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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The Things They Don’t Tell Us About Grief

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

I am a fatherless daughter.  For seven long years I watched my heroic father suffer and scream in pain.  Cancer stole bits and pieces of my father nonstop for seven tortuous years. Despite the fact that my father was surviving on a peg tube unable to eat or drink orally, enduring endless pain, I begged God not to take him because I simply could not imagine life without my father.  

I watched my parent’s fairy tale marriage evolve into never-ending hospital visits. The flowers that my father would bring home just because became a faded memory.  The love notes my father used to leave around the home for my mother were replaced by his shaky penmanship reminding him to take his never-ending list of medications.  

Our family spent 7 years searching for a cure for my father, begging God for mercy.  And then, just like that my father was gone.  When I lost my father I lost a big part of myself, my identity.  

The days following my father’s death, were spent in my “bereavement bunker”, my safe zone.  When my father took his last breath, I lost my voice.  I could not speak to anyone and just leaving the house was exhausting.   I have a confession, I didn’t wash my hair for the first 5 days following my father’s death, I was just too tired.  I was certain I thrown into my own personal hell the moment my father died.  My pain was gut wrenching and never-ending.

There were moments; there still are moments that I am positive the sounds of my breaking heart are deafening to anyone around me.  

My father just wasn’t my father, he was my friend, my best friend.  I will miss that bond for the rest of my life. See, I didn’t just speak to my father once in a blue moon, we spoke daily, sometimes multiple times a day right up until he took his last breath.  Each day without my father is an adjustment, and as more time passes it is a cruel reminder of the massive void in my life.  I still have moments when I retreat into my bereavement bunker because it feels as if the world cannot handle my grief.

Friendships, even some family relations are not immune to grief.  Despite what you may think, what television leads you to believe, some people will vanish when you need them the most.  Some people will say hurtful things at the most inappropriate times, even going as far as telling a new widow to “get over it”.  Many have no clue what to say or how to act.  Others are extremely uncomfortable around someone drowning in grief.  Some are petrified of how your grief makes them feel.   Some people are harboring their own guilt and resentment and simply cannot handle the depth of your grief.  Grief has a unique way of forcing you to do a friend and family purge, and forcing you to retreat to your bereavement bunker.  

Death is uncomfortable for many.  Death is a reminder of our own mortality and mortality is an uncomfortable thing to think about.

We get uncomfortable being in the presence of a woman who has lost her child, especially if you have your own little ones that you can’t imagine being without for even two seconds.  Or the new widow.  It’s terrifying to think of life without your partner.  Simply put, it’s difficult to know what to say to a person who has experienced a traumatic loss.  

Unfortunately we all experience loss at some point in our lives, it’s inevitable.  

Your grieving friends and family need you now more than ever.  Time will lessen the sting, but for the griever the moment their loved one died they were handed a life sentence without parole.  Grievers wake up each morning and pray that something, someone will give us a glimmer of hope to get through the day.

Reach out and touch your grieving friends in any way you can.  Now is the time to shower them with unconditional love, their hearts are shattered.   I promise you, your grieving friends will never forget the ones that were their light, their glimmer of hope as they sat isolated in their bereavement bunker.  

 

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A Guide to Balancing Life and Cancer

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When a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis your entire world comes to a screeching halt. The path you were once walking is now full of endless detours.  If you’re like most of the world you have a career that you must focus on in addition to the fact that cancer wedged itself front and center in your life.

My father fought his battle for seven years. The last four years of his life were horrific.  Unless you are very wealthy and have endless nurses you will find yourself juggling the responsibility of caregiving and balancing your career.  From day one my father instructed me to focus on my career. Easier said than done when you’re witnessing your real life hero endure endless pain and suffering.

Staying on track was something my father imbedded in my brain my entire life. My father had a tremendous work ethic, he worked up until a few days before he passed.  He insisted I focus with the same laser precision.

My father sat me down the day he began his treatments and helped me compose the list below in an effort to stay focused.  Below is my survival guide for balancing life and a loved one’s cancer journey.

