Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘Grief Comes Out of Nowhere’

Tracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article on grief.

Grief Comes Out of Nowhere

It has been a fairly typical Wednesday in my life. I met with two staff at the Titusville office and interviewed a Physical Therapist, who was fabulous. We made her an offer, and expect to hear from her by the end of the day. I went to brunch with the Administrator of the company, which was an hour of positive talk. I went back home, made a few phone calls, checked the email, and texted with Noah at college. Noah filled me in on how many classes/tests he has left before the end of the semester, and told me he needed to be picked up the evening of December 13th, or on December 14th.

I loaded my dog into the car for his annual physical and shots at the vet. Pulled out of my driveway, and started to cruise down the road. I had the thought that picking Noah up might be a problem if the roads were bad. I was once first on scene at a car accident that killed three people, two of them children, and I have never been comfortable driving in ice and snow since. I can do it, but I avoid it. There was no way I was making that six hour round trip in a snow storm. I thought that maybe Noah’s dad could do it and then thought that maybe my dad would drive me. At the instant I thought about my dad driving me to Morgantown, West Virginia, I simultaneously had the thought, “Have you lost your mind? Your dad hasn’t driven in a month since he started on morphine and oxy. Your dad can’t sit in a car for six hours. Your dad is never going to see Noah on campus.”

Boom. I’m sitting at the intersection of Route 8 and Route 62, the blinky light on the 15th Street Hill, one of the most dangerous intersections in Venango County, and THIS is when my brain decides to have an epiphany moment. Out of nowhere. I’m literally sucking air, have made a sobbing noise, and one big, fat, steaming hot tear has rolled down my left cheek, while cars line up behind me.

I made it out of the intersection with no screeching tires or horns blowing, and I made it to the vets’. I cried most of the way.

Long story short, my dad got diagnosed with cancer in eight different sites in February. He did chemo and radiation and was doing well, until August, when they discovered that the chemo had damaged his heart. They had to stop the chemo. Having worked hospitals, nursing homes, and Visiting Nurses including Hospice for 20 years, I knew that it was just a matter of time before the cancer reared its ugly head and charged. My dad worked for me, for ten years, so it became all about when did he need to retire, when would he be unable to continue? It became about helping my staff to deal with his lack of presence when he had been a father figure to so many. It became about finding a replacement for him and making sure that he was getting good pain relief. It became about appointments for new symptoms.

I KNEW he was dying; rationally, logically knew what was going to happen. I just apparently hadn’t allowed myself to emotionally imagine how my life and my boys’ lives would be impacted by his absence. My father has been an excellent grandfather to his grandsons. One of the very best. Hundreds of sporting events, choir shows, band concerts, plays…. he missed very few. There were times between my thyroid disorder, fibromyalgia, and living in Ohio that I just couldn’t make one of my children’s events. My parents took my place.

To realize today, suddenly, just how different it will be to not have my dad in attendance at my children’s events literally shattered my heart. I was always so proud at Noah’s baseball games and football games that he frequently had the biggest cheering section there. It was me, the man in my life, Noah’s brother, his dad, his dad’s brothers and sometimes their wives, sometimes the paternal grandparents, and always, always, my parents. I hadn’t pictured that group at Eli’s concerts without my dad being there. Today I did.

For the record, my dad wants very much to see all four of his grandsons graduate from high school. He wants to see what they become in the future, and in the meantime, he wants to watch them do their thing in sports and on instruments. It was never his intention to leave us while the grandsons are still in junior high, and I think he’s a little pissed that it is going this way. I don’t blame him.

So, we’re at the vet’s. My dog Rusty does a fabulous imitation of a dog having an anxiety attack, which completely distracted me from my thoughts. He gets weighed, examined, a few shots, a blood test. He’s healthy at seven years old, and we head to the desk to pay. There is a line, and I notice a man and a woman sitting in the waiting room alone, no animal. Rusty doesn’t exactly understand waiting your turn and payment, so he’s trying to drag me to the door – he’s ready to go home! We’re playing tug of war with his leash. From the back, a dog begins to cry and howl. It is horrific. It goes on and on. It is clear that the dog is in agony. I look at the couple in the waiting room and ask, “Is that yours?” The woman bursts into tears and puts her hand over her mouth. The man says, “Yes. He has bone cancer. We’re putting him down today.” The pitiful noise continued, and the woman said to the desk clerk, “Can we please comfort him? He needs us.” I burst into tears. It was too much. To watch this couple, in their agony, listen to their baby suffer, was just too much for me on this day.

