Despite the sympathy, concern, and comfort I received from my husband, Bill, Preston’s three brothers, relatives, and friends to help me grieve Preston’s death, I wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to see anyone outside of my circle because if they asked how I felt or how I was doing I didn't want to have to explain what I was feeling over and over again.
I also thought the sooner I ended my life, the sooner I’d be with Preston. However, it meant I’d leave Bill, Brandon, Austin Levi, and friends behind. Then, they’d end up in the same grief, sadness, loneliness, and pain that I was experiencing.
Preston’s birthday and the holidays were the worst days because that is the time I miss Preston the most. I relived all the wonderful memories I had with him. Then I quickly realized that he wasn’t around and that he would never be around for any future holidays.
I felt like I lost all reality of what was right or wrong, what mattered to me, what I wanted and needed to do, and where my level of care was. Little things became huge things and everything was a crisis. I felt like everything was crashing down. I got angrier and angrier and more paranoid. Which led me down a road of dysfunctional and toxic behaviors.
I was in pain and by God I wanted everyone to know how much I hurt. If I was destined to be miserable, so was everyone around me. I didn't realize what I was doing or whom I was hurting and how much I was hurting them.
I just didn't care!
I was so consumed with my pain that I didn’t care about anybody else’s pain. I started drinking more alcohol to relieve the hurt and drown the sorrow. Anger and alcohol are not a good mix. The combination led me down a darker path of self-destruction and more importantly hurting people I loved and who loved me.
The drinking led to bad choices and poor decisions. I didn’t care about living, my health, Bill, my sons, friends, family, and neighbors. I drank every time I could mostly at the Elks Lodge, but also at friends’ house parties. Many times I’d stumble into the house drunk out of my mind at one or two o’clock in the morning. Then woke up and wondered how I found my way back home. Throughout these drinking binges, I had heated arguments with Bill and shrugged the hangovers and fights with Bill off and continued with my drinking and partying.
Even though I knew I shouldn't be out drinking day and night it was the only place where I felt I could get some relief. I didn't want to quit drinking because I would have to feel the pain and stand in it all alone. I constantly felt I was going to have a heart attack. All the drinking did was make my life worse for me, Bill, the boys, and my friends.
The alcohol along with the dysfunctional behavior also manifested a distorted perspective of how I viewed and felt about my friends. In my eyes, it appeared that they went from expressing sympathy to letting me down. They were there to listen but only to an extent. They were there to drink with me but only until I started crying. Or they gave me advice I didn’t want or need to hear like on how to not grieve anymore and quit being sad. People say they want you to talk to them but don’t, they are busy, not really into it, and want to change the subject quickly because it’s an uncomfortable topic to discuss.
I thought that people didn’t care about how I felt anymore. Then I got so drunk that I made a fool of myself, caused a fight, or blamed everything and everyone for the misery I was feeling.
People whom I thought would be there for me distanced themselves from me. As I look back, given my behavior, rightfully so.
Although everyone had good intentions I didn’t need them to fix my grief. Grief is not an easy fix like a broken arm. There is no standard procedure nor is there a cure for grief. Even though it was temporary relief, what I needed from them was a shoulder to cry on or to hold my hand to carry some of the grief and pain.
However, I didn’t realize that the lack of empathy from my friends was also my fault. In part, because I didn't know how or had the skills to reach out for help and ask for empathy. Furthermore, it’s not possible for people who haven’t lost a loved one the way I did to know what or what not to say or how to practice empathy. Since my parents never taught or showed my brothers and me how, I created unrealistic expectations about how people should behave and react to me.
I wanted to tell people what I needed. Simple requests like a smile, a tender touch on my shoulder, a phone call or text message, a little note, or an invitation to just chat. But I didn’t know how to communicate my needs to them. I also didn’t want to be a burden. So I kept quiet and kept drinking alcohol to numb the pain. Which only increased my anger and resentment.
I was an emotional train wreck destroying everything and everyone in my path. I was always screwing up or forgetting something with no understanding of why I continued with the dysfunctional behavior. I was no fun to be around, which pushed people further and further away from me. As a result, I was left alone to continue mourning Preston’s death in a very unhealthy way. I made life miserable for myself and everyone around me.
It wasn’t until two years after Preston’s death in November 2020, that I decided I was done drinking and decided to seek professional help. I quit cold turkey and began my search for a good counselor and was fortunate to find one. Today, I still attend the counseling sessions.
I think I realized that if I didn’t change my behavior and outlook on life without Preston I was going to go insane and into a deeper downward spiral that would eventually destroy me and my family. Although I embraced seeking professional help, I still had a lot of anger to work through and overcome.
To help me overcome it and start the healing process, my counselor gave me an exercise. Write a list of words to describe what you’re feeling. I didn’t know how to begin so I came up with the idea to use the alphabet. Here is the A to Z list I started Anger, Beaten, Calloused, Drowning, Empathy, Frightened, Grouchy, Hurt, Irritated, Jealous, Knowledge, Lonely, Mess, Needed, Offended, Pissed, Quiet, Rage, Sad, Tired, Unsure, Vulnerable, Worried, Xenodochy, Yelling and Zestful.
To my surprise, the counselor paid me a compliment. She never had any of her patients or knew of anyone who used the alphabet. “How did you come up with this idea?” She asked.
“I don’t know. No rhyme or reason. I just did it.”
Three years later I decided to repeat the same exercise. Able; Blessed; Confident; Dedicated; Encouraged; Fortunate; Grateful; Hopeful; Inspired; Joy; Kaleidoscope; Loved; Moved: New; Openminded; Proud; Quest; Relief; Satisfied; Tested; Useful; Valued; Wounded; eXhale; Yearning; Zen. This list and the counseling taught me some valuable lessons about how to cope with grief. First and foremost, it never goes away, don’t turn grief into a competition, empathy is a two-way street and it’s all about managing the grief peacefully and healthily so that I can continue to move forward with my life. Just as Preston would want me to live.
Staff Sergeant Preston Bailey Hancock passed away on Saturday, August 25th, 2018. On his way back to the military base a 70-year-old man driving his car crossed the median on Interstate 10 in Tallahassee, Florida, and hit Preston’s truck head-on. Preston was knocked unconscious, taken to the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and died several days later. He was 28 years-old.
About the Authors
Bridget Jill White Bagley is the co-author of Preston’s Charm: A Charm-ing, Healthy, and Empathetic Approach to Grief. Simon and Schuster and Archway Publishing will debut the book in March or April 2024. She is also the co-owner of Preston's Charm Empathy Kit. She was born in Brawley California. Her family moved to Arizona when she was in kindergarten. She works at a mini storage business and is a member of the Winslow Elks Lodge #536 in Winslow, Arizona. Bridget lives with her husband Bill Bagley, whom she married in 2012. Bridget and Bill have a blended family that includes 9 children and 9 grandkids.
Hogan Hilling is the co-author of Preston’s Charm: A Charm-ing, Healthy, and Empathetic Approach to Grief. Simon and Schuster and Archway Publishing will debut the book in March or April 2024. He is also the author of 13 published books and the co-owner of Preston's Charm Empathy Kit. His recent book “Solving Cold Cases” debuted in March 2023. Hilling was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2001 and appeared in ABC’s The Story of Fathers and Sons Documentary in 1999. His story as a fatherhood advocate has been published in major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Christian Science Monitor.