  1. Leave your worries at the door – When you touch the doorknob to your office leave your worries behind. Keep your cell phone nearby for an emergency, but during business hours it is imperative to leave your worries on the doorknob.
  2. Begin each day with a list of priorities – Start each day with an agenda. Take time to plan out your day, week, month. Never walk into work unprepared, stay focused.
  3. Apply the 80/20 rule – Figure out where you need to focus your energy and devote 80% of your activity to the most important 20% of your activities. You are only human, you cannot do everything at once.
  4. Always think in terms of “I Can” and “I will”My father always told me, you can do anything you set your mind to because I believe in you.” Negative thinking is never allowed.  
  5. Communicate – If you have understanding bosses and coworkers ask for help when needed. Let them know what’s going on. I guarantee you they want to help, put your ego aside and ask.

I hope my list resonates for you, your life and your career.  I hope this list helps you and can provide some light during this dark, difficult time in your life.

Despite how you are feeling, you are not alone, you will never be alone.  Countless others are encountering the same heartache, the same confusion.  We are all in this together and by sharing our “secrets” we can shed some light on a very difficult situation.

After the Storm Passes

Anyone that has lost a loved one knows all too well that the grieving begins after the funeral is over.  The immediate family returns home to significant void.  The night my father passed we walked into the house to find his coat hanging in the closet and his slippers next to the couch glaring at us.  Golf clubs still in the garage waiting for my Dad to get better for just one more round of golf.  We still awkwardly make our way around my father’s chair.  Many times we think, do we sit there or not?  Constant reminders of my father are scattered throughout the house.  If I close my eyes and concentrate sometimes I can still hear his laugh.

Good intentions of well wishers vanish into thin air.  The immediate family is left with a broken heart, a massive void in the family and a few hefty bags of the deceased loved ones belongings.

Every single relationship in your life is reevaluated.  Friendships 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.  Did they read between the lines today and “get it?”  Do they know that today is the day your grief is so overwhelming that you feel like Rose on the Titanic desperately searching for Jack or some sort of life support?  Is their crystal ball working today????  

Since my Dad passed my entire life has evolved into a combination of countdowns and firsts.  It’s been 3 and a half months since my Dad passed.  Meaning it’s been three and a half months since I heard my father’s voice, held his hand, kissed and hugged him.  It’s been countless phone calls without hearing my father’s voice say, “It’s my Lisa Mia!” Other than my grandfather who is also passed, no one calls me Lisa Mia.  It’s been my first Valentines Day, first Easter, now my first Mother’s Day the first of many dreaded firsts in 2016.  Saturday was the first time I saw my father’s name etched in stone at his grave.  After some gut wrenching sobs I blew kisses to his name, looked up at the sky and whispered, “I love you Dad.”  

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Slowly, you begin to rank relationships based on who reached out to you on those firsts because you begin to realize this is your life support when the tidal waves of grief come crashing down.

One thing grief does is it opens your eyes to one’s true colors.  You quickly learn the meaning of actions speak louder than words.  You find yourself silently observing what a person does because it tells you who they really are.

I’m sure there are some that find this blog too sobering and are one click away from the block button.  I’m ok with that!  But before you do, I urge you to take a peek.  Lately I find myself saying, “If only I knew then what I know now.”  

Often times I find myself thinking of my friends who lost loved ones prior to my Dad’s passing.   I hope that I was as supportive to them as they have been to me.  Did I send a card, basket or express condolences like countless others have done for me.  Or did I just pretend that their loved one never died like some have done to me?  Did I pass someone by shortly after the death of their beloved loved one and not offer condolences?  Gosh, I hope not because I now know how agonizing this pain is, and I now understand that as time passes you WANT to remember your loved one.

Losing someone you love is painful.  Grieving is a personal and individual experience.  But sadly, we will all grieve at one point in life.  Why not be that person that picks up the phone or sends a text?

Why not be the person who is there after the storm passes? 

Mom, the First Person I call in Times of Need & Times of Triumph

 Dear Mom:

Happy Mother’s Day!

I know you are not in the mood to celebrate today.  Your heart is shattered and you are feeling lost without Dad.   My heart aches watching you mourn Dad.  I wish I could ease some of your pain, but I know mourning a love story like yours and Dad’s requires time.

I want to start this letter by telling you how much I love you.  I want you to know how much I treasure our relationship how much I need you in my life, now more than ever.