I was finally able to choke out to the lady, “I’m so sorry, I hope you’ll be okay.” She said nothing, and rightfully so. In her pain, her mind only on her fur baby, a stranger speaking platitudes meant nothing.

I sobbed through payment, got the dog to the car, cried in the car for five minutes, and cried the whole way home. I don’t so much believe in coincidences anymore. The dog being put down because of painful bone cancer while my dad is dying of painful bone cancer, less than 30 minutes after I had an epiphany about what his death would mean? Yeah, I was meant to be there on that day, at that time, to witness that couples’ pain. It was most likely meant to help me recognize my own.

I am writing this blog on Thursday. Eli has a choir concert on Monday. I genuinely don’t know if dad will be able to come. I know he wants to. But, between pain, meds, unsteadiness, pneumonia, and concerns about a slip and fall or what the cold will do to his lungs…. I don’t know if he is going to make it. While I’m writing this, Eli has just come out of his room and said, “Did I tell you that I am going to play an instrument for the concert Monday? I’m going to play sleigh bells. Just me and my friend Megan are going to have instruments. It was just decided today. We only have three more practices to learn this……” And here I am, sobbing again, as I see my son’s excitement, and realize that grandpa, who has been to virtually every concert this kid has been in, might not be there Monday. And if he is, it might be the last.

In an effort to make everything “right,” I just texted Eli’s dad and asked him to invite his brothers and sisters in law to Monday night’s concert. Noah had a crowd when he came off the field, I don’t want Eli to come off the stage to just his dad and I. Dammit.

My dad and I have had our ups and downs, like most parent/child relationships. I’m not sure that he knows that any perceived “failure” on his part as a parent has been more than made up for by his extraordinary grandparenting skills. The love he has shown my boys more than makes up for any disagreement we ever had. You understand why, right? I love them way more than I ever loved myself, so anyone who shows them love, attention, and approval wins me over no matter what. My dad has given my boys nothing but his time, attention, his approval, and his money. He would have done anything for them, and frequently did.

My dad lost his crap over a local newspaper article about my oldest sons’ performance in a football playoff game. The truth….my son was open, the ball was thrown to him, the ball slipped through his outstretched hands…no catch. The local newspaper documented with a headline similar to this, “Franklin loses the chance to advance thanks to Cowles fumbling ball unobstructed.” Two paragraphs on the set up for play, the brilliance of the play, and my sons’ failure on the play. My dad called me at 7 am, threatened to sue the paper, write a letter to the editor about the sports writers treating 17 year olds like Ben Roethlisberger…. holy crap, if I and Noah hadn’t told him to let it be, he might have spent every penny he had trying to clear my kids name. That’s love. That’s loyalty.

At some point over the last few months, while still working, my dad pulled his wallet out, peeled off $60, and said, “You can deposit money into Noah’s account, right? Put this in his account and tell him to get a WVU football ticket, or buy himself a polo shirt for observation hours.” Despite his pain, and crazy treatment schedule, there was never a moment that my dad wasn’t thinking about those grandsons, and what they needed.

I could write another five pages, but I won’t. What you need to know right now is that Tracy Cowles, business owner, blog writer that you follow, is wiping snot off her upper lip. Has been crying for five hours. Has no idea how to shepherd her kids through the loss of a beloved grandparent. Doesn’t know herself how to picture Noah’s college graduation or Eli’s high school graduation without Grandpa there. I have no clue.

I’m just going to leave it at this. I love you, daddy. Always have, always will. Ups and downs. Arguments. Issues. But, when I was faced with driving through a snowstorm to pick up the beloved oldest grandchild, who did I want to go with me? Yes, you. Always you.

So, I’m grieving. Grieving a loss that hasn’t even happened yet. But it has. He doesn’t work for me anymore. He might not be able to be at the concert Monday. He sure as heck can’t do a Morgantown run.

We did hire that PT, and I am so glad! Life goes on. We had our company Christmas party, and it was a wonderful time for the 10th year in a row. Life goes on. My parents did make it to the concert. I could not be happier that this week at least, life goes on. Cancer sucks, and sometimes life doesn’t go on, and sometimes grief comes from nowhere.
Joining all of you that grieve before, during and after the loss.


I apologize to the Explore sites and all of our readers for my lack of blogs over the past six months. I got stuck. I wrote this in December, and as I’ve always told you, I respectfully ask permission of those who are involved in my writing before publishing. This one…. I just couldn’t ask my dad. Just couldn’t. He passed away on Saturday, August 5th, 2017, and now I can share it.

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