When It All Came Crashing Down, Part I

24 Mar

I have shared insights with you about my youth, adolescence, and early adulthood. You’ve read along, as I told you how my father’s alcoholism and drug abuse wasted away his life and my childhood. We walked together through this journey, and the whole time you’ve never been clued in to what happened on that fateful day.

I was a sophomore in college, having caught my ticket out of town and away from my father’s problems. Milwaukee became my home, still a stone’s throw away from my mother and sister. Normally, moving away from the problem might be cause for relief, but I walked about campus knowing that the rest of my family was now on the front lines, alone to handle the cleanup and to restore order.

It was a Tuesday evening, February 2001.  All was normal in the college cafeteria. Classmates’ chatter overlaid with random outbursts of laughter. The clanking of plates and silverware. The exhaustion of another day of classes wearing the students’ faces thin. Another Wisconsin winter rearing its ugly head, causing winter to seem like an endless prison and spring merely a mirage.

As students around me carried on with dinner and conversation, so did my girlfriend and I. Unbeknownst to me, something much greater had taken shape, something beyond my control and far from my little corner of the universe.

After dinner, she volunteered to walk with me back to my dorm. I should’ve suspected something at that moment because that deviated from the normal routine. She rarely frequented my dorm room, not because she was mean or rude but because she lived in a more-spacious apartment, where I was usually more than anxious to visit.

We trekked across campus, into my building and up the stairs. Just as we opened the door to my room, the telephone gave out a loud raucous (this was before I had a mobile phone attached to my body at all times). Hurriedly, I ran to pick up before voice mail could claim victory by beating me to it.

It was my mom.


“Hi, it’s Mom. Is Melissa with you?”

“Yes, she’s right here. We just had dinner together.” I was really thinking, “How did you know?”


“OK. Good. Your sister has something to tell you.”

Panic. Anxiety. Lump in my throat. Was everything OK? Maybe they were calling with good news. Think positively, Cory.

“Hey, buddy,” said my sister softly after taking the phone from my mom.


“I have some bad news …”


“… Dad is … dead,” barely managing to get out that final word.

Still on the phone, I glanced at Melissa. She had already known, forewarned by my mom so she could be there for me at my life’s sourest moment, to be my soft place to fall, to reassure me that everything was going to be OK even if I felt like it was all crashing down on me. The look on her face said it all. How had she remained so calm, steady, and courageous all day, even when looking me in the eye and seeing off in the distance the dark cloud about to descend upon me? Had she known all day?

“Cory, are you there? Are you OK?” said my mom after taking back the phone.

It took me several minutes to comprehend what was happening. This wasn’t, in fact, a joke or a dream. This was reality. My father had passed away. And then it hit me. It hit me with the ferocious blow of a ton of bricks.

The tears welled up in my eyes and an uncontrollable sadness overtook me. To this day, I have never cried so hard in my life, and I wondered what the other guys on the floor must’ve thought when they heard the bellowing from my room.

The rest of that night was a blur. I went to the chapel, then over to the solitude and sanctuary of my girlfriend’s apartment. No one knew what to say to me. It was too fresh, too sensitive a subject to approach. And so we sat, mostly in silence.

The next day, I skipped my classes. I missed work at the campus library. I managed to drag myself out of bed to pack a bag and then went to the campus chapel for the mid-morning service. On this of all days, I needed that little chapel more than ever. Its white finish. Its melodic tunes. Its consoling message. And the outpouring of support, hugs, smiles, and handshakes from classmates and professors.

After my girlfriend finished her classes, she drove me the 90 miles northward to be with my family and to make preparations for an inevitable funeral.

As we pulled into the driveway, my body sat motionless, staring blankly at my childhood home. So many memories had taken shape inside, many of them involving my father and his uncontrollable addictions. Before leaving for college, my father had been the catalyst for my anger and frustration. Now, only sadness remained.

The deepest sadness of my life was about to engulf me. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to admit that my father was gone way too soon, at the young age of 45. I wasn’t willing to believe that this man who had simultaneously caused us so much laughter and suffering was no longer. I wasn’t ready to admit that my reckless-abandon father, who had seemed to have nine lives, had been defeated. I wasn’t ready to concede that he had given in, that his vices had spelled his demise. I was devastated that I never had a chance to say my goodbyes.

Deep inside, I had always feared that day, that moment, and then I was living it. And so I stepped out of the car’s passenger side and into the throes of funeral planning.

In the days that followed, I would learn from my mom and sister how my dad’s passing was not only saddening but tragic, leaving me with an uneasy sense of helpless wonderment.

To be continued …


Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Family


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6 responses to “When It All Came Crashing Down, Part I

  1. ctgrow

    March 27, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Hey Cory,

    You’re a really good writer with a uniquely realistic and insightful perspective. Keep pluggin’ away at this and I’m confident the finished project will be immeasurably beneficial to both yourself and your readers (including me). I guarantee I’ll buy a copy of your book when it comes out and recommend it to family and friends.

    Thanks for sharing such deeply emotional stuff. No matter how many other books there are that deal with the same type of topics, yours will be unique and moving because it’s real, specific stuff, not just fluff. It makes me wanna dig through my own childhood a bit…

    Thanks for posting; I’ll be reading, even if I don’t comment on every one.

    *Insert random quote here from some play we were in together, but I can’t remember any right now*

    • Cory Grassell

      March 27, 2013 at 3:46 pm


      From the deepest depths of my heart, thanks for the genuine, kind compliment. Moreover, thanks for your loyal readership. Writing is my passion and joy, but it gives me a greater sense when I know my words are impacting others to reflect inwardly (become better) and act outwardly (live better). When I set out on this journey, I didn’t envision my blog to be what it is today; certainly, it has morphed. And I certainly didn’t think it’d have this following or effect.

      I have said it before and will say it again: If only I can help just one person through my words; then I realized that I did help someone: myself. This blog has been deeply therapeutic for me; my story has been a long time in the making. Along the way, I discovered that others in similar situations have been edified by my personal account.

      Will this become a book? I don’t know. I’d like to write a book. We’ll see where this little project takes me next.

      Because of your comment, I also discovered your blog; I wish I had known sooner, as I enjoyed browsing it. What is fascinating about writing is that everyone has a uniquely interesting way to tell a story; I mean, just look at a basic sentence and how many different ways it can be configured to convey the same meaning. Anyway, keep plugging away, my friend; when your book project reaches its conclusion/final destination, you can count me in for a purchase or two, as well. (If you ever want to partner on a writing project, let me know. Perhaps the next drama production at MLHS, featuring the playwrights Clayton and Cory …).


  2. Ed Opliger

    July 2, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    Cory, I don’t know if you remember me, but we had some good conversations when you were having problems several years ago. I read your thesis and made some (holefully) good suggestions. You have been in my prayers every morning and every night since then. Now I have had the privilege to read more of your work. Man, this is great writing and made me realize how much you are missed. Please keep me in your prayers also.

    • Cory Grassell

      July 5, 2015 at 12:41 pm

      How are you? Thanks for the note. So nice to hear from you. Funny thing is I was thinking about you the other week, for whatever reason. Since we last spoke, my life has undoubtedly taken a different path/course, for the better. I would love to fill you in sometime. God works in mysterious ways.


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