You are the most important woman in my life.  Growing up I did not realize all that you did for me.  Like the time I came home crying that all the kids next door were having a picnic and I wasn’t invited.  You set up all my stuffed animals on a blanket outside and we had our own picnic.  You always cut the ends off the bread on my sandwiches and catered to all my picky eater requests, and we both know those requests were endless!  As I grew into a rebellious teenager with a smart mouth you always had my back, despite how much I tried to push you away.  I wish I gave you more hugs back then rather than grief.   Thank you for loving me when I was unloveable and believing in me when I was an unbelievable little witch.

I watched you with complete admiration as you selflessly cared for Dad during his illness.  Your angelic caregiving abilities are a reflection of your beautiful soul.

You made me the woman I am today.

You are the strongest person I know, you are brave and courageous.  You inspire me to be a better person.

There is no one that I trust, and appreciate more than you.  You are always the first person I call in times of need and in times of triumph.  You are my very own cheering squad.

You have made tremendous scrafices to raise your family and most recently take care of Dad the past 7 years.  I am incredibly blessed to be your daughter.

Thank you for loving me unconditionally.   Thank you for all the lessons, laughter love.

I love you!

Lisa

 

A Thank You Note to My Father’s Nurses

 

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Photo Credit:  Quotesgram

It was you who gave my dying father exemplary nursing care with stellar kindness and compassion. You touched our hearts and comforted our spirits during the darkest moment of our lives.

You made sure my father was comfortable.

You stayed long after the doctors left that evening.

You honored his dying wishes.

You treated him with respect.

You let him die with dignity.

When we thoughts our hearts were completely broken and we were dying as well, you treated us with compassion and grace.  

That fateful evening we sat in my father’s hospital room for hours holding my father’s hand, crying feeling shattered and hopeless.  You would check in, prop my father’s pillows and check his morphine.  Each time you walked into the room my father would smile and thank you.  With your comforting touch you eased my father’s pain and my mother’s breaking heart.

You offered my family reprieve during the worst moment in our lives.  You were there checking in on us and taking care of us. You probably don’t know this but I think about you often.  Your smile, your compassion, your bravery became our lifeline that evening.  I bet you do not receive enough Thank You’s, and probably are completely unaware of the significant difference you make in the lives of patients and their families.

You now occupy a place in my heart, a place of high honor.  You were my family’s angel of mercy that evening.

Thank you.

 

 

A letter to Myself

FullSizeRender  Dear Lisa:

This is your 40 year old self writing to you. I’m writing to you 3 months after Dad’s passing.  In your 40 years of existence these are the darkest moments of your life.  The pain can be so agonizing that you will feel it in your bones.

I’m writing to you to make sure you understand just how important family is and hope that you understand the moments that you think are the end of the world are really just stepping stones in your life.

Mom and Dad will not have their health forever.  Treasure them.  Appreciate your time with your family.  Go to Disney with them, take the family car ride to North Carolina and spend more lazy Sunday afternoons in the pool with them.  In the end these moments are what matters.

You’re going to go through an awkward preteen stage.  You will hide your face with your hair, crimp your hair and “Sun In” your hair.  Thanks for the damage to our hair, but I’ll write about that another time!  Most of all you will be reluctant to take family photos because you think you look less than perfect.  Dad’s health will deteriorate and when he dies those photos are your lifeline.  Take the photos regardless of how you look!  You will be embarrassed to hold Mom and Dad’s hands in public.  STOP THAT.  Hold their hands as tight as you can and never let go.  Stop worrying what other’s think.  Make tons of beautiful memories.

You will get your heart broken, but it’s not the end of the world and it’s certainly not worth all that sulking.  Your first marriage will be a colossal mistake.  He will kick you when you are down and his lies will cut you like a knife.  Dad will tell you endlessly, “You can always come home.”  Eventually you will go home. But you are going to waste time being angry, sad and disappointed.  Throughout your divorce Dad will become your anchor, cherish these moments. 

Eventually you will meet your soul mate, and you will get butterflies every time you see him not because you are fearful but because he shows you unconditional love and pushes you to be a better person.  In the end you will realize your happiness is not the result of any man, your happiness is the result of YOU.  Read these words clearly…..both Mom and Dad were right.

