Do Not Lessen Your Grief for My Sake
Your Grieving Process Belongs to You
Following the death of my father, I have had several friends whose fathers have passed in the past two years. Even after experiencing news of my father's murder, I still don't know what to say to my loving friends who have lost their fathers. "Sorry for your loss. Please let us know if you need ANYTHING. We'll keep you in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers." is all I know to say, but it doesn't seem enough. The reason it doesn't seem to be enough is because it isn't. You can't give what has already been lost, and their loved one's life won't be given back in this lifetime. The only thing you can do is be there IF they need you. Personally, I have to trust and rely on my friends to tell me what they need IF they need anything and WHAT. Everyone experiences things differently, and needs different things. I reach out and let them know I'm here, ready, willing, and able, but pressuring them in this tough situation is not the right thing to do. What does bother me though is when I've reached out and attended funerals; they underrate their grief on my behalf.
I have never asked them to do so. I have never once nor will I ever bring up my father's death at a funeral or memorial service for one of my friends' fathers. To do so would lessen their grief experience, and I refuse to do that. I believe that every relationship is unique. In life and death, these are both the case. You've worked to build that relationship, how you feel about the loss of it will differ significantly based on what the two of you have built. Others with similar life experiences may understand different facets of a dynamic, but not its entirety. Relationships in all forms are complex and vary based on the two individuals involved. My friends' relationships with their fathers were different from my relationship with my father. Nothing is worse than attending a service and hearing, "as I'm sure you understand given what happened to your father", "I'm sure you can imagine since you've been through this yourself.", "If it is this difficult grieving for my father even when we knew it was going to pass, I can't imagine how rough you must have had it." or "I shouldn't be this upset. I suppose we are lucky that we didn't have to go through what you went through with your father."
This is undermining to their grief process, and I hate it. I have NEVER asked anyone to compare their father's death with mine. What they are experiencing is COMPLETELY VALID and NECESSARY. I don't care how much notice a person had that their parent was going to pass away, I highly doubt it hurts any more or any less than another's experience. Losing a loved one is hard on ANYONE. How a person passes can impact your feelings and understanding on the matter, but when you're upset you have every right to be. The death of your father is special to you and you alone. How you handle it is about YOUR process, not mine or anyone else's. If it helps to distract you for a moment and that is how you are partially coping, then sure, it is alright to make comparisons but don't underrate your grief or your response on my behalf. Our situation of losing a loved one as similar as they may seem are different, and both responses are beyond acceptable; THEY ARE MEANINGFUL, PURPOSEFUL, AND JUSTIFIED.
Personally, I attended the services wanting to genuinely offer my support and condolences. I wanted you to know that you could lean on me. I'm available and free if you need ANYTHING. Instead, I felt like I did more harm than good by being present or willing to discuss your troubles with you. Why did you have to make it about something that has passed? If you want to understand what I went through as your motive or seek advice or counsel from my experience, please just ask me. Do not lessen your grief experience, feelings, or how you are handling it as a person. You are not any less strong than I am, and what you are doing matters equally.
Sure, living in a small town a murder is big news and likely to be brought up to the living relatives despite it being a sensitive topic. I understood and accepted this when it happened. I was in unfamiliar territory accepting others' condolences, but I just took it at face value. Those that offered them were showing their care or concern for my family. How I dealt with it was ultimately up to me. Perhaps a therapist would say I am defensive on the matter when I say that I have resolved my grief with the loss of my father, and this is not about my relationship with him, but with the two of you. Perhaps it would come across as cold and icy considering you were just trying to be amicable when you made those statements. I want to point out though that the reason I'm angry about it is because this is YOUR TIME. This is YOUR PROCESS, and you are NO LESS SIGNIFICANT than whatever I may have experienced.
YOU ARE LOVED. YOU ARE HURTING, AND EVERYTHING YOU ARE EXPERIENCING AND FEELING IS BEYOND JUSTIFIED.
DO NOT LESSEN YOURSELF, YOUR FEELINGS, YOUR EXPERIENCES, AND YOUR GRIEVING PROCESS JUST BECAUSE OF YOUR PERCEPTION THAT SOMEONE ELSE MIGHT HAVE HAD IT WORSE.
DO NOT USE ME AS AN EXAMPLE UNLESS YOU NEED ME TO BE ONE TO MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER.
Losing a loved one will change ANYONE'S LIFE regardless of what way, shape, form, or time it happens.
You lost your father when you were in your late thirties to forties or fifties instead of twenty-six. Does that make it better? NO.
He was in his sixties or seventies when he died instead of in his forties. Does that make it better? UNLIKELY.
He died after a long and hard fought battle with illness instead of a bullet to the chest. Does that make it better? NO WAY.
