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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To My Father As I Plan My Wedding

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I am missing you with a new painful sting these days.

I miss calling you and discussing my wedding plans, I miss your advice, I miss laughing with you.  You have only been gone for a year, but my grief has blindsided me since my engagement last month.

I really miss being your daughter as I plan my wedding day.

I’m just a few weeks into planning the best day of my life and I feel like you died all over again.  Lately, I find myself constantly telling strangers that you are deceased, sending me crashing into those ferocious waves of grief.

Fathers are such a significant part of a bride’s wedding day.

From the flower that I am supposed to pin on your tux to our father daughter dance. Every single time I tell someone that you will not be attending they respond with a sad face and offer condolences shattering my heart all over again.

We want this to be a celebration of love and we are trying to weave you into our wedding day in various ways.  But it’s not the same, and boy oh boy does it hurt.  They sell memorial pins and I can hang a photo of you on my bouquet.  Some magazines tell fatherless brides to reserve a chair in your memory or light a candle for you.  All agonizing reminders that that I will be a fatherless bride.

How can the happiest day of my life also be one of the most painful days of my life?

I proudly wear your wedding ring on my neck every single day, I wore it the day I found my gown. It took all my strength not to burst into tears when I “said yes to the dress”, knowing that you will not be there to walk me down the aisle, dance with me or give one of your memorable speeches.

Your wedding ring hanging next to my heart is another cruel reminder that you are no longer here.

Three days before you died I sat with you in the hospital and cried harder than I ever cried. I told you how terrified I was to lose you.  I begged you to stay because you couldn’t miss my wedding, I needed you in my life, forever preferably.  It sounds so selfish, because you were in so much pain, but I didn’t want to let go.  The fear of losing you was an agonizing gut wrenching pain.  With tears in your eyes you smiled, held my hand and promised me you would be there.

It has been so heartbreaking and lonely with you gone but I want you to know that I am not alone any more. The day Ronen proposed he officially became my family and each day we are building a future together.

Dad, you will always be my first love, my forever hero.

Thank you for loving me, supporting me and guiding me. Thank you for every compliment you gave mom, because from you, I’ve learned what it truly means to unconditionally love your spouse.

A girl’s first true love is her father.
—Marisol Santiago

 

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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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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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I Lost More Than A Father, I Lost My Best Friend

Few things in life are as powerful for a man than a daughter who adores him.  The bond between a father and a daughter is one of the greatest of bonds in your lifetime.  There is something simply amazing about bonding with your father.  Growing up my father was my hero, my idol, he was larger than life.  Maybe that’s because when you have a Dad like I did you learn at a very young age that your father is the one man who will never let you down and who loves you unconditionally.

My father taught me to love life.  For a short time in elementary school I went to a math tutor.  She was a nice lady who reeked of cigarette smoke, had Bruce Springsteen posters plastered on her walls and always had potato chips on the table.    I hated math, so by default I hated this poor woman.  I was around 6 or 7 years old and my father dropped me off to my math tutor every Saturday morning for an hour.  One Saturday morning on our way to the Math tutor I informed my father that I really didn’t want to go.  He smiled and said, “Ok, what would you like to do today?”  I quickly responded with, “Let’s go for breakfast.” And just like that my father took me to the diner.  He swore me to secrecy, so much that I’m pretty sure when my Mom reads this she will be shocked.  Sorry Mom!

Carvel ice cream was a regular with my Dad during the summer.  My heart smiles when I reminisce about us piling into the car on a hot summer day for ice cream.  My Dad also liked to tease anyone and everyone.  My favorite back then was chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.  I remember ordering my usual and my Dad informing me that the chocolate sprinkles were in fact chocolate covered ants.  35 years later and I’m still giggling and I have yet to indulge in chocolate sprinkles again.

That was my Dad, he had a magical way of making everything fun.  Throughout my entire life I went to my father for everything.  Even when I made colossal mistakes he was always by my side.  My father unselfishly gave to both my sister & I our entire lives.  He taught me how to give and love unconditionally.


As I grew up my Dad became my best friend.  He was the guy I went to for advice on everything.  Not a day passed that we did not speak, we would spend hours talking,  although he preferred baseball and politics. We ended each conversation with, “I love you more.”

Throughout my divorce and my father’s cancer he was my anchor.  Accepting my father’s mortality has been the single most difficult moment in my life.

My father’s cancer prevented him from eating or drinking orally.  A big piece of my heart died when my father’s ability to eat was taken away.  During his final days, I was limited to massaging his back to ease his pain.  He was so weak it took two of us to lift him so I could massage his back.  As I was massaging his back I could feel every vertebrae and rib, I became completely overwhelmed with terror.  A lump started forming in my throat as I fought back a waterfall of tears.

“Thank you honey,” he whispered between gasps of pain, trembling hands and vacant eyes.  I quietly sobbed at my father’s vulnerability.  My heart ached so much I was certain I was having a heart attack at that moment.

My father held my hand my entire life, and I held his as he took his last breath.

I was given a chance many people never have.  Between many tears and a breaking heart, I told my father how much I loved him, and that I appreciate all he has done for me.  I thanked him for loving me unconditionally and the sacrifices he made throughout my life.

During my father’s final hours, I whispered, “You’re my best friend, Dad.  Thank you for making my life a real life fairy tale.”

Today is four months my father is gone.  I miss him more and more each day.  Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them.