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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Grief Changes Your Address Book

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There are countless resources on how to mourn the loss of a loved one, how to cope with that gut wrenching emptiness, how to endure the horrific pain.  But what about lost friendships and family members?  How do we handle the disappointment brought on by others that follows a significant loss?

Grief changes and rearranges friendships. You never know who will be your rock and who will fade away.  As I continue navigate my grief journey I find myself constantly rearranging my address book adding and deleting contacts.  Death needs to stop being identified as taboo and the entire western world needs to do better when they encounter someone grieving a great love.

Let me be totally straight with anyone reading this article.  It is ineffective to comfort someone drowning in grief with a Facebook post nor can you express your deepest condolences with a text message, or a mass text.  This is even more accurate for someone you consider a friend or family.   Sure it’s the thought that counts but death is very painful and confusing.  Simply put when someone loses a person of significance they need human contact not a text message that took you less than 10 seconds to write.

The friends who express their deepest condolences via social media and text remind me of the people who respond to text messages with a “K.”  What do you mean K???  Are you too busy to type out the entire word OKAY or even OK?  Somebody just died, they took their last breath and will no longer walk the face of this earth and you are expressing deep condolences with a text message?  In a world where technology is destroying the art of social interaction death is one of those occasions where it’s imperative that we go old school, pick up the phone and then send a condolence card to people we consider friends and family.

K?

But at least you thought of your friend whose entire universe has just shattered.  It is the thought that counts, and until you have experienced your own loss of a great love it is impossible to understand the tremendous pain and the endless tears that occur in an instant.

What about the friends who were too busy to reach out at all? No call, no text, no card and the funeral services were at a very inconvenient time.  Or the ones whose significant other expressed condolences so they got off the hook and never put thought into reaching out to you as well.  Or my personal favorites the ones who meant to express condolences, but life got in the way so they never did and when they saw you they avoided they the topic because death is really uncomfortable and such a downer.

What about THOSE people?

When you lose a person of significance, those of us that are left behind are learning to surf massive waves of grief.  Grief is a gut wrenching painful experience.   Grief is permanent.  Grief is a prison sentence for the loved ones left behind.  But grief is also a universal experience that sadly we will all participate in no matter how much we try to avoid it.

When a “friend” fails to acknowledge our loss it tells us that you don’t care enough about the friendship to acknowledge the pain.  In my case it told me that some people simply did not respect the relationship enough to acknowledge that my father died.  And when you fail to acknowledge that I lost a person of significance you become null and void in my life.   With dollar stores all over the world you can buy a sympathy card for 99 cents, drop it in the mail and boom you’re a hero.  But when you fail to acknowledge my pain then see me months later acting like nothing happened you’re inviting a giant pink elephant in the room wearing a tutu.  And grief brings enough uncomfortable moments for me so please leave your big pink elephant at home.

When I lost my father I lost a tremendous piece of me.  I lost a big piece of my childhood, and an even bigger piece of me.  Not a day goes by that I do not think of him.  Losing a parent is one of the most painful experiences in life, you carry that loss in a permanent hole in your heart.  I will never forget the friends and family that stood and continue to stand by my side as I mourn the loss of my father.  The friends that kept calling during my early days of grief and didn’t give up despite me being unable to speak because my grief left me speechless.  The friends that sent me flowers just because way after the funeral.  The friends who texted me while they were on vacation on the other side of the world. These people will always hold a special place in my heart.

But as I sit down and plan my wedding, one of the happiest days of my life, I also cannot forget the friends that were too busy, or the friends that were uncomfortable by my loss.  If a friend cannot acknowledge a great loss, then there is no place for them for at a happy occasion.

You move on, but you never forget and the pain never goes away.  You learn how to surf those massive waves of grief with the help of the friends and family who become your life vest.

I’ll admit prior to losing my father I probably could have done more for my friends when they lost loved ones.  But I have always tried to be empathetic to others and acknowledge their milestones in life along with their pain.  Before losing my Dad I too thought sending a deep condolence text was acceptable.  I was wrong and I should have known better.

