I was 40 years old when my father died. That’s 40 years of spectacular memories with my father. He was and always will be my hero.
He spent the last seven years of his life bravely battling Stage IV tongue cancer. I watched cancer rip him apart with a vengeance. The last four years of my father’s life were horrific. His pain was endless and there was no cure. The treatments that were promised to save his life stole his quality of life and eventually stole him. Cancer, in case you didn’t know it, you suck.
As time passes, I have more and more friends losing their loved ones to this horrific disease, more and more friends losing their Dads. More and more fatherless daughters. Everyone deals with grief differently. Some say our grief is as unique as a fingerprint or a snowflake.
Unless you’re directly in a grieving person’s shoes it is difficult to understand the magnitude of loss the person grieving feels. For many it is an impossible task to express the impact of such a monumental loss. But just because something is difficult does not mean we do not want to discuss it. Those of us that are grieving desperately want to keep our loved ones memory alive. Not a day goes by that I do not think of my Dad. I am a part of him, and he is always on my mind.
The past year has taught me that there is a right way and a wrong way to speak to a grieving person. Even if you have the best intentions there are some things you should never, ever say to a fatherless daughter, or pretty much anyone grieving a person of significance.
- He suffered so much! Now he’s in a better place – Witnessing a loved one’s suffering is intolerable, for me it was torture. I watched my real life superhero suffer endlessly, I now carry that pain with me daily. Please do not remind me of his suffering when you are trying to help.
- Don’t bring up my marital status and ask me if I have any regrets – Just because a woman lost her father doesn’t mean she is broken. I am a strong woman because I am my father’s daughter, he played a major role in making me the person I am today.
- Please don’t tell me to move on or ask if I’m still upset – All this does is point out a significant amount of time has passed since my Dad died. When you lose someone you love, you never “get over it.”
- Don’t tell me only the good die young – Unless we are listening to Billy Joel, please don’t say this, ever.
- Please don’t tell me my father would not want me sad – I miss my Dad, and sometimes I just need to be sad.
I’m not perfect, and I’m guilty of telling bereaved friends that their loved one is in a better place. I had the best intentions when I uttered those words. Until I felt the gut wrenching pain of grief I was not capable of understanding how ignorant I sounded, and how family members really do not want to hear that. I know my father is in a better place, but that does not take away my pain. Actually nothing will take away my pain, but there are things we can do to help. Here are some suggestions of what you can say to a friend instead.
- Your father was a great man, I miss him too. Want to hear a story about him?
- I found this old photo of your Dad, here’s a copy for you.
- Tell me more about your Dad.
- I wish I knew him.
- I wish I had the right words but please know I’m an awesome listener.
Grief is all the love we want to give, but cannot give creating a hole in our heart that never goes away. We all grieve different, but the one thing we all need and want it is for you to listen. Grief is messy and complicated, there is no guidebook for the loved ones left behind. Sometimes comforting a friend is as simple as silence and a hug.
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