What Grieving Friends Really Need

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Photo Credit:  Pexels

My feelings were crushed the night my father died.  My entire world exploded when my father died.

As I silently observed my father take his last breath, I felt my heart beat hard inside my chest, exactly six times before I burst into uncontrollable tears.  And then suddenly my sobbing stopped and so did my entire world.

My father’s death was expected after a very long illness.  But that still did not prepare me for the gut wrenching, debilitating pain of grief.  The days leading up to his death were mentally exhausting. Two days before my father died I sat next to his hospital bed begging him not to go, not to leave me alone.  And then the man who held my hand my entire life and gave me butterfly kisses was suddenly gone forever.

You are never ready to say good bye to a person of significance in your life.

The days following my father’s death I felt like the drunk friend who arrived to the party late.  I found myself angry, sad and devastated constantly misjudging everyone’s well meaning actions.  My thoughts revolved around one thought, “My father just died, my entire world just exploded, how do I go on?”

When someone you love dies, every single relationship in your life is reevaluated.  Friendships as well as relations with family members are now ranked by who offered condolences, who texted you, who picked up the phone and maybe even who “liked” your latest photo of your deceased loved one on social media.  If your loved one endured a lengthy illness you may even find yourself evaluating friendships based on who was there for you during the illness.

I began to question lifetime relationships.  How good of a friend is someone if they failed to recognize that my father died?  How strong of a bond do you have with a family member who begins spewing gossip just days after throwing the dirt on my father’s casket?  Did you really respect my father or your relationship with him if you are unable to show respect to his immediate family following his death?  Do I even want to bother to nurture these relationships after suffering such a horrific loss that they failed to recognize or respect?

Grief opens your eyes to one’s true colors.  The widow returns to an empty house, the children are now living a life with a massive piece of their identity missing.  Life as they knew it is forever changed.

The sad reality is after the funeral is over and the condolences stop rolling in everyone but the immediate family returns to life. And when that happens the immediate family can feel a profound sense of isolation.  They begin to look around feeling alone and sometimes abandoned.

Until you have been spouse of someone for 40 plus years it is impossible to comprehend how debilitating grief is.  I lost my father, but my mother lost her husband, her soul mate.  My mother spent the last 7 years of my father’s life selflessly caring for him, the last year of my father’s life assisting him with basic human needs while preserving his dignity.  She showered him, helped him use the restroom, fed him, she became his lifeline.  Slowly I watched my parents go from a dynamic inseparable duo to my mother learning how to live life as a soloist.  Losing my father has shattered my heart, but watching my mother endure losing her soul mate has taken my grief to a whole new level, often leaving me breathless, devastated and feeling utterly alone.

So what do you do?  How do you prevent you lifetime friend from feeling alone?  The massive void left by death can never be filled by another but it sure does help to be surrounded by supportive, kind individuals.

  1. Offer help, but be specific

Start out by asking exactly what they need.  When and if they tell you nothing do not let that deter you from helping.  When we are grieving we have no idea what we need.  Take a peek around their home and make helpful suggestions.  “I can babysit any afternoon this week”, “I can drop the kids off at school this week”, “I can mow the lawn this week” or “I can go grocery shopping for you this weekend.”

2.  Let them vent without judgment

Grief makes you crazy.  Grief makes you feel like that drunk person who showed up at the party late and begins misjudging everyone’s actions.  Your friend needs to vent.  Let them vent and just listen. Let them cry and get it out.  Let them know you’re their judgment free zone and what is said to you stays with you.

3.  Continue to invite your friend out even if they decline

Grief is exhausting; grief makes you want to stay hidden in your bereavement bunker isolated from the world.  Continue to invite your friend out to the places you went before they began grieving.  The movies, lunch, dinner, the mall.  Your friend may be trying to make sense of a world that was just turned upside down.  Even if they keep declining, let them know you will be there when they are ready.

Friends and family return to life, but the immediate family of the deceased is now living a new, horrific normal.  After the flowers have faded and the sympathy cards have been packed away what grieving people need most are friends and family.  You can’t stop the rain for your grieving friend, but you can grab an umbrella and share it with them if they are willing to let you in.

