It's been six months (today) since I lost my dad and through the grieving process I have learnt somethings that I would like to share with you.
Every person reacts differently to loss......loss of any kind. My experience these past six months has taught me that the natural adjustment which has to occur is a lonely one and it differs from individual to individual even if you have all lost the same person. Support from friends and loved ones may not happen because firstly their lives go on while you feel yours has stopped and secondly talking about death is something that most of us avoid.
I found that people are afraid to approach someone who is mourning, it is almost as if they have developed a dread disease overnight and they are scared of catching it. I can understand that in part because once again we all fear death and what it ultimately means. Then there are people who shy away from talking to those mourning for fear that they may say something wrong or dredge up memories that could result in tears.
I am no expert but perhaps my experience will help you in future when you want to offer comfort and sympathy to those grieving. Please note that this is not advise or a “how to” manual. This is just really my personal experience I am sharing with all of you.
Please be a first responder. In my opinion this is often the hardest of jobs. I remember that as we left the hospital some of the young men from church arrived and in the parking lot they held us, sympathised and let us know that we were loved. By the time we got home others were waiting. I know that I had to make calls to find an undertaker and make arrangements for my dad to be collected from the hospital. This meant that I could not be at my mom’s side and knowing that others were, allowed me time to do what had to be done. Having been going to the hospital back and forth for several days meant that the house was a little upside down. I still don’t know which of the ladies made all the beds (dad passed away at 05:48 so we were at the hospital from just after 05:00) and sort of tidied up. I am not sure who made coffee for all those that came to be with us but for that to I am grateful. It was one less thing for us to worry about. One of my closest and dearest friends, Lydia arrived and that was pretty much when I broke down. She took me to my bedroom and sat me down, she went to my mom and spent a few minutes with her but then she came back to me and just sat with me as I repeated incoherently over and over that my dad had died. Regardless of the fact that it was Christmas eve and she has a family of her own, Lydia stayed with me all day. At one point everyone had left and my mom was lying down and she took my hand and said “What do you need now?” I had no idea but soon realised that I could use a shower. So Lydia took my and my mom’s phones and off I went to shower and when I came back Lydia had made me some toast and coffee. I can’t describe the peace that I felt in that moment. When I went into the kitchen Lydia had done all the dishes and packed everything away…one less thing that I had to do. Being a first responder means dealing with the initial shock and raw emotion but it also means complete and utter support to those grieving. A clean kitchen, handling sympathy calls, making coffee or beds and just being there is vital.
The second wave is just as important. The flowers and cards start arriving and you find your home filled with visible signs of love. We were very blessed that the ladies of our congregation put together a schedule and we received a cooked meal every day for a week. None of us felt like eating and the thought of having to cook was almost too much on our fragile emotions but knowing that we would get at least one meal a day was a relief and we even got a Christmas dinner although we did not acknowledge the day at all. The flowers were beautiful although overwhelming.
The third wave is where I think we currently find ourselves. As I said everyone’s lives have moved on but we feel kinda stuck. The phone calls, messages and visits have trickled down. The flowers are all gone and reality is really only starting to set in. This is probably the second most important part of comforting someone. The service has been held, the legal stuff (which is tremendous) has eased off and we are now really only finding quite moments to grieve. It would be nice to receive flowers now, to receive a card out of the blue or to be invited for dinner. It is an odd space to be in because everyone was around you during the first few weeks and now you are kinda left on your own. In future this is the time when I will reaffirm my love and support because I now know that this is the loneliest of times. I will stop by with some essential groceries, I will send a message of encouragement and I will try and treat those struggling to come to terms with their loss in some way. A meal out, a spa treatment, babysitting whatever.
Please talk to me about my dad. In my eulogy I said "Every one of you sitting here today has a memory of my dad. And it is wonderful to have you here to join mom and Donovan and I in celebrating the life of my dad. It is such a healing gift to be surrounded by your love for my dad. Thank you for coming and showing my family and I that my dad holds a special place in your heart. Your love and support allows us to know that my dad will be nearby always because of the memories you hold within you. And please share them with us…never hold back, not now or in the years to come." And that holds true six months later. Talk about the person who has passed because we as family (or friends) know that our loved one has died but that does not change the fact that we want to talk about him, we want to share in your memories. I personally have found it very healing. While we were down at the coast, mom and I met up with my dad’s cousin. I have only met her once or twice in my life but spending the day with her was amazing because she shared my dad’s childhood with me. She told me so many stories about him as a boy and in so doing she also shared the grandmother I never knew and even my dad’s grandmother with me. It was truly one of the most blessed days I have had since my dad passed away.
