Since the middle of March I have seen another side to my father - one that is 180 degrees different than the persona we had all come to know.

He was always quick with a nasty joke, or seven, accumulated over the years that I believe are included in a truck driver's handbook.

He resembled pro wrestler Hulk Hogan and NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert, enough that he was asked for the autograph of both men in his prime, and had a nasty streak that wasn't contained to the squared circle or Sunday afternoons.

My dad exuded toughness, and still does to a certain degree.

But ever since his wife, my step mom, died of cancer in March it has mostly withered away.

Since then, the phone calls are no longer 15 minutes of sports talk or the latest raunchy yarn, but more along the lines of him being silent while I try and remind him how she'd want him to always remember, but move forward.

I could hear him fighting back tears, and it is just odd hearing it coming from the man who once picked up a man in a gorilla suit by the neck at a haunted house because the guy scared a 7-year-old me, too much. He wasn't the tough father who never said I love you. Far from it. But crying was not part of the package.

Yet, each time he returned to his home he was reminded that she wasn't there. Every card received, while nice, did the same. Anything could set him off. The other day it was a trip to Wal-Mart.

He since moved from Florida, where they moved to enjoy retirement, back to Ohio. He has family surrounding him now, hopefully, to make the grieving process easier, rather than doing it alone in the Sunshine State.

The problem is now every box he has to unpack is filled with reminders. From the fine china to the wacky bookmarker she picked up at the swap meet. Each one crushes him a little more.

The calls have come less and less, which is good and bad. Maybe he is starting to heal just a tad, but at the same time part of me was glad to be there when he was at his lowest. We've never been closer.

Kendall Love knows a little bit of what my dad is going through.

The Desert Vista senior wrestler recently lost his grandfather, Tyrone Marshall, when he died at the end of November.

Love said his grandfather called him Hulk Hogan because that was about the extent of his grandfather's knowledge when it came to wrestling - the fake stuff.

Only there is nothing fake about the feelings one has to go through with the loss of a loved one.

It doesn't matter if it is the patriarch or the ‘pet-riarch' of the family, we have to find a way to cope.

And Love has.

He missed the start of the regular season to head back to Chicago as the family celebrated Marshall's life of 89 years.

It was there where Love, a defending state champion, kind of found his own way to remember the man. There was a "ring around the house" that signified to the family that he was at peace.

It led to Love dedicating the season to him.

"He loved fake wrestling," Love said after a dual meet against Mesquite. "We were close before, but when I started wrestling he loved it. He called me Hulk. It was kind of shaky at first, but I pushed through. I am kind of doing it for him."

Many of those who participated in the inaugural Sally Meyerhoff 5K the first weekend of December did so as a form of closure.

For the immediate family it is going to take a lot longer.

They also know what my father is going through. They are reminded each time they look at Sally's dogs and when they hear anything about next month's P.F. Chang's Rock ‘n' Roll Marathon, an event the Mountain Pointe star and Olympic marathon hopeful won in January, it is probably like an instant flashback of her crossing the finish line.

They - her parents, brother and sister - all ran in the 5K event. They've set up a foundation to help financially-strapped runners to make the transition from the collegiate to pro ranks.

All of it helps, but the questions linger.

"She was a serious soul, but cut loose when she wanted to," her mother, Cindi, told the Arizona Republic. "She was such a good person. It's exciting to have the foundation and to give to people what Sally would want us to give. But you say to yourself we shouldn't even have to be having this 5K."

My dad has similar thoughts, saying he wished it was him that had to deal with radiation and chemo therapy for all those months before Sheri gave in.

I never know how to respond. I'm sure I stammer before rattling off some cliché.

Then I usually follow it up with some nasty joke he has said to me 1,000 times over through the years. I rarely say it quite right, but it doesn't matter.

It's just part of the process - one that will eventually take us back another 180 degrees.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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