Thursday, August 23, 2012

How You Can Help Me (Author Unknown)

I came across this passage today and thought it was worth sharing ...

~author unknown

Please talk about my loved one, even though he is gone. It is more comforting to cry than to pretend that he never existed. I need to talk about him, and I need to do it over and over. 

Be patient with my agitation. Nothing feels secure in my world. Get comfortable with my crying. Sadness hits me in waves, and I never know when my tears may flow. Just sit with me in silence and hold my hand. 

Don't abandon me with the excuse that you don't want to upset me. You can't catch my grief. My world is painful, and when you are too afraid to call me or visit or say anything, you isolate me at a time when I most need to be cared about. If you don't know what to say, just come over, give me a hug or touch my arm, and gently say, "I'm sorry." You can even say, "I just don't know what to say, but I care, and want you to know that." 

Just because I look good does not mean that I feel good. Ask me how I feel only if you really have time to find out. 

I am not strong. I'm just numb. When you tell me I am strong, I feel that you don't see me. I will not recover. This is not a cold or the flu. I'm not sick. I'm grieving and that's different. My grieving may only begin 6 months after my loved one's death. Don't think that I will be over it in a year. For I am not only grieving his death, but also the person I was when I was with him, the life that we shared, the plans we had, the places we will never get to go together, and the hopes and dreams that will never come true. My whole world has crumbled, and I will never be the same. 

I will not always be grieving as intensely, but I will never forget my loved one and rather than recover, I want to incorporate his life and love into the rest of my life. He is a part of me and always will be, and sometimes I will remember him with joy and other times with a tear. Both are okay. 

I don't have to accept the death. Yes, I have to understand that it has happened and it is real, but there are some things in life that are just not acceptable. When you tell me what I should be doing, then I feel even more lost and alone. I feel badly enough that my loved one is dead, so please don't make it worse by telling me I'm not doing this right. And remember, I was a capable adult before his death and I still am.

I don't even understand what you mean when you say, "You've got to get on with your life." My life is going on, I've been forced to take on many new responsibilities and roles. It may not look the way you think it should. This will take time and I will never be my old self again. So please, just love me as I am today, and know that with your love and support, the joy will slowly return to my life. But I will never forget and there will always be times that I cry. 

I need to know that you care about me. I need to feel your touch, your hugs. I need you just to be with me, and I need to be with you. I need to know you believe in me and in my ability to get through my grief in my own way, and in my own time. 

Please don't say, "Call me if you need anything." I'll never call you because I have no idea what I need. Trying to figure out what you could do for me takes more energy than I have. So, in advance, let me give you some ideas: 

(a) Bring food or a movie over to watch together. 

(b) Send me a card on special holidays, his birthday, and the anniversary of his death, and be sure to mention his name. You can't make me cry. The tears are here and I will love you for giving me the opportunity to shed them because someone cared enough about me to reach out on this difficult day. 

(c) Ask me more than once to join you at a movie or lunch or dinner. I may say no at first or even for a while, but please don't give up on me because somewhere down the line, I may be ready, and if you've given up then I really will be alone. 

(d) Understand how difficult it is for me to be surrounded by people who seem so happy, to walk into events as if my life is the way it was, to feel out of place in the same situations where I used to feel so comfortable. 

Please don't judge me now - or think that I'm behaving strangely. Remember I'm grieving. I may even be in shock. I am afraid. I may feel deep rage. I may even feel guilty. But above all, I hurt. I'm experiencing a pain unlike any I've ever felt before and one that can't be imagined by anyone who has not walked in my shoes. 

Don't worry if you think I'm getting better and then suddenly I seem to slip backward. Grief makes me behave this way at times. And please don't tell me you know how I feel, or that it's time for me to get on with my life. What I need now is time to grieve. Most of all thank you for being my friend. Thank you for your patience. 

Thank you for caring. Thank you for helping, for understanding. 

And remember in the days or years ahead, after your loss - when you need me as I have needed you - I will understand. And then I will come and be with you.

                Louis Armstrong - one of my dad's favorite musicians - playing "Blue Again"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I went to the funeral service of a dear friend today, probably the fourth one I've been to since my dad went on ahead, a tough thing to do for several reasons, one of which is that it turns my focus back to when we buried my dad.

