Host: Tina Intarapanont
Guest: Tristan Halstead
Audio Producer and Editor: Tina Intarapanont
Transcriber: Rachel Hartley
Sponsor: Urban Plains
Music Credits: Sunrise in Paris – Dan Henig
TINA INTARAPANONT, HOST: Hello, I’m Tina Intarapanont, and welcome to From the Ashes: a podcast where we have conversations with everyday people about grief and loss.
In this episode, my friend Tristan Halstead shares the story of his grandpa, who was an influential father figure during his childhood. When his grandpa passed away during his sophomore year of high school, Tristan had to navigate a new world without him. In the three years since, Tristan has grown and learned a lot about himself and how to manage his grief.
TRISTAN HALSTEAD, GUEST: I was never really close with my dad so my grandpa would always take me to the stereotypical things, you know, fathers and sons would go to like, you know, baseball games and football games and playing catch in the front yard and stuff. He was really inspirational in my life in just teaching me how to be a man and being respectful of other people.
INTARAPANONT: You grew up with him since you were a kid?
INTARAPANONT: When did he pass away?
HALSTEAD: He passed away in 2014. Actually it was 2018, my bad. It was a brain aneurysm. He was on his way to work one morning and his body couldn’t handle it anymore, I guess. He ended up pulling into a Petco, I think is where he stopped in the parking lot when it happened because I’m assuming he had some sort of feeling that made him want to pull over. And that’s when someone found him in the car, and he was unconscious, and he was taken to the hospital after that.
And I was in the middle of school that day, so I was like– I was a sophomore– and I got a call from my mom saying, ‘It’s really bad, your grandpas in the hospital. You’re going to have to come. We’re going to have to drive down to Nebraska.’ I really didn’t know what I was expecting at that point. I feel like no one really expects death to happen ‘till it does, and then you just have to deal with it.
Originally when we got there, they told us what room he was in and we already had family already there in the room with him, like his cousin. Him and my grandma were there, and I mean me and my mom and my sister and my mom’s boyfriend at the time walked into the room and I just saw him unconscious in the bed. It didn’t really hit me at first cause I still didn’t know what was going on you know? And then when the doctor explained it to me that he was brain dead at that point, so there was nothing we could’ve done even if he was to live, it wouldn’t be him. It would just be a– I guess a vegetable at that point.
They were holding my grandpa on life support at that moment, so we didn’t know how much longer he had or if he had any time left. One of the things that he really didn’t want to be left on when he died was on life support. I know that’s what my grandpa didn’t want or any of us want, but we still wanted to be there to see if there was a chance or anything, you know. We had him on for about two days and then when my uncle finally showed up, we made that decision to like, you know. I mean, at that point, it settled in, like what was happening, and basically how I was dealing with it was I kind of just ran away from it. I don’t know, every hospital has a chapel. I would just go down there, and I would just pray and cry. Just try to, I don’t know, get my head straight because I really didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t really want to stay in the room and watch him just lay there and not be able to do anything.
It came up in discussion, who was going to be in the room with him when they took him off. My mom and my uncle wanted to be in there and then my sister didn’t want to go in there, my grandma didn’t even want to go in there. But I wanted to be in there. I talked to my uncle and originally, he didn’t want me in there, which is pretty reasonable. Seeing someone die is– even when you’re expecting it, it’s just pretty bad. Just ‘cause there’s nothing you can do and it’s a weird experience. Finally, I explained to him why I wanted to be in the room which was just having him on life support for two days and knowing that it wasn’t what he wanted was very– I didn’t feel right about it.
And I still wanted to be there for him, even though he was brain dead. I still wanted to be there to let him free I guess in a sort of way, that was my thinking.
Taking him off life support was just pretty impactful, I guess. While it was happening, I just was trying to stay strong for my mom and stuff, so I couldn’t even really process my own emotions. And then, you know, the next day after I couldn’t even breathe because I was crying so much.
INTARAPANONT: It’s a hard thing to go through, especially when you’re that young.
HALSTEAD: Yeah, I mean I had experience with life and death in certain aspects. A month before that I lost my uncle, which was his brother. He was another important role in my life just because he was really close with me as well. He died from cancer and when he died, I was very– it was still tragic, but it wasn’t– I knew he had cancer. And then when my grandpa died, it was an ordinary day. He was gonna work at the auto shop that he’s been working on for the past 13 years.
INTARAPANONT: It’s like losing two father figures.
HALSTEAD: Yeah. In the same month, I lost both of them.
INTARAPANONT: Do you see differences in the way you grieved versus your mom or your sister or the rest of your family?
HALSTEAD: Yeah. I don’t know, my sister was very young at the time anyway and she didn’t really know how to process it. When you’re young, I guess death is very– you can’t really understand it that well. She was upset and she cried. I think this year is when she was like ‘Oh wow, I can’t call them anymore or see them.’
With my mom, the way she grieved was very different, I guess. I think she handled it the best way she could, but it was very– she picked up drinking a lot and was in a really hard space. I definitely had to step up and be that man of the house. I probably wasn’t good at it, but I really did try. I tried to handle it the best way I could, but growing up with death, with losing family that you really care about and that’s close to you, and then dealing with other situations from people my dad were with or the people my mom were with, I would be put in the middle of some situations and I wouldn’t really have time to think. I would just do.
I went to a doctor because I was very depressed and suicidal. At this point it was really tough for me. I didn’t really think about therapy or anything just cause every time I went into therapy, they would always look at me a certain way because I’d be off on something. The one comment I got the last time I went to therapy during this grieving process, this therapist was like, ‘What’s with this drugged out look?’ At that point I was like maybe that’s not something you say to a patient, like ‘Why do you look like crap?’ Why don’t you ask me how I am? So, I kind of gave up on therapy after that for a little bit just cause it was ridiculous. I didn’t want to be judged like that.
