Today was my father’s funeral. What a day it was… I now sit in silence on the edge of my bed, exhausted from the day. I force myself to brush my teeth and change into my pyjamas, thinking about my first experience losing someone very, very close. I had to stand for hours, shaking hands, becoming more and more numb as time passed. And I wish everyone that came had had a guide on things to say or do to make it easier for my family. No. Actually, a guide on things to not say or do. Because now I know what it feels like. Now I know what helps and what is annoying. I can’t blame anyone for saying or doing the wrong thing, I’ve been that person too. Awkwardly facing a friend’s grief. Not knowing how to act. I realize now that I was not the best support. I never learned in school how I should behave in such situations. But my father’s funeral highlighted some points that were important to me. Keeping in mind that everyone lives pain and grief differently, this is what my guide to helping a grieving friend looks like… and I hope I can learn from this and be a better support to my own grieving friends.
1 – Do not ask how it happened. I’m sure you’re curious. I would be too. But really, I do not wish to be the one explaining how my father died. Someone else can do it. I have reviewed the details in my head a hundred times already. I’ve imagined the picture from all angles. I’ve tried to convinced myself it was painless and quick. But I am not the one who should draw that picture for you, or try to convince you it was a peaceful departure. Ask a friend of the family. Just don’t pick the very close friend to our family. They might be hurting too much as well. And in the end, it doesn’t matter how it happened. It only matters that he’s gone. And if you’re patient, when I’m ready, I might end up telling you what happened.
2 – Don’t go on about that time someone else passed. You know it’s not the same. And I know it too. Unless you are going through the same thing at pretty much the same time, your story doesn’t matter much. If I start talking, just listen. Most of the time I’m not looking for your answers or advice. I just need to try and attach words to my feelings, my thoughts. And you might just happen to be there for that moment. I don’t expect you to know what to say. So don’t say anything. Just listen with the care and love you have for me. And if I ask a silly question like When will it be better? Or Why did he have to go? Just tell me the truth… which is probably that you don’t know. And as long as I know that you are here for me, that answer will be just fine.
3 – Don’t try too hard to hide your feelings. I don’t want you to laugh if you’re sad. And don’t be afraid to cry. It is not silly. If anything, your tears may steal some of mine away. If I can feel that we are sharing the pain, maybe I can feel a little lighter. You may be uncomfortable, and that’s ok. But know that your neutrality may seem like indifference and may possibly hurt me further. On the other hand, knowing what a great loss his death represents for you can warm my heart.
4 – Don’t remind me that I look more like my mom. But do tell me how I remind you of him. Because that’s what I need right now. I need to still feel close to him, for as long as I can. And even though my younger sister really does look more like him, I don’t need the reminder. I don’t need the joke. I might politely smile and agree but inside I am fighting the urge to crawl out of my own skin. So if nothing in me reminds you of him, just don’t mention it.
5 – Don’t ask me who I am. I am standing here, at my father’s funeral, and you come to pay your respect. If you do not know who I am, be embarrassed. And ask someone else, not myself. I should not have to explain that I am his oldest daughter. I should not have to confirm that yes, he had two kids. I am in no mood to explain my family tree to you. If you do not know who I am, then you are the stranger here. So you tell me who you are. But in the end, all that matters is that we are two individuals feeling sadness for a great loss.
6 – And finally, don’t pretend it never happened. Send a message. A couple days later, a couple weeks later. Doesn’t matter. Knowing that you still think of me, that you still hope I’m doing ok. Reminding me that you’re here if I need is most often enough. Don’t be afraid to check in. I might still not talk about it, but at least I’ll know you didn’t forget. Because I can never forget.
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