Grief is like a foreign country where you can only truly grasp the customs and language once you have lived there.  Living in this foreign country allows you to get accustomed to living life in an extremely different and painful way, isolated without the one you love. Good friends are a Godsend in this new land, they are your beacon of light and hope from the lighthouse on the shore.

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GRIEF – My Uninvited Wedding Guest

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Grief is a sneaky little bastard,  Pardon my French, but it really is.

Just when you think you’re doing okay, it sneaks up on you to remind you it’s still there. Grief doesn’t care about when it shows up, and it certainly doesn’t care about being inconvenient.  When grief reappears, the pain and sadness is as fresh as if the death happened yesterday.  For example earlier this week I was minding my own business meeting with our florist and he said, “What type of flowers would you like for the Dads.” That’s right; he said it, Dads plural.  For that split second my world stopped spinning and I felt sick. Funny how one little four letter word can really change the mood.   My mood shifted from a happy, carefree blushing bride to heartbroken fatherless bride.  I politely explained to Mr. Florist that my father is dead.  Instantly changing the mood from cloud 9 to downright depressing.  There is no good way to tell your wedding vendor that your Dad died a year ago.  I simply smiled and said, “My Dad passed away last year.”  Cue awkward silence. Then me filling that awkward silence with, “He had cancer; he was sick, really sick.” Then me thinking to myself WHY are you rambling, just say he passed away and shut up! Then me smiling and saying, “It’s okay, I’m FINE, really I’m fine, I’ll probably bring all my flowers to his grave.”  Again with me babbling and saying too much.  Luckily my fiancée saved that uncomfortable moment by changing the subject from dead dads and graves to something more appropriate for wedding planning, I’m really not sure what because at that point my mind had drifted as I pretended to play with my phone and browse Pinterest for creative flowers in a desperate attempt to not start crying at the florist. 

That’s when I felt the hammer of grief come crashing down with its harsh reality—I won’t need to select a flower for my father’s tux because he won’t be attending my wedding, he’s gone, dead, passed away pick your preferred phrase he’s just not here!!!  I will be a fatherless bride.

Later that evening it hit me hard like a hammer, delivering a swift blow of sadness and a steady stream of tears.  I did what any grieving daughter who is a bride to be would do; I spent my evening surfing the internet looking at flowers for my father’s tux. Quietly, I stared at hundreds of pretty internet brides with their fathers.  And then it happened, one tear led into the flood gates opening and then ugly sobs.

Grief touches lives beyond death.  Grieving takes time. Loss and pain have no set format, no prerequisites.  There is no list or magic pill to be “OK.”  Grief ebbs and flows like an unpredictable tide. Grief is that unexpected, uninvited, annoying house guest that can’t take a hint.  

You are minding your own business doing your thing, and then suddenly there’s a moment, a memory, or a milestone—and just like that—you realize how much you miss your loved one.

People die every day, and every day heartbroken people mourn them. Grief stricken people cry in the car, grocery store, or while planning a wedding.  The sense of loss when a loved one dies is universal; it transcends language and culture and everything that separates us.

This August I will be a fatherless bride.  When I walk down the aisle, I will shed tears, but I will also laugh and celebrate my father, the incredible man who taught me to be strong and courageous. My wedding day will represent a legacy full of love, laughter, and a rare strength forged through my pain.

My tears bring comfort, and a simple reminder of something I feel every day—I was raised by a great man who I love and will miss forever.  As my father taught me so well—I’m strong and I’m going to okay…even if I cry on my wedding day.

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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 Letter To My Father One Year After His Death

dadlisaDear Dad,

It’s been one year and one month since you are gone.  According to Google that’s 9490.01 hours but to me it feels like an eternity.  I still wake up in the morning thinking this is a nightmare and you’re not really gone.  At night I look at the sky and make a wish on the brightest star I see and I believe it is you.

When I was young you told me we grieve for ourselves because the deceased are in a better place.  As a woman, I know that is true, but I still miss you terribly.  For seven years I watched you endure horrific pain.  I prayed and pleaded with God to heal you.  Towards the end of your life I was so angry that my prayers were not answered.  You were not supposed to die unable to eat; it seemed like such a cruel death sentence for such a good man.

