin overdose as the cause of death.
What has your experience of grief been like since your loss? How did it change over time?
Over the last three months it’s been confusing. I don't understand why most times I feel completely normal, and other times I feel like I can’t breathe. I don't understand why people don't think before they speak and say things that are insensitive. And mostly, I don't talk about it because I don't want to be judged and I don't want him to be judged. I have only told four people what really happened and those are all close family members. I realized I have very few people I can depend on and that the world is a lonely place. I have realized how easy it is to fool everyone into thinking you are OK.
If you had to describe your grief as a literal landscape, what would it look like and feel like at different points since your loss?
My grief feels like a forest that has been cut down. A barren landscape devoid of all life. Just a shell of what it once was.
Tell me about an object that reminds you of the person who died, and why?
A guitar. He owned 6 when he passed. He loved playing all types: electric, acoustic, bass. He also played mandolin.
How did the people in your life support you in your grief? What was helpful? What was frustrating?
My husband was the biggest help, he stood by me through it all. His patience the first day was tremendous, and his continued support has been phenomenal. There was a period when he felt I should be letting out more emotion, but after explaining to him that I would work through this in the way I needed to, he stopped. All of the speculation from my mother, grandmother, and others on why my dad did what he did started to get tiresome and irritating. No one will ever know the causes and we all have to live with that.
Though I am realizing now how common overdose deaths are, most of the losses that people I know have experienced were from natural causes or old age. This is really a completely different animal, especially with all of the shame involved. Because of this I joined a group of people who had lost loved ones to overdoses. Though I am the only one there who has lost a parent, they seem to understand me better than other people do, and we all relate to each other.
Did anything surprise you about your experience with grief?
The lack of feeling after the first few days. I thought I would be a blubbering mess for months but I attribute that to finding outlets to release my feelings and to keeping busy.
Also, I never realized that overdoses from heroin and other drugs were such an epidemic. After my father’s passing I did a lot of research and the numbers are staggering.
How did your private grieving relate to your public mourning?
In public no one would know anything happened. In private all I did for the first few days was cry. Now most of the time it’s just quiet reflection.
Was there anything about your cultural or religious background that affected the grieving process for you?
Not having one made things more difficult. Many people believe that their loved ones went to heaven and are in a better place. I am not saying there is or is not a heaven, I just don't know what there is because I've never seen it. I can see the benefits now for having that belief though.
How did your loss and your experience of grief change you?
I really don't think there are words to describe how I have changed and will continue to change.
Ashley Taylor is a full time manager of a disaster restoration company, where she spends her days fixing people's homes when they have water or fire damage. Her favorite past times are crafting of all varieties, reading and being with her family.
This post is part of Grief Landscapes, an evolving art project documenting the unique terrain of people’s grief. Participants share an experience with bereavement, and I photograph an object that evokes the person who died, transforming it into an abstract landscape inspired by the story.