What I wish I’d known about grief

It’s been eighteen days since my father died. It seems so fresh and raw, but at the same time it seems a lifetime ago. I’ve read a lot about grief, and I’ve walked with many loved ones through their times of grief. I’ve also had my share of grieving situations (if not a parent).

Still, I’ve found that empathy and knowledge are quite different when it comes to the real thing. I’ve also found that the difference between major, first-hand grief and knowledge/empathy lies in the details.

I knew that grief would mean shock, and that the real difficulty would come once the funeral was over. I expected at least some comments that would make me uncomfortable, such as “This was God’s will” or “God needed your dad more than you did.” I would respect the good intentions but ignore the expressions.

I’ve watched my stoic older female relatives deal with grief, and I’ve seen one break down over her (very young) husband’s coffin. I expected so many things, read so much, and talked to so many people…

But I still wasn’t prepared.

I didn’t know I’d dissolve into an incompetent mess when I couldn’t find my comb. Two days in a row. For ages.

I didn’t know that I would struggle with exhaustion mimicking jet lag. I’d fight to stay awake past 8, 7, 6, 5 or even 4 in the afternoon. I’d wake up at all hours of the night.

I didn’t know my head would pound with throbbing headaches each afternoon and into the night, with sleep being the only relief.

I didn’t know that trying to “keep busy” would increase the exhaustion, until I lay down on the bed. Then I’d cry, will myself not to, and finally sit up and huddle on the floor with my ever-disappearing box of Kleenex.

I didn’t know that a three-pack of family-size Kleenex wouldn’t be enough for the first few weeks, either.

I didn’t know how helpless I would feel, how powerless to make anything change for the better.

I didn’t know that having a dad dead would feel different from a dad so far away we saw each other once every few years, if that. It shouldn’t feel different for my dad to be absent for a different reason, but it does.

I didn’t know I’d burst into tears going to Target (to pick up tea for the sore throat that’s plagued me the second and third weeks of grieving) because Peeps were on sale and Dad always bought us Peeps. It’s been decades since I came home to a box of Peeps on the counter, but it might as well have been yesterday.

I didn’t know how raw I would feel, and that every comment or interaction could hurt as much as Dad’s death. It sounds silly from the outside, but the funeral director assuming the daughter-in-law was the daughter is something I won’t be able to forget for years (if ever).

I didn’t know my body would ache as if from fever, shivering and shaking from alternating chills and heat. I didn’t know my bones and muscles would ache as if I were an old woman. I didn’t know.

I expected denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, and all of those intricate variations of the stages. I didn’t expect the stages to be linear, as they never are, but I also didn’t expect to be lost in a morass of uncertainty and fear.

But most of all, I didn’t know how much it would hurt to receive advice.

The thoughtless comments, I expected. I’ve lived through various versions of those my whole life, and I’m accustomed to deflecting inappropriate comments.

The advice?

Not so much.

I didn’t expect to be rocked with guilt as friend after well-meaning friend advised me not to spend so much time with Dad on his deathbed. Even my mom had to tell me to turn the phone off and not listen when another message would shake me up. I should step out, I was told again and again, to give privacy so Dad could die.

What the hell, I thought. My dad. I need to be with my dad.

Then other advice came, some useful and others less so.

Don’t forget to eat.

Try to sleep.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve. You have to grieve in your own way.

Keep busy.

You have to keep your mom happy.

You can’t do this.

Family does this.

You will not do this.

The hardest part about grieving my father is that I have watched my friends lose one or both parents. The grief doesn’t end after the first year (right now, an insurmountable goal…how can I get through a whole year without my dad?) or the first decade.

If I have one piece of advice for those experiencing grief, it’s this:

Let your loved ones hold you close, but don’t let anyone take away your truth. If you get advice that doesn’t mesh with your inner voice, separate yourself. Your inner voice knows what you need…better than any outsider.

 

And if I have one piece of advice for those who love someone experiencing grief, it’s this:

Listen. Love. Be present.

Think very hard before giving advice, and think yet again before giving it at all.

I wish I’d known that grief would make me feel as if I’m going insane.

I wish I’d known that, despite the insanity, I still have to trust myself.

After all, I no longer have a dad. This is part of growing up.

Miss you, Dad. Miss you so much.

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10 thoughts on “What I wish I’d known about grief

  1. Sherilyn says:

    Ana, I am so sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is so hard. I want you to know I support you and your family in this difficult time. I appreciate your willingness to bare your soul during this time and I promise to stop in more often to lend an ear and offer virtual hugs. Having lost both my parents, I have a glimmer of what you’re enduring and I know that the best I can give you is judgement-free support and love. You have that from me, always.

