Learning through grief

Tomorrow will mark one month since my dear, sweet, wonderful Dad died. I'm doing OK, but it still sucks. I still cry. I still feel sad and awful and shocked that the world keeps turning without Dad present.

But I am also starting to manage to not cry every time I see a pic of Dad or think of him. Weirdly, I feel a teensy bit guilty for not grieving 24/7. That's normal, I'm told. Grief is weird and non-linear and unpredictable.

Dad and Jen - March 2015


Given this summer's experiences, I'm feeling kind of expert-y about grief (not really) and thought I'd share a few things I learned in the process. If you have anything you'd add, please share in the comments.


First and foremost, don't avoid people who are grieving because you don't know what to say.

Is it possible you'll say the wrong thing? Sure! But we're [mostly] glad to hear from people we love, even if they say the wrong thing.

When in doubt, say you're sorry for the loss your friend has suffered and ask if there is anything you can do to make the day even a tiny bit easier.

Send a note, send a card, send flowers, send food. Whatever feels right.

Before losing my dad, I didn't realize that everyone my mom and I had ever met would send food. That's life in a small town, I think!

Trays started arriving within hours of my father's death. We had so much food that close friends would take catering trays home for the night and bring them back the next day, knowing we would have more friends and relatives coming to share their condolences in person.

My mother and I have continued receiving cards, as well as letters acknowledging donations made to charity and research* on Dad's behalf. Yes, sometimes they make me cry, but I am so glad for Dad to be remembered and honored.

By the way, Joanna Goddard wrote a wonderful post about condolence notes here.

Be patient when someone in your life experiences a loss.

When Dad first died, I didn't answer my cell phone most of the time. It was too hard to keep telling the story, even to my well-intentioned, loving friends. I found that I could better handle texts and emails.

Other people may have a different point of view on this. The bottom line is to connect with those who are hurting in the way that they (not you) prefer.

Oh, the corollary to this bit about patience is that my thank you notes will be delayed, sorry.

Keep checking in.

Grief doesn't abate after a week or a month or any specific timeframe. Your friend may be feeling embarrassed about the lingering effects of grief. I was fortunate in that I could work from home as needed. Crying jags were common and unpredictable in the first few weeks so it was nice to be home - working, crying and somethings both at the same time. I had some structure, but I could not pretend life was normal (and no one tried to tell me otherwise).

My best friend has been so lovely about mailing me little notes, in addition to emailing, texting and calling. Thank you, Jen.

Now that I have experience the loss of a parent, I feel sorry that I didn't do more for friends when they lost loved ones. I plan to take my own advice and check in now. It's never too late.

Grief isn't solely emotional.

At times, I felt like I was physically ill. I was exhausted and my appetite was weird. Some mornings, I would wake up with the intention of going to the office only to find getting out of bed was not an option. Try to go easy on yourself.

If you are the person grieving, check your Facebook "Other" messages once you catch your breath.

I got lovely notes from Dad's friends with whom I wasn't directly connected, and from friends of friends with whom I wasn't already connected on Facebook.

Accept and perhaps embrace the fact that you've joined a club.

It's a really sad club, one made up of people who have lost a parent, but these people might understand what you're experiencing better than someone who hasn't suffered a great loss. I have found that friends who have lost a parent understand that their role isn't to get me to stop crying. These friends seems to get that I'm so grateful for the chance to talk about Dad, even if it makes me cry more.

Grief doesn't have a timeline.

My friend Liz, who also lost her father, told me I have six months to be a jerk anytime I feel like it and one year to opt out of any holiday I choose. Noted.

Some days are going to be good. Others, not so much. I didn't cry yesterday, but did cry today. There's no schedule or expiration date.

*If you're moved to donate on behalf of my father, here's Option 1. Specify that you wish to support Temple Hospital's Pulmonary Hypertension Program, c/o Dr. Paul Forfia, 3401 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19140 in memory of David Keene. Option 2 is a cause my family supports in Scranton.