My friend’s dad died last month and she is sad.
His death was not a tragedy. He lived a full, long life. It was his “time.” My friend believes in an “afterlife.” She’s grateful he won’t suffer and that he was pretty sharp and good-humored almost to the very end.
And she’s sad. Because that’s how human beings feel when someone they love dies. The details don’t much matter on that score. Young or old, estranged or close, expected or sudden, loss hurts and we need love and support to come to terms with it.
Her dad lived in another part of the state so she’s been up north, tending to him as he shuffled off this mortal coil, and then tending to the business of death, before making it back to LA last week, exhausted and essentially traumatized by the all-too-common dysfunctional family freak out that accompanies the death of a patriarch or matriarch.
When we were finally able to talk on the phone, she told me about the horrible drama that had unfolded the day of the funeral. I listened until she was done with the tale and then said, “It sounds awful. And it sounds like no one has really been taking time with you about the fact that you lost your dad and I’m really sorry because that’s what matters most. I know how much you loved him.”
She burst into tears. We sat with that for a bit. In between sobs she thanked me repeatedly for attending to her feelings and I was so grateful I was able to support her that way.
Because, the fact is, as a culture we really suck at handling death and grieving. Grief is messy, inconvenient and draining. We often leave those suffering to cope in isolation because we don’t know how to be present for their feelings and needs.
But all that’s really needed is to sit, breathe, listen and care. There’s nothing to fix. Death and grief are bigger than you or me. In fact, you need not say anything. But if you feel the urge to reach out with words, I’d like to recommend two sentences that in my personal experience are genuinely soothing:
(1) I’m thinking about you and sending love.
(2) If you’d like to share something about your father/mother/sibling/child/friend/loved one, I’d love to hear it.
My friend has a long, in some ways endless, road ahead in adjusting to the absence of her father. She’ll walk through it, one day at a time, and she’ll carry on.
While she does, I can hold her hand and I’m grateful for that.
My friend is sad.