Please visit. Having people around us was such a blessing and one that I am sad to say has mostly come to an end. People don’t visit us as much as they did in the beginning. Let me tell you your presence helps so much more than your words ever can. Just being there is love in action.
Please speak. Don’t be worried that your words will offend me or hurt me. The biggest thing to remember is that there are no words of comfort. I recently attended the funeral of a friend’s husband and I was desperate to rain words of comfort on her two sons, to look them in the eye and tell them that with the passing of time the loss of their dad will ease. But I could not lie to these two young men…because the simple truth is that there are no words of comfort. I remember a close friend’s awkward moment about three hours after we lost my dad. She had come over and as I was making us coffee she said to me “so when do you want to go look for an outfit for the funeral?” I looked at her as if she is mad because for a second my reality was forgotten. To this day her words stand out for me but not because I think it was inappropriate but because she cared enough to want me to look pretty for the service. And guess what….I don’t have words either. Words don’t really matter but they are appreciated.
Please tell me that I was a good daughter and that I did everything I could to take care of my dad. Tell me he loved me because even though it hurts (and it hurts like hell) I need to hear those words. I need to be reassured. It was odd to me how lost I felt….let me try and put this into words that make sense. I went through a stage which I would almost call an identity crisis. I felt like if I was no longer Don Wilmot’s daughter then I was just another women, nothing special, nothing extraordinary and not loved. Lydia took me out for dinner one night and as I told her how “unspecial” (it’s a word) I was feeling she came and sat next to me and put her arm around me and looked in the eye and said “You are Lisa Wilmot, You are your father’s legacy and even though he is not here with you, he still loves you and that means that you will always be special.” Words I now live by.
Please let me talk about my dad. I know that sharing a memory or saying something like “Dad loved….” can cause some uncomfortable silences but I need to talk about my dad. I know that sometimes I just ramble on and on but it is one of the ways in which I keep his memory alive and a way to celebrate his life.
Please let me cry. I know more awkward and uncomfortable moments but this is also a necessary part of the grieving process. Sometimes my heart is just so filled with all the hurt and “missing” that all I can do to relieve some of the pressure is to cry. Last week I went out to lunch with a friend and suddenly I was so overwhelmed by the sheer loss that all I could do is cry and she let me….
Please ask if I am doing ok. And if I tell you that I am not, it’s no reflection on you. If I want to talk about it I will but if not please understand when I change the topic. Sometimes it is such hard work “not being ok” that sharing the difficulty is just too much. But know that whether or not I share with you, I appreciated that you cared enough to ask.
Please know that I don’t feel normal. I may look normal, I may sound normal and I may even act normally but inside I am a mess. My heart has been ripped out and is lying in shreds at my feet. Until I find some sort of normal I am going to feel out of place, I am going to feel as if I carry the sting of death with me wherever I go. Love me, be patient with me and understand that I need to be accepted during not only the mourning phase but afterwards too.
Please be careful not to overwhelm me. I debated with myself putting this one in because it can easily be misunderstood but it is something that really “distressed” me. During the first weeks after dad passed we received lots and lots of flowers. Being the heart of summer it became a chore to keep the flowers properly hydrated so that they would not wilt and die. Some mornings I just wanted to pull the covers over my head but I had to get up, take the flowers out onto the stoop, water them and then in the afternoons I had to bring them back into the house and every time I walked passed them I used a spray can to keep them cool. It became work for me…..yes I could probably just have left them to wilt but I felt obligated to care for them since someone had cared enough to send them. I personally would have preferred to receive just one or two bouquets then and rather receive surprise bouquets now when I am in a better place to appreciate and care for them. I almost want to say that I felt the same with the cards and the notes. Emails and text messages became overwhelming because there were so many and my mom was not up to dealing with them so I had to. I spent at least three hours a day responding to messages and emails. Don’t misunderstand me…we loved hearing from everyone and it made us feel special and loved but it was overwhelming. And now it’s quite and I could really use a “I’m thinking of you” email or card.
Please please don’t compare your story of loss to mine. Yes, I am acutely aware that I am not the only one who has ever lost her father. In fact a close friend and colleague lost her dad the day before I lost mine and it was during those first weeks that I realised that even though we had both lost our dads our relationships with our dads were different, the circumstances were different and our interactions with our families were different. It was while people were sharing their stories of loss with me that I began to understand that we each experience loss differently and that it is largely due to the circumstances. I lived with my dad, I spent hours with him every day, I cooked for him, I helped him to the bathroom, I sat up with him when he could not sleep, I monitored his sugar and blood pressure and I struggled every day to give him his meds. Most 38 year olds are living away from their parents and most have families of their own. Many only speak to their parents once a week or once a month. Some have bad relationships or strained relationships with their parents….I did not!! My dad was the love of my life, my mom was his wife and the centre of his world but I took care of my dad’s basic needs and I fought tooth and nail every day to keep him with us!!