Dad is going to get cancer.  Your entire world will stop spinning the day you find out. 

During Dad’s journey try to remember that Mom is human too.  Mom is going to be Dad’s caregiver, and you know her caregiving abilities are similar to Mother Theresa.  She’s not going to say she’s exhausted until she’s ready to fall over.  Hug her often, tell her you love her daily.  During Dad’s illness your relationship with Mom will form an even stronger bond. As you watch her care for Dad you will admire her for her strength and courage.  She’s not just your mother, she’s the definition of bravery and selfless love.

Dad’s cancer journey becomes your own personal crusade to restore his ability to eat.  You are going to torture yourself trying to find “the one” that can help.  Your will watch cancer rip him apart bit by bit.  He will die unable to eat or drink.  Please cherish all the family meals you have with him.  By the way, try the calamari, it’s nice that Dad pays you $20 to try new foods, but stop being so picky and eat the damn food!  You’re going to like it when you’re older anyway!  Trust me.

Accept what is happening is God’s will and cherish the limited time you have with Dad.  You will have a very difficult time with this.  Being angry at God only makes this road more difficult.

Some will gossip and burn the candlestick at both ends.  Be wary of the wolf in sheep clothing.  It’s ok to respectfully put them in their place if they over step.  No one should have free range to bash your mother.  Her strict curfews, no riding in cars with boys and other rules are all out of love. She’s not being mean, she’s being a parent. Remember, you and your sister are the only people who know the sounds of Mom’s heartbeat from the inside.  There is no bond greater than that of a mother and a daughter.  It will take watching Dad die for you to cut this person off.  Don’t waste time agonizing over the details.  Like Dad always says, “Gossip is for small minded people.” 

When Dad dies you will have no regrets because you listen to yourself and tell him tirelessly how much you adore him, and he will tell you with his last breath that he adores you.  Accepting Dad’s mortality will be one of most difficult moments in your life.  Holding his hand as he takes his last breath will shatter your heart and it will be at that moment that you will realize Dad was right all along.

Hold your head high and be proud of who you are today.  You have the fairy tale father daughter relationship.  You have a family who loves you.  You have your health.  You are strong.  You are blessed.

Love,

Lisa xoxo

 

Are you there God?

Towards the end of my father’s life I became very angry with God.  I spent 7 years watching my father’s crusade to eat once again.  It was abominable, heartbreaking and enraging.  Holidays, Birthdays and special events were no longer “special.”  Food became the symbol of my father’s struggle, and food is at the center of every single celebration in life.

I struggled to understand why this was happening to my father, why my family. I was having a difficult time understanding why my sweet father had to suffer yet we have prisons full of bad people who are perfectly healthy.  Let’s give the cancer to them and save the good people like my Dad.  Please understand, I watched my father suffer.  His screams and cries shattered my heart.  I was desperate and “giving cancer to bad people” seemed very logical back then.

Many times I would think to myself, “Are you there God?  It’s me Lisa.” 

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My father on the other hand became deeply religious.  His bible was tattered and highlighted, notes in his shaky penmanship were in the margins.  He would ask me to hold hands and pray with him.  I would watch my very weak, frail father pray with such force.  He believed.

The night before my father died is embedded in my brain.  We sat in the ER for hours waiting for someone to fix his Peg Tube.  We were told there was an issue with the tube and they were concerned he was aspirating again.  We now know he was dying and his body was rejecting the feedings.

I drifted to sleep on my makeshift bed of chairs in the ER and was woken up to the horrific sounds of my father screaming in pain.  3 months later and I can still hear my father’s screams, I have nightmares where I am jolted out of my sleep to the sounds of my heart breaking  and a face full of tears.  Rage took over and I shouted to God, “Where are YOU!!!  Why are you doing this!  Go torture the bad people, leave my father alone!” 

I had to walk out of my father’s room because at this point tears were flowing and I was having a very difficult time keeping myself together.  As I paced the emergency room corridor I cursed God in my head and eyeballed everyone else looking healthy and happy.  I remember seeing a cute elderly lady laying on a gurney thinking, “Even she looks healthier than my Dad!  I bet she’s like 100!  This is so unfair!!!!”  A couple feet away was a man who had a broken leg and I thought to myself, “Isn’t he lucky he ONLY has a broken leg!”   I was furious and despite the sweet old lady smiling and waving at me I wasn’t sure if I wanted to scream at her or wave back.  It was so unfair!  Did God forget our family?