When you died my grief became so overwhelming and suffocating that on numerous occasions I was convinced that I too was dying.  My heart was so heavy and the pain was unbearable.  You played a major role in my life and now you were gone.  For my entire existence we spoke every single day, even when I was away in college.  That’s 40 years of saying “I love you”, 40 years of being a Daddy’s girl, 40 years of feeling safe, 40 years pure, unconditional love.  And now just like that you were gone.

Would I ever smile again?

Watching Mom mourn you is unbearable, there are times I’m certain I can hear the sounds of her heart breaking.  I watched Mom selflessly care for you throughout your marriage, but with extra care the past 7 years.  So much that it was not uncommon for you to shout to the doctors that you were alive because of Mom.  As your health began to fail, Mom was the one breathing life into you each day.  I will never forget how your eyes would light up with joy when Mom entered the room.  You and Mom showed me what true, unconditional love looks like.  Hearing the gut wrenching sounds of Mom mourn you is a heartbreaking, agonizing experience.

How do I comfort someone mourning their soulmate when I don’t even know how to comfort myself?

The people who I thought were going to be my anchors quickly became the holes in my lifeboat.  Complete, utter disappointments.  Our family desperately needed kindness, love and support, anything else seemed cruel and unwelcome.  Taking a page out of your book I chose to break ties and ignore.  One of the greatest lessons you taught me is to quiet a fool with silence.  Unfortunately death brings out quite a few fools.

But you prepared me for this.

From teaching me how to walk, to throw a ball, even to dance while standing on top of your feet, you showed me ways to stand on my own two feet.  A dad’s job is not only to protect his little girl, but also to show her how to defend herself when, one day, he is not around.

You were the biggest influence in my life.  

A father is the one who guides his daughter through life, and now even in death you are guiding me. You are constantly showing me that love never dies. You speak to me through feathers, music and if I listen closely I can still hear your sweet voice.

Your death has been a mysterious doorway with so much painful grieving for me.  Heartache that I never knew was possible and mysterious because I never know how or when that door is going to open and pull me in.

It’s been a full year and one month since your death you are still opening that door comforting me.  Sometimes it is gut wrenching pain, like the other day when Josh Groban’s “Your Raise Me Up” came on in the store and I felt a faint brush on my cheek.  I KNEW it was you and started sobbing in the middle of Stop and Shop.  Or when I’m driving to work in the morning and I can smell you, and for a moment I can feel you sitting next to me in the car.  Or when a beautiful fluffy white feather crosses my path, and I smile because I know it’s you sending me love from above.  Since you have passed I have found enough feathers to build my own angel wings and visit you in heaven.

I miss you. 

I miss you even more today than one year and one month ago because it’s been 13 months since I heard your voice, heard your laugh, told you I love you and held your hand.

There is so much of you in me that I think I frighten Mom sometimes.  I have your sense of humor and share your love for life.  Mom is always telling me I have your eyes and heart. You loved people and a good party.  Since you have gone I have received endless photos, emails and texts telling me what a great man you were. I established a fund in your name where all monies go to the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders.  I desperately want to help the countless individuals living with a swallowing disorder, people like you and families like us who felt so isolated.  Last weekend I hosted my first fundraiser.  Dad, 52 people, some whom you never met came out to celebrate YOU and to help raise awareness.  Your passing has created another level of a new beautiful community.

Dad, you taught me what heroes are made of.   

You taught me how to love life even when it’s terrifying and difficult and you know it’s going to be painful.  As I sat and held your hand throughout my life and the past seven years of your pain and suffering, I saw an incredible person, my hero.

I learned how precious life is.

As I remember you one year and one month after your passing, the painful image of my very sick frail father is fading.  I will always carry your pain and suffering in my heart, but I can also see my father, my superhero, the strongest man in the world.  The man who raised me, the man who was my first love and my best friend.  The man who gave me butterfly kisses, taught me how to drive, how to dance while standing on top of his feet and how to appreciate Doo-Wop music.