Please don’t tell me you understand. You probably don’t. You can’t unless we have had the same or a very similar experience. Accept the way I feel and please don’t judge me. I pray you never have to suffer loss in your life but if you do the last thing you can deal with is those who are meant to support you to stand in judgement of you.
Please don’t tell me how to feel. I wake up some days and I am just sad and miserable. Allow me to feel this way. It is an important part of the grieving process to feel each and every emotion even when it feels like they will crush you. If you ask me how I am feeling and I give you a negative response understand that I can’t avoid those feelings and that in of itself is ok. Feeling angry, sadness and despair are unavoidable when you are grieving and you can bet that if I could escape feeling that way I would but it is all part of the process.
Please don’t tell me to “be strong”. I DON’T want to be strong. I want to give in just let the overwhelming sense of loss engulf me. NO ONE has ever and will ever love me the way my dad did and that thought crushes me. Never again will I sit on his bed sharing my day with him, I will never again debate politics and religion with him and I will never read to him or have him read to me again. I will never feel his warm embrace and I will never hear him tell me he loves me. I hurt so being strong is not an option. And know that I need to experience the pain, the loss and the heartache in order to work through it and try and come out on the other side still being me….so no I don’t need or want to be strong right now.
Please don’t expect me to “get over it”. I probably never will. I am sure that there will come a time when I will adjust and accept and to some extent heal but he will always be my darra and I will always love him.
In the same vain..
Please don’t put a time frame on my grief. I don’t know how long I am going to be feeling this incredible pain, I have no idea how long it will take me to adjust to losing the most important man in my life. So don’t you decided for me how long it will or should take. And don’t compare my time frame with that of someone else.
Please don’t try and fix me. I have a friend who phones me at least once a week and begs me to seek counselling. She believes that because I am battling to come to terms with my loss I am broken. I am broken…I am heartbroken! No counsellor, preacher, psychologist or psychiatrist is going to “fix” me. Time, love, understanding, support and prayer that’s all I need.
Please don’t make me do things. I know that this is difficult for some of my well-meaning friends but there are days when I just want to have a duvet day. I want to pull the covers over my head and just pretend the world outside does not exist. Forcing me to attend a party or come over for coffee is just going to leave us both feeling depressed. If I want to come to the party I will, if I want to come have some coffee with you I will but no amount of begging and pleading is going to make me do so. Some days are harder than others so understand that on this day at this time I may just not have the strength to lift my head off the pillow let alone put on a happy smile and be full of good cheer. Since it was the festive season we were invited to have Christmas eve with friends, my dad had not even been gone 24 hours and you want me to go to a party. I don’t think so. Can you imagine the damper my mom, brother and I would have put on the party. People kept on inviting us for Christmas day lunch and dinner and so on….I still don’t understand how they thought we would want to be around their “happy” when we were anything but. There are still some days when their “happy is to loud”!
Please don’t force decisions. When I studied psychology one of the first things they taught us when doing grief counselling was to know that those grieving should not make any life changing decisions for at least the first year after their loss. I have had friends and family alike asking if we are going to move. I keep on being told how difficult it must be to look at my dad’s things, to see him in every room and to remember him when we open a cupboard and smell him on his things. Each person has their own time to deal with things. We packed up dad’s clothes and so on within a month of his passing away but his room is exactly the way he left it. We know that once we change the room even in the slightest way we are acknowledging that he is never coming back and not one of us is ready for that. We are not planning on moving because in all honesty dad is with us no matter where we go. We, however just this past weekend started to make changes within the house…moving furniture and changing some of the paintings and stuff around. I guess one could say that we are changing the house from “our family house” to “our house”…….just the three of us.
Ultimately, I don’t have words adequate enough to express the gratitude I have towards friends and family who have been there to share in my family’s grief. Those who have softened the pain by allowing us to cry, to share, to laugh and to just be. This is the most difficult and challenging experience of my life and in all honesty I am not quite sure I am going to make it to the other end. But having said that I know that with time the memories of a lifetime shared will sweeten and though slowly and painfully healing will take place.
On some level I believe that we will always hurt and I know that we will always miss dad but when I take a step back and look at this difficult time I know that I will cherish the friends and family who knew we were hurting and the friends and family who cared enough to be there for us.