It’s been a year.
One year since Brad Grinnen, a junior at Waynesburg University, died unexpectedly in his dorm room.
One year since the campus community was shaken by the loss of a popular student and athlete.
And one year since Clarence Parchman III lost his football teammate, roommate and best friend of three years.
Almost three—because the third year was cut short.
“We were brothers, really,” said Parchman.
Parchman said he and Brad were “the best of friends.” Not only were they teammates on the football team, but they often did homework together, went out to eat and held “Madden” video game tournaments.
Now Brad is gone, and Parchman, along with the rest of the campus, is experiencing life without him.
Since the incident last year, the people that knew Brad have tried to come together. Immediately after his death was made public, an impromptu Chapel service was held on campus to comfort grieving students. The football team, in particular, was hit hard by the news. Many could not believe it, including Chris Smithley, then assistant, now head coach.
“No way. There’s absolutely no way,” he remembers thinking, when he received a call from Scott Venick, defensive coordinator. He remembers standing in his back yard, on the phone, in shock.
“I didn’t believe it,” he said, looking back. “You know, it’s just so tragic that its almost like its not real life.”
Smithley said the loss of a “great leader” like Brad brought the team closer. The bond between teammates is stronger than ever.
“A lot of guys really stepped up,” Smithley said. “Not that we could ever replace him, but a lot of guys tried to take some of that leadership role. The role that Brad had in this program was huge – it was bigger than life. And I think that a lot of the guys were motivated by that to take on more leadership.”
According to Smithley, the team grieved together often last year, but during the season in the fall, they were focused on the game. They were focused on moving forward. It’s what Brad would have wanted.
“I think that we had Brad in our hearts and in our minds, but also knew that we had a job at task,” he said.
Parchman said Brad’s absence was always felt in the locker room and on the field, especially on the defensive line, where Brad was an All-PAC First-Team selection in 2016.
“You could tell,” he said. “We lost a big captain. That’s a big thing. We lost a leadership role [and that] was probably the toughest.”
As a coach, Smithley said he tries to be available for players continuing to struggle with the loss of their teammate.
“Everybody handles loss differently…some guys will never get past this,” Smithley said. “I want our guys to handle this in whatever way is best for them, but also knowing that if they ever need any support or someone to talk to then all of us as coaches are here for them.”
Parchman remembers that day, all too well.
He remembers entering his Willison Hall dorm room, Sunday morning, after spending the weekend in Pittsburgh.
He remembers the rushing feeling of disbelief and devastation, when he found the body of his friend.
Parchman was so taken aback that he sat, frozen, for around 15 minutes, before even being able to lift the phone.
“I just sat there,” he said.
In the days following, Parchman struggled to keep it together. He wanted to put on a brave face for his friends and teammates – but really, they were the ones getting him through it. He did leave the university for a period, to spend some time alone, at home. But he found the solitude made the grief harder to overcome.
“A lot of people wanted to make it about me, and I didn’t want it to be about me,” Parchman said. “But really, I was OK for a while, just because I was around everybody, like the team and my friends…That was a real family moment for me.”
But in a way, it was about him, and Parchman knew that. He knew Brad better than anyone at Waynesburg. That’s what made it so impossible to comprehend—not even Parchman saw this coming.
“Brad was one of the strongest people I ever met,” he said.
Everyone grieves differently, according to Jane Owen, director of the Educational Enrichment Program, Clinical Services and Counseling Center. It’s an individual process.
Owen said she saw a definite increase in students seeking grief counseling in the weeks following Brad’s death – just as she did with other cases of student deaths at Waynesburg.
“I’m sure that Brad’s friends feel just as bad today—and its things like when he wasn’t on the football field this fall, and when he won’t be walking at graduation and when he won’t be going to his buddy’s weddings and bachelor parties,” she said. “It’s the everyday stuff. It doesn’t stop
With three licensed counselors and three graduate students working toward licensure, Owen said the Counseling Center is well-prepared and always open to students struggling with grief, mental illness or any other kind of problem.
She said its important that students learn the skills necessary to cope with problems of anxiety or depression—be it medication, behavioral therapy or other treatment. But even more than that, the Counseling Center is about reaching students where they are, to show them that they are not alone.
“So much about counseling is about the relationship, feeling felt, feeling like somebody understands, feeling like somebody gets it,” Owen said.
One year after Brad’s death, Parchman still grieves the loss, but he knows he isn’t alone. He talks to Brad’s parents often, and he keeps Brad’s memory alive with the friends they shared.
In his final year at Waynesburg, he is rooming with someone new, but Parchman said it’s almost like nothing changed, because they are just as close.
“I think if I had had somebody else that I came into the year with, I probably wouldn’t be doing as well, but I’m doing just as fine this year.”
For Parchman, looking forward to the future is what keeps him going.
“Just having things coming forward in my life, like graduation; I’m actually trying to get into this military program; my classes are going great; my friends,” he said. “Just stuff like that. Simple stuff gets you through it.”