These days I count how long you have been gone in milestones, and most recently I am engaged.  I now wonder how I can possibly survive my wedding day without you by my side, smiling and laughing.  Even though I can no longer hear your voice, I still see your face and I can feel your love.  You’re still with me, in my laughter, my smile, my tears and in my writing.

Love never dies, it simply evolves.

Love Always,

Lisa

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Words of Sympathy – What Do We Say?

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I have a blank condolence card sitting on my desk for well over a week now.  I know better than that, this card should have been signed, sealed and delivered long ago.  It’s been sitting on my desk, I procrastinated and now I’m sitting here thinking, “Oh shoot!  What if I say the wrong thing?  What if I stir up painful memories?” 

 

I really should know better than to think of any of the above.

I know how comforting every single card and note received was after my father died.  The bond between a girl and her dad is profound and everlasting. The loss of a father can bring about not only feelings of loss and grief, but also a gut wrenching paralyzing fear.  Losing my father was devastating. I spent the first few days after my father’s death in a daze.  Just speaking and showering were difficult.  I remember my phone ringing and people talking, but all I heard was the Charlie Brown teacher on the other end.  Just uttering the words, “Thank you” became exhausting.  So I stopped answering the phone and relied on my better half to tell people I couldn’t do it.

Death is funny.  

As soon as someone dies everyone wants to see and speak to you.  For someone who just lost a family member to a long-term illness you can’t help but wonder where all these Chatty Patty’s were throughout the deceased’s pain and suffering.  The last five months of my father’s life was spent on hospice, screaming in pain.  It was a confusing, horrific time. Visits were welcome and provided much needed comfort for both my father AND his family.

The days and weeks following my father’s death were life changing.

In our case we were informed months after my father’s passing that some Chatty Patty’s were told by “others” not to visit.  Let’s think about this.  Other than the dying person and his immediate family aka the caregiver what gives anyone the right to speak on their behalf? Despite my father being gravely ill he loved people and company so much, that towards the end of his life he yearned for company.  Unfortunately death forces people think about their own mortality and many make atrocious irreversible mistakes. You can’t exactly visit a person after they die, and if you know how to please let me know because I really miss my Dad.  A big spray of flowers doesn’t make up for your nonexistent visits to a dying man and his family.  A basket of muffins and jelly is not a get out of consoling the grieving family voucher and certainly does not give you the right to gossip about the dead guy’s family.  Gossip is tacky, tasteless and really low class, and it’s worse when it’s done after someone dies.  Some food for thought, would you say all those lovely things to the deceased’s face?  Be truthful when answering!  If the answer is no (and it probably is) then you are a deterrent to the person grieving and you are showing a total lack of respect for the deceased.  I’m also guessing you have yet to suffer that one big loss, because when you do you will realize that a person grieving someone of significance is basically learning how to survive and everything else becomes irrelevant, starting with petty gossip.

But that’s just my opinion.

Let’s get back to that condolence card on my desk, as many of you already know grief is confusing and has a way of making your thoughts race.  So let me try to focus and let’s discuss condolence cards.

Cards and well wishes sent to the immediate family are extremely comforting for a grieving person.  Despite my little outburst above, we received hundreds of cards, some from people we never met, but knew of us through my Dad.  They knew of us as, “Al’s Girls.”  Friends of my Dad who knew how my father’s face lit up when he spoke of his family. Cards from men and women who worked for my Dad many years ago, but fondly remember him as being a kind and fair boss, a great man.  I vividly remember sitting at my parent’s kitchen table reading every single word, hanging onto every single word.

Slowly as I read through piles of cards, hundreds of them, it seemed overwhelming to think about how so many people cared enough to send along their prayers and well wishes. I went through the cards more than once, they became my lifeline. Just knowing that so many people were thinking of us, trying to comfort us in such a painful time, was what really mattered. And when I take the time to really reflect I realize the value is in the people who genuinely cared and still care, not the Chatty Patty’s who are just annoying bumps in my grief journey.

The pain of losing someone can never be compensated. However a few words of sympathy will at least ease the burden of pain off your loved ones who have lost a person of significance.

Below are some suggestions when we are at a loss for what to write in a condolence card.