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  2. abby says:

    Grieving is such a hard process…and a long one. What you have shared will help many. My mom died in the beginning of Oct. Shortly before Mother’s Day i went into a Hallmark store, and had to leave before my tears were noticed……give yourself time, be kind to yourself….
    hugs abby

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  3. awesomesub says:

    Hi Ana, I am sorry for you going through this, and what you write makes me sad, as your pain and grief are so palpable here. At the same time I think your entry puts into words what many experience in similar ways, and I am sort of glad to find this here.
    I have no advice (better for all of us 🙂 ), but I wanted to support you in the advice you give. Listen to your inner voice. It may not always be easy to understand it clearly, especially with others saying the opposite of what you know to be right, but when it is there listening to this inner voice sounds like good advice to me too. Just like listen, love, be present and maybe n o t giving advice sound right to me. Someone’s shoulder to lean on and someone who listens without judging help so much more in such a painful time.
    I am glad you followed your inner voice. Painful as it was, I’d say that feeling what you do is right might make the healing process more complete. I hope so much that you find peace and that you can give yourself the time you need.

    hugs ❤

    Nina

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  4. JoanneBest says:

    You know how I feel, and it kills me to see you suffer through this seemingly insurmountable grief.
    I wish I had magic words to help you but our grief is just that, ours. Only we can know what works for ourselves and there is absolutely no time limit, no right way or wrong way to grieve.
    There is no way anyone can understand, even when they may have been through it themselves because it’s personal, there’s no cookie cutter way to grieve nor is there a clock that says ‘ok, time to move on’… only we ourselves will know when we can deal, and I say deal because it never leaves us, it becomes part of us forever for our world has changed forever.
    It hurts to know we can never pick up the phone again. It hurts to know that unconditional love is no longer physically with us. It hurts when Mother’s Day and Father’s Day roll around, when Birthdays and Holidays come and we can’t feel the celebration everyone feels. It hurts every day and it’s your right to feel what you feel for as long as you need to feel that way.
    I go through every emotion in the span of a few hours and anger rears it’s ugly head when people tell me to move on, to get out and do something because that’s what my Parents would want. They don’t know what my Parents would want, they say these things to make themselves feel better, not us. (I realize that’s my anger speaking)
    I can say with sincerity that you have helped me through the loss of my Parents more than you know. I only wish I could return the favor.
    Oh one more thing, I had the same thing happen with my brother’s wife at the funeral home. I sat there and cried, knowing this woman had told my Parents many times that she thinks old people should die instead of being a burden on their children. I don’t speak to her anymore.
    A few months after Mom died and I was going through her things I found the birthday card she’d bought for me, it was the same week as my birthday when I found it, it wasn’t signed, but it’s one of my greatest treasures.
    Please know you are loved and you have a support system whenever you need it. Love you ❤

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  5. willierubble says:

    Recently I was at the funeral for an 18 year old boy. The pastor addressed the teens present as many of them, this was their first funeral. Basically he said, ” People will tell you you will get over it in time. I am here to tell you, you won’t. You will adjust, but you will never be the same”.

    In my own life I have found this to be true 22 years later. Does it get easier? Most days I can say it does, as it no longer consumes my body like it is doing to you right now. I found a ‘new normal’ one I wouldn’t choose. One I don’t wish on anyone. A new normal with half of me missing. Those days seeing Peeps in the future, may make you burst out into tears, or they may make you smile and feel warm inside. There is no rhyme or reason as to why you have one reaction one day, and the other reaction the next.

    As you pointed out, I’m not going to offer you advice as grieving is as individual as those who we grieve over. I will tell you in my case, I sat and watched the world go by, and thought, ” how can they? He’s gone. How can the world keep on going like he wasn’t even here?” I now know there are so many things wrong with that statement. The only thing I will say is I found that missing a person has no time limit. There is no ‘normal’ as far as emotions go, and most importantly to let things happen as they will. I messed myself up for a very long time suppressing feelings because they were too great. I hope for your sake you are stronger than I was and will allow yourself to feel. It is all natural. (oops did that sound preachy?)

    All the best to you Ana. This isn’t an easy road you are on right now.

    willie

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  6. Sarah says:

    Oh Ana. I am thinking of you each day and praying for you so much. I can’t fathom how hard this is, but your article gives me an idea of your pain. Im always around to listen.
    Be patient with yourself and listen to your body. Rest, lots of fluids and other self care practices are vital.

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  7. Annapurna says:

    My eyes well up, my heart aches, as I read your painful words, for they bring images of my parents long dead and the dreadful sorrow of the first few days and weeks after I saw each of them die in their own way. Even now, after so many years, I cry for them. I’m an orphan; there’s no denying it. As I linger over each letter of your post, how can I not feel the pain embedded in each word. Truthfully, I have no advice to give you that will heal the loss of your father. Know this, however, you have touched me, for I do care.

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