I kind of just took it into my own hands and lost my mind a little bit. It made me push a lot of my emotions inside and to cover that up, I just started drinking a lot and doing a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t have done. But it was a way to grieve, you know? No one was sitting me down and telling me, ‘You should do this.’ There was no direction. There were plenty of times where my other grandma would find me, and I’d have a bunch of stuff on me or I’d be on something and I’d always think of another excuse.
INTARAPANONT: How long did that period of time last?
HALSTEAD: I got sober last year. Originally, I wasn’t going to school, I would just skip. When I realized I wasn’t going to graduate because of what I was doing, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I should get it together.’ My dad didn’t graduate high school– he had to go back and get his GED. To me, that was a ridiculous thing. I felt like when you’re at junior year, you just need to get it over with. So, I moved to my aunt’s. She was a counsellor for the high school I went to. They took me in and basically got my head right and made me go to school.
It was tough because my aunt’s house was very strict. We had no drugs or anything, which is good, and that’s where I kind of learned humanity again in a sort of way. Eating at the table; I’ve never really had that.
INTARAPANONT: Sometimes having a change in location can really help.
HALSTEAD: Yeah, and like, less influences. Less people that were influencing me to do one thing and I think that’s the best call I’ve ever made. Otherwise, I don’t think I would’ve graduated or be here, honestly.
INTARAPANONT: Glad you made the change.
HALSTEAD: Thank you, I’m glad too.
INTARAPANONT: Do you have a favorite memory of your grandpa?
HALSTEAD: There’s so many. The thing is, he was never mean to me no matter what. I remember one time I wanted to play baseball, but like it was raining so we couldn’t go outside so I was like ‘Well, I’ll just make a baseball field in the living room.’ And so I took a sharpie, and I drew out a whole baseball field on the carpet of the living room.
And I got a bat and he came out and he was like ‘Well…’ After that I realized I messed up and he replaced the carpet, and he was very forgiving. He just always put his family first.
INTARAPANONT: Do you think that shaped the way you act to others too?
HALSTEAD: Yeah, I always forgive people if they’re willing to put in the effort back.
INTARAPANONT: So I know you do a lot of art.
HALSTEAD: Mmhmm. I paint a lot of silk screens of famous people and iconic images. I’ve always been into art and drawing and stuff. I kind of wanted to take it more seriously. I started painting more and getting more commissions and doing little auctions.
INTARAPANONT: Has that been a healthy outlet for you?
HALSTEAD: Yeah, I definitely think that right now I’m not as emotionally reliant because I kind of turned it into a commodity, making money and sending it to silent auctions and stuff. But before, it really did help me. It was everything because it wouldn’t go anywhere. I didn’t have to explain myself. I could just paint something, and there it is. It is good to accomplish something when you are in such a low space because you’re discouraged and you don’t want to work. It definitely helped out a lot with just giving my life color.
INTARAPANONT: Literally and metaphorically.
HALSTEAD: Yeah, I want it to be cliche like that, because– I mean, it did. I kind of had to force myself to apply color because I only like doing sketches and not coloring it in. I definitely think it’s given me that motivation to just keep going no matter what I’m doing, whether it’s painting or working. I feel like that’s when my spiritual side kicks in.
I’ve never been religious. Religion is definitely a more committed thing, but I don’t want to say I’m an atheist. I don’t like not believing in anything. I kind of thought about it because I’ve always felt that I’ve carried people I’ve lost in my heart. It’s just the best way I can describe it. You want to think that they’re watching you and they’re there with you. That’s really how I believe. Who am I to say that it’s just the end when people die? It just wouldn’t be as believable if I were to be like, ‘No, they’re not in my heart right now,’ because I can feel them. Spirituality has had a big part of my life. It’s nothing to be committed to, but it’s definitely one of those things that I’ve used to help cope.
INTARAPANONT: They were such a significant part of your life, I don’t know how you’d be able to shut it off.
HALSTEAD: I mean, it gets easier. Sometimes I forget that they’re not here anymore. It’s just an instinctive thing where I see my grandpa walking across the street, and I look again and it’s not. Or a Nebraska college game is winning, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I have to call my grandpa!’ And then I realize, ‘Oh. I just can’t anymore,’ because he’s not here. It just hits a little bit. So that’s another thing I’ve always had to cope with. Physically realizing that they’re not here anymore. I want them to be, but they’re not.
INTARAPANONT: Do things change when it gets closer to their anniversary?
HALSTEAD: Before, I was never keeping track because I was so out of it, I couldn’t even tell you the day of the week. But this previous year, yes. It has definitely hit a little harder because I know the day. Did it halt my entire day or me going to work? No, but I was very sad for a week because I was just thinking about it. It was just rough.
INTARAPANONT: As years go by, has the way you grieved changed?
HALSTEAD: Yeah, I’d say in the beginning it was a lot of not caring covered up with a lot of different things. There were a lot of ways I dealt with it, whether it was just drinking or doing stuff. And then, previously I’ve kind of learned that life moves on, and you just got to keep going. Just wake up, go to work, come home. It’s all I can do.
INTARAPANONT: I think your grandpa would be very happy to see you.
HALSTEAD: I really hope so. I know he would be.
INTARAPANONT: Is there anything else you want to say?
HALSTEAD: It’ll be okay.
INTARAPANONT: Thank you so much Tristan. I really appreciate you having you on the show.
HALSTEAD: Thank you for having me.
INTARAPANONT: To check out Tristan’s art, you can find him on Instagram at memento_archive.
Until my next conversation, thanks for listening to From The Ashes.