  • I am deeply saddened to hear the news of your father.  He was a great man.
  • Your father had such an amazing personality. He always made the best out of any situation. (Include a memory your remember)  I learned a lot from him throughout the years, he was always a ray of light and an inspiration. My life will not be the same without him.
  • I am truly sorry for your loss. There is not grieving message that can express how much he meant to me. My heart is aching.
  • Your father was always there for my family and me. He was so giving and thoughtful. He will live on in our heart forever.
  • Your father always bragged about how wonderful you were. I hope you know that you meant the world to him. He was a wonderful man and will be missed. Truly sorry for your loss.

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What Not To Say To A Fatherless Daughter

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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.

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. Don’t tell me only the good die young – Unless we are listening to Billy Joel, please don’t say this, ever.
  5. 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.

  1. Your father was a great man, I miss him too. Want to hear a story about him?
  2. I found this old photo of your Dad, here’s a copy for you.
  3. Tell me more about your Dad.
  4. I wish I knew him.
  5. 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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Finding The True Meaning of Christmas Among Heartache

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5 more days until Christmas!!!!!!  5 more days until Jolly St. Nick pays us a visit.  The holidays are upon us and we have just 5 more days until the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time of giving, goodwill and hope for the future.

There was a time in my life when I would get so excited this time of year I could barely concentrate or sleep.  I would fight to stay awake just to catch a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer.

But this year is different.  This year is my first Christmas without my best friend, my Dad. For countless families suffering the death of a friend or loved one, a major illness or a family breakup, it is difficult to celebrate.

Christmas is an enchanted day when the world stands still. Nothing bad happens on Christmas.  This must be true, because it was repeated on my new favorite show, “This is Us.”  Christmas is bundled with countless hopes and dreams—all tied in exquisite red and gold bows neatly tucked under our Christmas trees.

But this Christmas started as a season of profound heartache and sorrow.  My family is surrounded not just by missing presents but a missing presence.  Our family is overwhelmed by the empty chairs and sadness throughout our home.  The toys on my tree that once were the map of my childhood are now a reminder of the horrific loss our family is enduring.  Just looking at certain ornaments brings back memories too painful to remember.  This Christmas I decided to leave the toys in a box neatly stowed for when I am ready…next year perhaps.

This Christmas I did not send out Christmas cards.  I spent 2016 learning how to live without a person of significance, I saw no need to send friends and family a photo of me wearing my grief mask.  Smiling was tough this year, finding happiness was at times exhausting.  This Christmas I decided against holiday cards…next year perhaps.

This entire holiday season I have been walking around wearing my very own invisible armor.  My armor protects me from captivating memories that throw me into the ebb and flow of grief leaving me helpless, drowning in tears.  My armor preserves my sanity and allows me to function during the holiday season when I see a father daughter duo in public.  They could just be standing there minding their own business, but throw some Christmas carols in the mix, a Santa and some holiday cheer and I’m a mess.  This invisible armor protects me from sobbing in public and causing a scene.  I was doing so well, my armor was shielding me and my half assed decorated tree was proudly standing in our living room.

And then with the blink of an eye my already broken heart was smashed.

My better half, my life preserver when I am drowning in my waves of grief was injured.  He was injured so severe that our entire quality of life changed in an instant.  What we thought was a simple pulled back became a nightmare.  I watched in horror as yet another man I love suffered in pain.  I was ready to give Christmas a rain check.  See ya in 2017 St. Nick!

Wait, nothing bad happens on Christmas right?

My armor was ripped off without my permission, and I was thrown into survival mode. Together we researched doctors, surgeons, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.  I was watching my better half endure similar horrific nerve pain my father endured for years. Once again I was given front row seats to watch someone I love suffer.  At that moment I decided that Christmas was cancelled.  I stopped decorating and started avoiding anything that was jolly or holly.  I was slowly turning into the Grinch and I knew it.

And then it went from bad to worse.  With heavy, shattered hearts we rushed to New York city Friday morning for emergency surgery.  We drove the same route my father took when he went to Sloan Kettering, only this time we stopped at The Hospital for Special Surgery. Only this time we had a real solution and hope.  After a long, emotional day we were told the surgery was a success. The recovery would be long and exhausting, but it was a success. Suddenly the holiday lights were shining a little brighter, and my heart wasn’t as heavy.