How you handle your grief is your response and yours alone. How you are handling it is not less than how I've handled mine. Even if you view the circumstance of death as somehow better, it isn't. I could say the same for mine, and that is okay too. It is up to us to handle the circumstances. If we find justification along the way for how we process this grief, information, and new place in life so be it. That is part of the grief process.
You could say you had the opportunity to say goodbye, whereas I didn't.
That doesn't mean I had it worse.
I could tell you that my father did what he loved until the day he died, and that is justification enough for me to be glad he died while living. He was my father as I knew him up until the moment that bullet pierced his chest.
I could say to one of my friends whose father was ill long-term that I was thankful that scenario hadn't happened to me. I could also say that I was thankful my father didn't have the opportunity to experience Alzheimer's or dementia. I could say that was a kindness and could even say it helped with my grieving experience.
Does that mean either of us grieved any less than the other? NOT NECESSARILY.
Death of a loved one is something MOST of us will have experience with at some point in time. It is no less of a cumbersome thing for one person than for another. Maybe it is, but we aren't the judges of that. We can never truly know what a person feels without conversing with them or without knowing their hearts or minds. Some people won't speak about it. Some will act tough. Some will be tough. Some will go on for hours. Some will cry and lose sleep for days on end. That is how they handle it. It is part of THEIR process, and that is okay. Ultimately, no one handles it the same even if experiences are equal. Just because processes are different doesn't mean that one is better than another.
I was never sure what to say about my father's passing. I reacted completely different to how my mother and brother handled it. I wasn't on the spectrum of "normal" with the typical 5-step grieving process. I wondered if there was something wrong with me, but concluded that my process was just uncommon and different. That doesn't mean it was wrong. Different and uncommon can also be valid. MY reactions were part of MY grieving process, but that does not mean they were any more or less significant than anyone else's.
When I first received the call from the crime scene, I was shocked. You could say I was in the first stage, denial. I said, "What? Really? No, Dad can't be dead." Then, in a matter of minutes I concluded it must be true. I was stunned and didn't quite know what to do. I heard all the details and knew he had been murdered by a mentally ill neighbor, and somehow it all made sense. I moved right to the acceptance stage. I should have been angry, I should have bargained, I should have been depressed, but I wasn't.
I was, however, concerned about my grief response being "abnormal." I even felt slightly guilty. I had considered going to their home earlier that day, and decided against it. As selfish as it sounds, when I realized the gravity of what happened, I was thankful that at nine months pregnant I hadn't risked the life of my child by going over there when the mentally ill neighbor finally decided to take his action. I took comfort that my father was on his tractor doing what he loved until the day he died. He was a fearless man who always did what he wanted to do regardless of the outcome. Somehow, that resolution made me think he would be okay.
News media had blown up about this rare situation, a gold mine for their individual ratings that would keep people on their toes. They waited below the driveway the Monday after it happened. My poor brother thought he was doing the right thing and making Dad proud when he agreed to let them interview him. They cut and clipped the footage to suit what they liked and what would attract attention, and left a good chunk of my brother's story untold. If I was angry at anyone, it would have been the news media. Surprisingly, I wasn't angry at my father's murderer. He was a ticking time bomb. Sadly, my father just happened to be his victim. I didn't like it. I hated it, but I couldn't have my father back once he was gone. I only hoped that my surviving family would be kept safe by the criminal justice system's judgment of the perpetrator. What they did to him aside from that, I didn't care about.
My dad had over 500 people attend his funeral the week after the incident. Everyone was worried I would go into labor over the stress of the situation, but I knew better. Honestly, I just needed time to rest my feet, pee, and not be hugged by any more people I didn't know. My dad was gone, and nothing was bringing him back. I would miss him deeply, and I still think of him daily, but that didn't change the fact that he was gone. I was; however, glad when my friends showed up for support, and if anything, it helped just to see them. It helped to know they thought of me and us. They didn't have to say a word. Just seeing them and knowing they were there meant more than any word that was spoken.
I had hoped to give the same support in return. Instead, I've heard the statements mentioned earlier when they've noticed my arrival. I don't like to feel like I'm doing more harm than good by showing up. I don't want to be a reminder of bad death circumstances. I don't want to be the reason why ANYONE UNDERRATES their grief. I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE LOVED AND SUPPORTED. I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT YOU, YOUR FEELINGS, AND EXPERIENCES ARE VALID. Feel it, experience it, do what you need to do. Reach out, talk, or say nothing. Go through the five stage grief process, or don't. But, whatever you do, please do not lessen your grief for my sake. YOU DESERVE SO MUCH BETTER AND MORE THAN THAT! This is YOUR PURPOSEFUL AND MEANINGFUL PROCESS, and let NO ONE UNDERCUT or UNDERRATE it.