Once again I thought to myself, “Are you there God, It’s me Lisa.”

Our story wasn’t done, I wasn’t ready to say good-bye despite how much my father was suffering.  I wanted my father alive and healthy.   

After I finished my adult tantrum I made my way back to my Dad.  He was sitting in his bed, quietly watching TV.  I looked right into his eyes, held his hand and told him, “I love you more Dad.”  He smiled and said, “No I love you more.”  He asked for my mother, who was right next door.  I watched them hold hands, hug, kiss and tell each other how much they loved each other.  With tears in my eyes, I watched my mother gracefully cover my father and try to make him as comfortable as possible.  The loved they shared for each other was so powerful you could feel it.  I watched my mother care for my father in what would be the last time.  With movements like an angel she comforted my dying father.

It was at this moment I realized my father was dying.

Instantly I began apologizing to God begging for mercy.  We tried our best to get my father comfortable that night as he was transported to a hospital room.  When the nurse told us it was safe to leave we all kissed my father good night and left.  I knew my father was dying and I prayed harder than I ever prayed that night.  After 7 years of watching my father suffer I wanted to hold his hand as he took his last breath.  I begged God to please help and be merciful.  I begged for His forgiveness.

The next day my father passed away peacefully surrounded by his family.   When I walked into his hospital room that fateful day through his mask my father smiled and whispered, “I love you more.  Always remember that.”

My father endured suffering and pain to great lengths, but his death was beautiful.

Through my father’s pain and suffering he showed me and continues to show me that God is good and heaven is for real.

I carry in my heart a lifetime of beautiful memories.  My father’s tattered bible, the feathers I’m constantly finding since my father’s passing and so much more is proof that God was there all along, He still is.

I now think to myself, “Thank you God for blessing me with such a wonderful man as my father.  You were there all along and you’re still with me.” 

#blessed

lisadad

 

 

A Grandmother’s Love

It is a magnificent blessing to really get to know your Grandmother throughout your adulthood. I am blessed to have a healthy, accomplished 85 year old Grandmother.  She is the last of my Grandparents and I value her wisdom, love and friendship.

I have always known the true value of family; now with my father gone I’m feeling it in my soul.

Grandma, Dad always valued his relationship with you. He said you never made him feel like an in law – he felt like a son.  This is something he told me up until days before his death.

As my father’s health deteriorated, I began to lean on you for guidance. During the darkest moments of my life you have offered encouragement, advice and honestly.

As I reflect on my father’s illness and my mother’s angelic caregiving abilities, I am realizing these qualities were inherited from you. I watched my mother transform into a hero as she was Dad’s caregiver.  She selflessly cared for Dad for 7 years.  Many times I would look at my mother in awe and wonder where her courage, kindness and resilience came from.  How could I not realize these characteristics are an inherited quality from you?

You the strongest woman I know, you are living proof that life goes on despite the detours life throws in our path.

You beat cancer, heart issues, survived World War II and so much more.  You are one of the most vivacious, optimistic, and resilient people I have ever known.

After my father died I counted down the minutes for you to arrive. Your hug instantly brought me back to my childhood.  During one of the saddest times of my life you made me feel safe and warm.  I didn’t want to let go and return to reality.

As we grieve the traumatic loss of my father I watch you selflessly hold us up. You are the light in the darkness guiding as we find our way in this new life without Dad. You are the definition of bravery and wisdom.  You are my Grandmother and I am proud to be your oldest granddaughter.
Photo Credit:  www.puzzlemobi.con

Grief, Kindness & Love

 Grief comes in waves. When the waves come crashing you grab for the closest form of life support.

When my Dad took his last breath a part of my heart left with him. Years of watching my father suffer, years of begging God to be merciful were now done. Just like that my life changed. And just like that my heart felt something it never felt before, excruciating pain. Pain so deep I thought I was going to die myself.