We returned home the next day and my Christmas spirit started peeking out again. I ran upstairs to the attic and began placing all the toys on the tree, everything…even the ones that didn’t match my “theme”.   My half assed decorated Christmas tree was now a cluttered map to my heart.  The silly Boston Terrier ornament we purchased in NYC years ago was proudly hanging right over the glass angel my father gave me years ago.  All of it proudly on display for our guests to hold my hand and  walk down memory lane, and if I cry it’s okay because I am chosing to love and honor my father on my first Christmas without him.

Instead of focusing on my pain, I’m focusing on the fact that I had a magnificent childhood and a friendship that created a strong lifetime bond with my father.  Instead of focusing on what it is missing, I’m concentrating on what’s here.  Instead of being sad that my Dad isn’t with our family, laughing and enjoying his favorite meals, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that my family can enjoy his favorite meals and they are laughing as we remember my Dad.

I’m reminding myself that there is joy in the unexpected and life is a beautiful ride.

Holidays after the loss of a loved one is difficult.  Life is constantly throwing curve balls. But life does not stop because a tragedy occurred.  Life keeps going and it’s up to us if we choose to enjoy the ride.

The true meaning of Christmas is not the gifts with red and gold bows tucked under our Christmas trees.  It is the everlasting hope because of our Savior—hope for today and for an eternity of tomorrows.

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A Letter To The Fatherless On Christmas

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This Christmas is my first fatherless Christmas.

Chances are if you’re reading this you too are experiencing a fatherless holiday.  I don’t know what gave you the title of “fatherless.”  Perhaps it was some sort of tragedy.  Perhaps it was an accident, a disease or maybe some horrific senseless tragedy.  Maybe it was months ago, maybe it was years ago but there are moments when the pain is so intense that you cling onto the nearest form of life support and it feels as if you are being gutted.  I now have a gaping hole in my heart that aches for not being able to shop for the perfect Christmas gift and the sound of my Dad’s infectious laugh.

Maybe you spent the last several holidays watching your real life superhero endure unspeakable pain and suffering, unable to eat, housebound with endless tubes and machines stuck all over his frail body.  Maybe instead of singing “Silent Night” you silently sobbed as you helped your real life super hero use the bathroom last Christmas. Or maybe you counted the beeps on machines instead of singing “Silent Night” as you silently prayed for a Christmas miracle.

Maybe your brain knew last Christmas was your father’s last Christmas but your heart refused to accept reality.  Maybe you begged God to “not be so mean” and take him because you needed him and your story wasn’t done.

That’s my story, and if you were to come to my house I would pour you a cup of tea or maybe eggnog for the holidays and we could cry together and comfort each other as we spoke of the unbearable loss of our real life superheroes.

This entire holiday season is just another agonizing reminder that my dad is no longer here and I am now a fatherless daughter.  But as much as I would like to fast forward through the ho ho ho’s and holiday cheer, this holiday season is also an opportunity to honor my Dad’s legacy.

The month of December was a big deal in our home.  December 1st, my birthday, kicked off the holiday season in our household. Immediately following Thanksgiving my parents raced to put up the tree and lights in time for my birthday.  For as far back as I can remember my parents made a point of throwing a grand celebration because of little ole’ me.  When I was younger my father would rush home with mini roses for me and long stem roses for my mom.  I remember one particular birthday my father waking me up, kissing me on the forehead holding a beautiful bouquet of mercedes roses.  I was only 5 years old but will never forget the magnificent bouquet of roses and the ear to ear smile on my father’s face as he said, “You will always be my baby, even when you meet your prince.  Happy Birthday honey.”

I am choosing to spend this holiday season reminiscing when I was younger and believed my Dad was a real life, living breathing superman.  As a child there was nothing my father could not do, in my eyes he was the strongest man in the world.

