Embracing 2018 – 10 Grief Resolutions

Image-1The New Year often symbolizes a new beginning, but for those of us who are grieving the new year can represent yet another long year without our loved one.

New Years Eve was never really a big deal to me.  I would go out with friends but at midnight for as far back as I can remember, regardless of how old I was, I would receive at text from my Dad that said, “Happy New Year honey, we love you.”           

2017 was different, my father died January 17, 2016.  At midnight the following New Year there was no text from Dad.  The text I took for granted for so long was now just a fond memory.  The last day of that year meant entering a year that my father would never see.  A heartbreaking year of watching my mother learn how to live without her soulmate.  A year of being fatherless, wondering if this new gaping hole in my heart would ever stop hurting.  A year of so many tears that I was positive my eyes would dry out.

2017 was a beautiful, messy, chaotic year combined with overwhelming sadness and extreme happiness. 

I married the last love of my life without the first love of my life there.  I survived the trials and tribulations life so often throws into our paths without my father, the man I went to for everything.  I’m learning that if I can survive my wedding day without my father by my side I don’t really care who does or doesn’t like me.  I can’t be everyone’s cup of coffee and that’s okay.

I am not a big fan of new year resolutions.  It’s my opinion that they can be a tremendous disappointment if and when we fail to stick to them.  If you can be a better version of yourself right now why wait until the first of the year to do it?  Who doesn’t want to be a healthier, happier, more efficient version of themselves?

But what if we made a grief resolution?  What if we give a voice to our grief journey so that we may begin to heal?

We all grieve, but we all grieve differently.  It doesn’t matter if you lost your loved one this year or years ago, it is essential to remember that where there is great love, there is great grief.

Below are some grief resolutions I came up with and I hope they will help you as we embark on this new year together.

  • Say their name, scream their name from the rooftops if you must.  But never stop saying their name.
  • Be open to happiness – finding joy in life does not mean you are forgetting your loved one, it means you are honoring the life they lived and the role they played in your life.
  • Be honest about how your feel with yourself and others – if you are upset or something triggers your grief let friends know.
  • Practice self care daily – even if this is just a ten minute walk around the block, self care is the key to healing.
  • Spend more time with family and friends.
  • Create new traditions honoring your loved one.
  • Keep your distance from toxic mean spirited people, they only steal your sunshine and hinder your healing.
  • Stop saying “I’m fine” if it’s not true.
  • Volunteer with an organization or cause that your loved one believed in.
  • Seek grief counseling if needed.

 

We all yearn for what we have lost. But sometimes, we forget what we have.”  Mitch Albom

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50 Shades of Grief

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

It’s the most wonderful, bittersweet time of year again.  The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. Everyone is making their lists and checking them twice.  This is the time of year that we surround ourselves with friends and families partaking in joyous celebrations. But for those of us who are grieving, our emotions are magnified.

 

You want to be jolly, but there is another part of you that is drowning in massive waves of grief.  Grief can be debilitating, especially this time of year.  For so many, the holidays become a painful reminder that someone we love is gone forever.

There is nothing holly or jolly about grief.  There are no Christmas grief carols.  My words are meaningless and annoying to countless individuals.  Many readers will probably scroll past this article and roll their eyes at another depressing story clogging their newsfeed during the most wonderful time of the year. This article will be passed for the new invisible box challenge, their Elf on the shelf being silly taking shots of fireball, some new weight loss craze, anything but grief.  Many readers will scroll past it until they face a holiday season alone, and when that happens they will desperately want to know if what they are feeling is normal.

Grief makes non grievers uncomfortable because it forces everyone to think about their own mortality. Holiday grief is downright annoying for non grievers, because death puts a real damper on anything holly and jolly.  It is easier to ignore the grieving this time of year and tell them they should be “over it” by now.

Burying your emotions with the dead is not only wrong, it is unhealthy.  Christmas is the season to rejoice and for someone grieving sharing warm memories of their beloved brings a tremendous sense of comfort.  The greatest gift you can give a grieving person is to let them know that they can cry on your shoulder and not be embarrassed to unveil their many shades of grief.  An even greater gift is to hold their hand, listen and shed tears with them over their loss.  This simple gesture shows your friend that they are not alone in missing their person of significance.

This is my second Christmas without my Dad and I’m here to tell you society has no clue on how to handle grievers and it is even worse during the holidays.

Death will change and rearrange your holiday card list.

You will see people for their true colors after a death.  You will experience fair weathered friends, selfish friends, friends who are extremely uncomfortable by your grief, clueless friends and those who are just not ready to comprehend the gravity of your loss.  But that’s okay because you will make new friends, relationships will strengthen and you will be awed by how loyal and loving some people can be.

Humanity will constantly surprise you as you walk your grief journey.