Before my dad went on ahead, I remember feeling completely at a loss of what to say or do when I went to a funeral.  "What can I possibly say that will make a difference at all?" I'd think, and, truth be told, there were a few occasions when a family member (whom I didn't know) of a friend of mine passed away and I didn't make an effort to go to the funeral.  I told myself that my friend wouldn't miss my presence there, that I would be just one more person in a sea of people paying their condolences that day, and that it wasn't a big deal if I just waited to check in with my friend later.  

But since then my perspective has changed, and I've started thinking differently.  I now know that it is important to make an effort to be there to support the people I care about who are grieving, even if it's hard and even if I am struggling still with my own grief.  For all of my rambling over the past year and a half about what I didn't appreciate people saying to me in my own grief, the truth is that I STILL don't know what to say to another person who is bereaved.  Here's my gut feeling, though: I think those whose loved one has gone on ahead need to hear that the person who died will live on in the memories of and in the hearts of others who knew him or her.  I think it can be helpful for them to hear about what that person meant to others or even just to hear a story that that person has to share about their loved one.  For me, one of the things that I have feared the most since my dad died is that time and the business of everyday life will swallow up the impact of my dad's presence for other people in the world, like he wasn't here or like his life didn't matter to anyone other than to those in my family.  Maybe that is a common thing to fear in a situation of loss, and, if so, maybe reassurance in some form from those who also knew that person will in some way help those who are suffering from a loss.

From my own experience, I also learned that the significance of following-up with a friend who has lost a family member, checking in with them after a little bit of time has gone by, is so often overlooked, or at least it was in my family's case; I think it's something that most people just don't think about doing, or maybe they think about it but just get too busy with their own lives.  I learned how touching little things are as we go through the process of the funeral are, everything from having someone bring extra Kleenexes to someone taking photos of some of the flowers to the strangers along the way to the cemetery who pull their cars over on the side of the road to let the procession go by.  I learned that different families, different situations, and different religious practices result in different types of funerals, and that that's ok; certainly there's no right or wrong way to hold a memorial service or to grieve.  

The funeral today was at my friend's church; the service was very touching and was reflective of my friend's beliefs and her preference in music and verses.  My dad's, though, was a different style altogether.  Before he got sick, Dad had said many times that he didn't want a big service to be held in his memory after he died; he said it embarrassed him to even think about having lots of people gather in mourning for him.  For as long as I can remember, he'd said that he wanted to be cremated, and several times after going to someone's funeral he commented that he would much prefer it if a celebratory type of gathering could be held in his honor in place of a traditional funeral, when the time came.

And so, on the night he died, my mom, my sisters, my aunt, and I sat in my parents' den and talked about what Dad wanted, and the plans were set in motion.  A memorial celebration it was, to be held three days after he went on ahead, to allow for travel time for the many who came from out of town.  Some of the time around the gathering is a blur to me; I see from this vantage point so clearly the shock that blanketed us then and I know that created a haze over some of what was going on.  I remember who came, though, and I will never forget their efforts to comfort us with their presence and their kind words and gestures during the most difficult time in our lives.  The memorial celebration was memorable, in probably precisely the way it needed to be, and it served as Part One of our bereavement process.

Part Two happened six weeks later, when the cremation had been completed and when those of us who lived out of town had a chance to regroup and return for the burial.  One benefit to delaying that part of the process of laying my dad to rest was that my mom, my siblings, and I had a chance to put some thought into how we wanted to have things go.  We'd decided early on to honor Dad's wishes and to have the burial only opened to close family members, and we agreed that we wanted the ceremony to be held at the graveside only and to pay our respects on that day in whatever way each of us decided.  One by one, each of us chose what part we wanted to play as individuals, to honor and to pay our respects.  My mom, my sister Jennifer, and I planned to read something that each of us had prepared in advance; my brother Lee wanted to read from the Bible, and my sister Nancy did not plan to address the group during the ceremony.  As it turned out, though, Jennifer had trouble getting through the end of her reading, and Nancy came to her rescue to finish the passage.  When my turn came, as I read what I had written, I felt my voice shaking, and I couldn't hardly see through the sea of tears that clouded my vision as I struggled to keep my emotions in check enough to get through the words I wanted to say. I thought I would feel some closure, some relief, or some comfort.  All that really happened, though, is that I did more of exactly what I'd been doing since the moment of Dad's passing:  I breathed, I mustered up all the courage I could, and then I pushed forward to do what I knew Dad would want me to do, despite the pain and the confusion in my heart.