Care and feeding of a grieving daughter


As I observed when Dad announced he was going into hospice, humans have been dying for as long as there have been...well, humans. So you'd think we'd be better at talking about it.

But here we are in these mortal coils Shakespeare wrote about, struggling to interact with one another when faced with our own mortality (to be fair, some of us have trouble interacting with one another in any situation, but that's a different post altogether). You have all been so incredibly kind and gracious to me and my family throughout this whole process, so I think most of you don't really need any direction.

Some of you have said you don't know what to say, though, or have apologized for "not being eloquent" (as if I'm going over your posts or cards with my red editor's pen--believe me when I say I prefer to leave the office at the office). And it's true that everyone grieves differently, so what may be helpful for me may not be for another of your friends who is going through a similar experience.

But I thought it might help to share my two main thoughts on this: First, just knowing you're thinking of us is so helpful. Really. It doesn't have to be poetic or flowery or grand. The only caveat is that, if you express your thoughts to me in person, you have to be prepared for the possibility that I might tear up. But as you know if you've spent more than three minutes in my presence, that's a danger no matter what. Especially if our interaction involves a Sally Fields or Keanu Reeves movie (the former because her movies are almost always sad; the latter because he's such a terrible actor. Either way, tears from Allison. But I digress). And if you tear up too, please don't feel self-conscious. In losing my father, I have not cornered the market on sadness. You lost him too. You get to be sad too, if you need to be.

The second thought is a suggestion to avoid comparisons. This works both ways. I've had some of you stop in the middle of complaining about work or worrying about your sick pet to suddenly exclaim, "Oh, I shouldn't be complaining about this to you when you're going through this horrible situation with your dad!" Please, PLEASE rest assured that I am not listening to you thinking, "I can't believe she's whining about the cable guy showing up late when I just lost my dad!" What my family and I are experiencing does not make your experiences any less real. Nor should it dictate how you feel about them, or even whether you talk to me about them. In fact, the normalcy is kind of nice. The other part of avoiding comparisons, though, is to try not to compare my loss of my loved one to your loss of yours. Like I said, everyone is different, and as my husband said to our daughter when I told her her Giempa had died, "There's no right way to do this." Which is why I laughed when a friend wrote to me and said, "I honestly want to throttle the next person who tells you how lucky you are." I can, of course, see both sides: those who have lost loved ones very suddenly (in car accidents, for example, or at young ages, or both) could easily think I was fortunate to be able to spent those last precious days with my father; to help him get his affairs in order and say everything that needed to be said. On the other hand, I was literally biking up mountains with him three months ago and, had you asked me, would have told you I expected another good 10 or 15 years with the man. Cancer isn't lucky. It just isn't. That said, if you have told me I'm lucky, please don't feel bad; it's natural to want to help someone you care about see a silver lining when they're suffering. Just know that I may not agree with you in the moment. Grief is an odd duck, am I right? My main request, though, is not to tiptoe around me or pretend this isn't happening. If you need a template, here it is: 1. Tell me you're sorry about my dad (or equivalent phraseology of your choice). 2. Show me a hilarious video or meme, preferably one that references Shakespeare, Star Wars, puppies, or kitties. 3. Tell me how you're doing, whether it's good or not.

I'm still me. And I still appreciate you.


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