Our community just lost someone special this week. Jeff Wheaton was faithful, kind, and in tune with his purpose here.
As we feel the loss in our own home, there are moments we feel like imposters even in our grief.
Jeff knew many, many people in this community, taught hundreds of children, raised a large family — and that’s just while he lived in Roseburg.
We have known him and his family for several years. His daughter babysat for us once upon a time. He was a mentor to my husband for a few years. The roles he played were so much more and so many more than that.
It’s tempting to feel like we don’t have a right to be in mourning alongside the people who knew him best and longest. There’s a nagging little voice that whispers, “Hey, how much did you matter to him? Do you really belong in the bubble of people-he-left-behind? The world has to go on, so snap out of it. You weren’t family, so you’re not allowed to slow down and let this get to you.”
We struggle to let ourselves sit in the sorrow we feel. We don’t feel quite entitled to mourning someone we didn’t see every day like his family did or even weekly like so many of his friends. But each of us has a ripple effect on our community. Jeff is an easy illustration of that because he went out of his way to make a positive impact and set an example of love to those around him.
His loss affects how I feel today and maybe a day six months from now, too. I feel it strongly in some moments, and in others, I am caught off guard when my eyes well with tears.
Today I give myself permission to mourn, whatever that looks like. I am grieving the loss of a mentor figure, a stalwart survivor, a husband and father I admired in both respects, but mostly — a human being that I knew.
Today I give myself permission to feel sorrow for a life I thought would be so much longer and see so much more fruit than the richness it had already harvested. I will walk through my reflections on what Jeff’s life has accomplished. I will cry as I think of how his daughters won’t have his guidance as they build their adult lives and his sons will have to navigate marriage and fatherhood without his wisdom. And I will remember the gravitas he gave all conversations about faith as if it was the one thing that mattered.
I will do all these things, and I may still find myself having a hard day in six months when I remember something about him I had forgotten.
Because walking through the grief now will be so much easier than stuffing it somewhere deep. I’m not a grief counselor, but in the times I’ve stuffed my sadness — even mourning the broken dream of a canceled trip (thank you, 2020) — I’ve seen it bubble up angrily, wreck my attitude and strain my relationships months or even years afterward because I didn’t deal with it as it came.
I refuse to believe that I have no right to slow down and take it easy this week as I mourn this loss. It has affected me deeply and I suspect it will hit me in different ways as time goes on.
Grief is a process and no matter how far removed I think I am from its epicenter, I can’t stop the ripples from coming. I just have to bob with them until they settle. And that’s OK.