Thursday, February 18, 2010

Say What?

A friend of a friend’s father just passed away and my friend asked me what they could or should say to their friend. My first reaction was there is no right or wrong. It’s a terrible situation, one filled with pain and anger and fear. Words can’t make those go away, at least not our words.

I thought about it a while and decided that while there is probably nothing you can say that will magically help, there are some things that you probably shouldn’t say. At least there are things that pissed me off when they were said to me. Please understand that this is just how I feel or felt. I just thought it might be good to get it out there in case someone is in this situation and has no idea what to do.

First, don’t say you know how they feel. You don’t. I’ve been in close to the same situation as her friend and I don’t know exactly how he feels. You don’t know - no need to lie about it. People who have lost somebody like to tell you that you can’t see it now, but it will all be ok. That’s total shit. Please don’t do that. My dad died like eight years ago and it isn’t ok. Its better, but everything is not ok. He will have times when he feels ok, but then he’ll buy a truck or build a fence or get married or have a kid or get his commercial pilot’s license and suddenly it won’t be ok again. There are things a man should be able to share with his dad, in those moments, the big moments, his absence is palpable. There’s a small shadow in the corner of all these moments, in the midst of joy and triumph sadness lingers. That is not ok. Don’t ever say it’ll be ok, you can’t know that. If losing a loved one teaches you anything it’s that nothing is certain. If they are like me suggesting things ever will be again will just piss them off.

I personally don’t like the, “they are in a better place,” or “they aren’t in pain any more” lines. It’s hard to explain why I don’t like them. I think maybe because they make me feel selfish. I wanted my dad back more than anything. To point out that he is better off now made it feel like I was being selfish by wanting him back. Like I would rather him be here suffering instead of me. The other problem there is; what if they aren’t in a better place. I know it’s ugly to think about, but not everyone is. It’s just a bad topic to get on all together. For me the pain and anger of those first few months was almost too much. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I couldn’t think about anything else. I know it sounds bad, but that made it about me. I couldn’t see past my own pain. I got tired of people always asking how my mom was doing, I know it was the worst for her, but it was hard on all of us. Let them know you care about their family, but your focus needs to be on the person you are dealing with. It’s about them. When you talk too much about how sorry you are or how you hurt for them or how you can’t imagine how their mother is making it, it makes them feel, or made me feel, like my pain was being downplayed. That made me feel selfish and gave me an avenue to direct all that anger inward. During the worst of it I was angry at and didn’t trust God, but man, I hated me.

So what do you do? I think you tell them you’re sorry. Tell them you love them, and hold them as tight as you can for as long as they’ll let you. Be honest and real. Create a safe place. They have to know its ok to be angry and sad. They also have to know its ok to laugh a little to. My friend asked if she should try to make him laugh. I said not to try and make him laugh, but allow him to laugh. They have to feel safe expressing whatever emotion they feel, burying it only drags out the process.

If you want to know how to just be there for someone - how to handle the situation with grace and love, ask Kyla and Daniel and Claire and Aaron and Ryan and Danny and Anthony, they were my breath - my safe place. I don’t remember specifics of what they said or how they said it, I just know they loved me well and that’s how I survived.

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