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What It’s Like To Plan A Wedding Without Your Father

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

My father loved my fiancée.  I am extremely blessed, despite my father being terminal he was able to spend valuable time with my fiancée and they forged a priceless bond during the six years we dated.

My father wanted to give me away on my wedding day.  He wanted to shake my new husband’s hand at the alter and tell him to take care of his daughter.  He wanted to share that very special father daughter dance with me.  He wanted to give the traditional father of the bride speech, but being the dynamic speaker my father was he would have had our guests both laughing and crying.

As a little girl I would practice dancing on top of my father’s feet and he would spin me around our living room until I was dizzy and I would fall to the floor giggling.   I walked through life holding onto my father’s strong, comforting grip knowing that he was my protector who loved me unconditionally.  As a little girl I knew that someday I would find a soul mate who possessed all the admirable qualities my Dad had, a man who loved his family fiercely and treated his wife as an equal with love, kindness and respect.

But what I didn’t prepare myself for was when my father was diagnosed with stage IV base of the tongue cancer in 2008.  Seven long years later, after a very brave battle cancer stole my father from our lives forever.

The one aspect of my wedding that I never predicted was being a fatherless bride.

When my father died a big piece of me died.  I remember laying in bed begging God to let me see him one more time, hear his voice one more time, or maybe just take me for a quick visit and bring me back.  During my early days of grief I had no voice; I had no desire to speak.  I felt as if I was having a strange out of body experience.  I simply observed everyone and everything.

I wasn’t going through depression I was and still am grieving the loss of my father.

Eventually the days turned to months and a whole year passed.  I’m really not sure how I survived the first year without my Dad.  It hurt like hell. I cried a lot, I still cry a lot only now I have learned how to hide my pain and disguise my tears.

But one thing is certain; Ronen became my rock and my constant.  He was there for me throughout my father’s illness, held my hand as I watched my father take his last breath and has not stopped wiping my tears as I mourn one of the greatest losses of my life.

Grief is funny, most people assume after a few months it’s business as usual and you’re fine.  About three months into my grief journey people started asking, “So, when are you guys getting married?”  Or my personal favorite, “So, are you upset that Ronen didn’t propose before your Dad died?” My grief was raw, my grief still is raw, but I would simply smile and tell people how much my father adored Ronen and how much I love and respect Ronen.  Unfortunately these questions would force me to retreat into my grief bunker away from the world and its ignorance.

Grief is hard enough, the last thing a griever needs is to field stupid questions.

Ronen, the most patient man on the planet continued to wipe my tears and allow me to take shelter in my grief bunker as needed.  And then on February 6, 2017 Ronen proposed to me on the beach in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida, my favorite place on the planet.  Immediately after saying yes, I cried because I wanted to tell my father our wonderful news, and then I cried harder because the reality of being a fatherless daughter hit me during one of the happiest moments of my life.  That’s how grief works, it’s messy and unpredictable.  You’re smiling one minute and then the next you’re grabbing the nearest form of life support riding a massive wave of grief.

Almost immediately we decided on an August wedding because my father would have turned 70 this August.  I wasn’t ready for the emotional roller coaster I was about to ride, I’m still not prepared for this ride.  I wasn’t prepared for all the questions from vendors that involved my Dad, and having to tell these well meaning people that my Dad is dead.  It doesn’t matter how you drop that bomb you will always have a few awkward moments of crickets chirping.

Planning my wedding without my father is bittersweet.  I  lost count of how many times I have wanted to call him for his advice or to just hear his voice.  I will never have that moment that so many do with their fathers, giving the bride away, dancing and the anticipated father of the bride speech.  My heart aches when I think of this.

The void of my father is massive. But there are moments where I can feel my father’s love, moments if I am quiet and listen carefully I can hear his voice and feel the warmth of his smile as the sun glistens on my face.  I am realizing that I not a fatherless bride. My father may no longer here physically, but as my father said to me the night he died, he will always be my father and I will always be his baby.

Our bond is intangible, unbreakable and unforgettable; no distance, silence, or death could undo that connection.

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