You are expected to mourn the first few days, maybe weeks then move on.  There is no place for the dead at Christmas dinner so please bury the dead forever.  Do not, I repeat do NOT say their name.  After the first year it makes others uncomfortable if you continue to say their name, so just don’t do it.

WRONG! 

Don’t just say their name; scream their name from the rooftops if you must.  It is not only okay to say their name, it is normal and healthy.

The reality is that each and every one of us will endure some form of loss in our lifetime.  It’s going to hurt, it’s going to bring you to your knees and it’s going to change you in some way, shape or form.  You will lose friends, but you will make friends.

Grief is that ugly sweater Aunt Carol gives you every Christmas.  Grief is messy, complicated and comes in all different shades.  If you are like me, you start out your grief journey walking around in a thick fog, numb and confused.  As time goes on reality sets in that your person of significance is gone forever.  An agonizing anticipation that your person is missing now accompanies the best of times.  Simply put, there are times when Christmas is hard.  There are times when the rush of emotions from the holiday season is exhausting, emotional and painful.

Someone you love died, and the holidays will never be the same.  Sorry to be the Grinch, but it’s a new, painful reality.

So please, if someone is wearing Aunt Carol’s ugly sweater, say their name and handle with care.  Help us create new traditions and find a reason to celebrate this season.

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The Lies They Tell Us about Grief

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Photo Credit:  Pixabay

Grief is a natural reaction when we suffer the loss of a loved one.  Unfortunately our society has no idea on how to handle grief and how to treat someone who has just suffered the loss of a great love.

For starters when someone dies we say passed, transitioned or whatever else comes to mind.  When my father died I had an older relative (bless her soul) reprimand me for saying my father died.  What is wrong with the word dead?  Last time I checked that’s what he was dead.  But for some death forces us to think about our own mortality, our own failures in life and that’s just too much to handle.  So instead we fluff our words, walk on eggshells and avoid saying trigger words.

Something happens when someone you love dies.  If you are like me and you are forced to watch your real life super hero suffer it changes you.  You feel helpless as you watch someone you love slowly fade away.  When your person dies so does a piece of you.  You are left with a tremendous hole in your heart.  Your soul weeps and no matter what you do there is no way to comfort it.

As you begin to walk your grief journey well meaning friends repeat the myths they have heard or the lies that were told to them when they suffered a loss.  They know no other way because our society knows no other way.  Society wants us to get over it and move on, and if we can’t get over it they want us to put on a pretty grief mask when we are out in public.  Grief is the elephant in the room wearing a pink tutu that no one wants to acknowledge.  But the truth is where there is great love there is great grief that lasts a lifetime and us grievers desperately want to acknowledge it.

Below are some of the lies we encounter throughout our grief journey:

  1.  You must stop living in the past and move on

This is something we love to tell our widowed community.  As a grieving daughter I cringe when I hear people tell my newly widowed mother to “move on.”  People who tell someone grieving to move on do not know loss.   They say ignorance is bliss and in this situation it sure is.  It’s easy to tell a heart broken widow to move on when you’re going home to your significant other.  Think about the irony of that and how hurtful it is.  Instead of telling Peggy to move on try saying, “I have no idea how you’re feeling but I’m here for you.”

Remembering our loved ones keeps their presence with us and is a way of honoring them and a way of honoring our feelings.  It keeps the love alive.

2.  You need to get over it

No one has the right to tell you how you feel.  There is no time stamp on grief.  There is no normal way to grieve.  Our grief is as unique as a snowflake.  You do not have to get over it.

3.  You really shouldn’t talk about him or her so much

As long as I have breath in me I will be my father’s living breathing legacy.  I write to keep my father’s memory alive.  The only people who cannot bear to hear you speak of your beloved are those who are unable to accept their own mortality.  What better way to honor a beautiful life than to extend all the love we can no longer give our loved ones to others?  Talking about our loved ones creates legacy for our loved ones in a world that would rather bury its emotions and move on.

These are just some of the myths that we are told while grieving a great loss.  The truth is no one can understand what you lost.  No one can understand the searing pain you are feeling in your heart.  No one can understand that there are times you want to die as well; no not because you are suicidal but because you yearn to hear your loved ones voice one more time, to hug them one more time or to tell them you love them one last time.  Death is final, grief lasts a lifetime.

It is true, where there is great love there is great grief.  And what a privilege it is to love that deeply.

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What Grieving Friends Really Need

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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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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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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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Watching A Parent Battle Cancer Is Hell On Earth Torture

IMG_6745You have not felt a broken heart until you have heard your larger than life heroic father scream in pain.  

Watching a parent die is excruciating, watching a parent die who is also your best friend is hell on earth. For four years we searched for someone to help my father.  Someone with a miracle, someone to give him some sort of quality of life. I spoke to my father several times a day, visited at least once a week.  With each visit I witnessed him slowly dying.  As my dad’s sickness stole pieces of him, pieces of me were dying as well.

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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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