I have struggled with writing this post for months. It’s been something I continually come back to, time and time again, to add to, revise or ponder.
The most difficult thing, after a death or other traumatic event, is knowing what to say to those who were immediately affected.
Now, having been on both sides of the coin, I have a stronger opinion on things.
This post is not intended to offend. It’s to serve as a reference to anyone, including as a reminder to myself, as to what paths are best to follow when someone you love is hurting.
Unrelated: Every time my Dad would drive by a cemetery, he would say “Boy, people sure are just DYING to get in that place!” and then laugh. So now I laugh too and say the same thing. Because even though I am sad, dying is a part of life. And life is better with a sense of humor.
What to do:
Show up. If you feel that you should be with someone, go to them. Even if just for a hug. Even if they tell you they are all right. GO. Attend services. I can still recall all of the familiar faces who were there for my family during our time of suffering. I can also tell you who was not there. Never, in my entire life, have I understood the importance of “Visit the sick, mourn the dead.” Oddly enough, it was my own Dad who continually told me those words.
Don’t ask, Do. Don’t ask me what I need, tell me what you are going to do. Instead of “Can I bring you dinner?” say “I am going to bring food to the house at 5 pm for your family. I will leave it on your doorstep hot and ready to eat.”
Communicate. The less people the family has to re-tell the story to, the better. Share the facts. Please.
Reach out. I became obsessed with reading cards, emails, texts, Facebook posts and online condolences after losing my dad. As with spoken words, it was incredibly comforting to see your loved one be embraced by an entire community. Even the notes from people I’ve never met, but wanted to reach out, made a tremendous impact. If you feel compelled to say something, SAY SOMETHING.
What to say:
“I am so sorry.” There are no better words. Oddly enough, when someone expresses their condolences and shows emotion, it eases the pain of loss. It shows how loved those who are lost were…Are. Some of my most comforting moments were holding my friends and family as they sobbed at my dad’s wake. They apologized for their lack of control and I assured them that as much as I hated it, I loved it. My time to cry was later.
“You were a good daughter.” (Wife, husband, son, friend, mom, dad.) A friend of mine lost her dad just one day before I lost mine. She shared these words with me, that someone had said to her, and they immediately set my mind at ease. They are a beautiful reminder that we do the best we can do.
“I will never forget when…” Share memories. I still love hearing people talk about my Dad. Whether it’s a quick story and exchange of a hug, or a kind email on Wednesday afternoon, it’s always nice to know that people don’t forget.
You can, I repeat, YOU CAN say things like “I about died!” Or the words death, dying, kill, etc. in my presence. While you’re sensitive to this as a taboo type subject, it’s now my reality so no offense taken. Weeks after burying my dad, we went to a local watering hole with some friends to celebrate SuperHub’s birthday. A friend of mine ordered Dead Guy Ale. The waiter walked up to the table and said “Who ordered the Dead Guy?” You could have heard a pin drop for about 10 seconds. Then I said “Now THAT’S funny!” and we all laughed to tears.
What not to say:
Nothing. Please, say something. Or just grab my hand and squeeze it. I will know.
“You are doing remarkably well.” Would you rather I crumble into a little pile of people, sobbing hysterically on the floor? Because I can do that at any moment. Just say the word.
RIP – I hate this acronym. The intentions are good, but it belongs on a Halloween decoration, not an expression of condolences.
“The worst is yet to come.” Everyone has their own path in the grief process and lives experiences differently.
Through our own painful realities, we learn how beautiful life really is. And to appreciate drinks named Dead Guy Ale. Life is too short not to raise a glass, cheers and know the right thing to say. Or just shut up and drink.