As I grew up, he continued to prove to me that he was in fact a real life superman. Throughout my divorce he was my anchor, my cheerleader and my best friend.  When I fell down, he was right beside me to pick me up and wipe away my tears.  As an adult I watched him bravely battle cancer proving time and time again he was the strongest man in the word.

Remember when you thought there was no better man in this world than your Dad?

Well, there still isn’t.  Even in death, your father will never leave your side as long as you keep him in your heart, where he will forever stay because love never dies it only evolves.

If your Dad was anything like mine, he did not want to leave you; he never wanted to leave you because he needed you just as much as you needed him.

If your Dad was anything like mine, this Christmas, he does not want to see you heartbroken and lost.  He would want nothing more than to see you smiling, happy, living your life.  He would want to see you prosper…because you are his living, breathing legacy.

So to you, my friend I hope you find peace and joy as your honor your father’s legacy this season and throughout your grief journey.

 

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What Grieving Loved Ones Need During The Holidays

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The imminent holiday season has amplified my loss.  Christmas carols that once symbolized holiday cheer now sound like nails on a chalk board. The thought of writing holiday cards now seem like an exhausting task.  This year rather than searching for the perfect comfy blanket for my Dad as he watches TV, we ordered a him a grave blanket.  Nothing feels right.  My holiday cheer is quickly fading into holiday fear.  I am not the same person I was last holiday season.  My heart is heavy as stare at my father’s empty chair and remember what was.

I already am finding myself saying no, no, no rather than ho, ho, ho.

Grieving my Dad is a colossal emotional storm.  Since my Dad died in January, there have been highs, lows and valleys.  To simply say, “I miss my Dad” is a massive understatement.  I did not just lose a father; I lost my best friend, my hero, the person I went to for everything.  Not a day goes by that I do not miss him and wish that I could hear his voice one more time, hug him one more time or tell him I love him just one more time.

I consider myself fortunate to have spent such an abundant amount of time by my father’s side.  I enjoyed his company and valued his advice. Since I was a little girl my Dad would tell me, “You’re my best friend.”  So much that when I went for a reading this past September the first thing the medium said was, “Your Dad is telling me you are his best friend.”

My Dad spent the final week of his life in a hospital next door to my office. Every single morning before work, sometimes as early as 6:30 AM I would sneak into my father’s hospital room.  Many times I would just stand there and count his breaths as tears rolled down my cheeks.

During one of my final visits I desperately wanted to crawl into bed next to him and hold on tight.  I needed to hug my Dad but there were just so many tubes with no beginning or end.  So I did what any normal 40 year old woman would do.  I held my breath, pushed the tubes aside and tried to squeeze next to my Dad.   Within seconds my father was awake, machines were hissing at us and I’m not quite sure if he was amused or annoyed.  Let’s be realistic who wants to be abruptly woken up by their grown daughter practically pushing them out of an already uncomfortable hospital bed.  Despite all that, he smiled and whispered, “Lisa honey what are you doing, please stop before you hurt yourself.”

In the middle of beeping machines and endless tubes we smiled, giggled and then cried. Between tears and the unbearable pain of my heart shattering, I mumbled, “Dad, can I please lay with you?”  And what do you think he said?  He smiled, and said, “Please no, you’re too big get a chair.” 

Together we laughed, I quickly grabbed a chair and held onto my father’s hand as I cried endless tears.  I didn’t want to let go, I didn’t want to forget the powerful, comforting grip my Dad had as he guided me throughout my life. I cried harder than I ever cried that morning.  Well….I cried until my Dad told me to stop getting his hand and sheets wet with my tears.  And then I giggled again.

That was my Dad.  

Even during a gut wrenching, heart breaking moment he managed to put a smile on my face.  He was and always will be my light in the darkness. He was not just my father, he was my best friend.

I will never stop missing my Dad.  

I am eternally grateful for the people who continue to support me throughout this grief journey.  Sometimes words help, and sometimes words are not needed.  Sometimes there is a power in silence, in just being there.

Friends…this holidays season more than ever, please come and sit with our family. Please continue to be there for us, to witness the pain and hold our hands as we navigate our ebb and flow of grief.

Sometimes, just being there is greatest gift you can give as we grieve a person of significance.