I developed my own little force field where I quickly realized I was unable to leave. My house, my parents house and my sister’s house.  Anything beyond that was disastrous.

Of course I had to leave the force field to visit the dreaded funeral home. My sister and I assisted our grief stricken mother as we prepared my fathers final goodbyes. We were already so tired, the thought of a wake was paralyzing me with fear. I worried my father’s wake was too overwhelming for my Mom after years of caregiving.  The thought of people commenting on my father’s appearance made me cringe.  Commenting on how sick he looked, how skinny he was, the color of his suit.   The image of him laying peacefully in his casket with his hands gently folded holding his rosary while guests were staring at him began to enrage me.  Rage quickly consumed my body. I didn’t want anyone to see or touch my father.  This wasn’t a special screening to an exclusive movie, this was my father.  I mean why do they call it a “viewing” anyway?   Why did we need to have a “viewing time” for a bunch of people to stand over my father’s body and make small talk?  Who thought of this form of torture for the surviving family member?

I began to question everyone, and think thoughts I’m now ashamed of.  I was angry, my father was dead and NOW people wanted to come see him?  It seemed so backwards to me. I was totally consumed with anger.  Knowing what I was thinking, my sister held my hand, smiled, looked into my eyes and said, “But it’s Dad.”  Ugh!  She was right.  At that moment my sister convinced my mom and I we had to do a wake. Between tears and heartache we made the arrangements complete with a proper military burial.

The dreaded day of the wake arrived.  The thought of walking into a room and seeing my sweet father in a casket was paralyzing me with fear. My mom and I slowly walked in for our private family viewing. Although I am the adult child comforting my mother, at that moment I felt myself regress to a child, grasping my mother’s hand for comfort and safety.  The funeral director greeted us with his programmed sad face and began babbling about how my father looked “fantastic.” telling us we are going to be very pleased.  To his defense we expressed concern about my Dad’s appearance because the cancer ravaged his body, but I wasn’t in the mood to discuss how “fantastic” my dead father looked.  I’m not sure what came over me but I looked at him and said, “He’s in THE box! No one looks fantastic in THE BOX.”  Well, that shut him up and thank goodness because I wasn’t in the mood to chit chat with the Grim Reaper for the rest of my father’s wake.

When we saw my father we cried enough tears to fill the Hoover Dam. Family viewing time ended and the room began to fill with countless guests.  As I sat next to my mother I felt like a Jack in the box getting up and down to hug people. People with tears brimming in their eyes. Grown men weeping over the loss of a great friend.  I began to feel silly for the rage I was feeling the other day.  I began to see the massive impact my father had on so many people, some people I never even met.

Slowly my anger was morphing into agonizing pain and a great sense of pride.  I scanned the room again and realized these people drove from near and far to pay respects to my father.  A four hour car ride to say your final goodbyes to a friend is nothing short of magnificent.  These people loved my father and were taking time out of their busy lives to pay their respects and offer condolences to Al’s girls.

What happened next was truly amazing.  I was making my way to the ladies room and I saw a group of uniformed police officers.  Please understand I felt like a Clydesdale horse walking around with blinders on.  I walked directly into the officer and he proceeded to hug me and offer me his condolences.  Wait what?  I rubbed my eyes and realized  this officer was one of my boyfriend’s officers.  These men all took time out of their busy schedules to drive to headquarters, put their uniforms on and then drive another hour to my fathers wake.  One by one each officer walked to my mother then my father’s casket and paid their respects.  I was overcome with gratitude and pride, I watched the entire room grow silent and observe a single file of uniformed police officers pay their final respects to my Dad.  I was moved to tears of pride.

It was at that time I was positive I felt my father touch my shoulder.  I know he was proud.

The outpouring of love and grief was apparent throughout the evening and into the burial the next day.  My father had an amazing send off, complete with The NJ State Police guiding our procession to the cemetery (special thanks to my brother in law) and the United States Army playing Taps at my father’s grave commemorating his service.

These are days that I will never forget.  They were the saddest days of my life, but they also opened my eyes to the kindness of others.  Kindness that was given to us during a time when we had nothing to offer.

You never forget the people who pay their respects to a deceased loved one.  I hope their behavior will help me to display the same acts of kindness towards others.