There is always a look of complete terror on people’s faces when they ask me about my dad and I have to tell them he passed away. The conversation usually continues with a long and awkward apology by which I try to assure them that I am OK.
I wasn’t very good at this conversation for a long time, but it’s been seven years now and I’ve learned how to address these inevitable encounters with grace.
But I do dread these occasions so much. Not because it is painful to acknowledge that my dad is no longer here on Earth with me; that fact I face every day anyway. What makes it really hard is the fact that people feel so ashamed for bringing up someone who has passed away.
These situations are so difficult because people truly believe that I’d rather never speak of him than to share him with others. After all, he was still my dad for a good 26 years. I still have plenty of funny dad stories and experiences to add to the conversation. I still have advice he gave me that I live by, things I do that are like him, and ways that I feel him each day in the spirit. I’d like to talk about that!
One of the hardest parts of grief is that you often feel alone in it. It can seem there are so few people you can share your feelings with.
What I would love for people to know about grief is that these feelings aren’t always terrible and depressing. Sometimes they are nostalgic and reminiscent and fun to relive! Other times you do need to cry to let the pain break free from your heart, even just for a few moments. Either way, it isn’t that scary when it happens.
It can be hard to understand someone’s deep grief if you’ve never truly experienced it yourself. It can be deep, vast, and dark. It ebbs and flows. It comes and goes. It is unpredictable. Grief hits you when you least expect it and fails to come on the days like anniversaries when you are prepared. It is hard to understand. Most of the time, it hard for the grieving to understand, too. But all we want is for you to acknowledge it with us, as best you can, and with an open heart.
To the best friend or partner, the best thing you can do for the grieving is to ask them how they are doing in that grief. Plenty of people ask how you are in the first year after a loss, but then it slows and often stops. It is rare for anyone, except for my very close family to check on me in that way, and often I really wish they would.
I want you to know that if you do ask, sometimes it may be sad and I will want to cry. Sometimes, I’d like to talk about how much better I’m doing. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk about it all. But please don’t run away from the conversation. Please don’t quickly change the subject when it gets brought up. Please don’t look at me sadly as if you’ve broken my heart all over again.
I’m not sure when our society decided that grief is somehow only worked out on the inside, because in fact, turning it inside out is usually how we heal.
The grieving only asks of you, sweet loved ones, to help us in our healing. It’s so easy to be there for us. Be a person that allows us to let our loved one live on in all the ways; both sadly but also joyfully. Let us talk about them. Let us cry about them. Let us laugh about them. And then watch our hearts mend as you do.
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