Good Grief, good friend!

December 06 2013

Grief. I knew I would write about this the day I signed up.

Despite the fact that 100% of people die, our culture ignores death or grief. When my father died suddenly at 59, I had no fucking clue how to be in this new world *without* him and *with* grief. At first there were lots of people, cards, flowers. Then everyone went back to their lives… and utter loneliness set in. I felt deserted, but now I understand that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what to do.

So here’s some “What to Do’s” post-funeral to about a year later, the darkest time, next you find your friend in grief:

----- Listen -----
You can’t fill my void with words. Don’t tell me he’s in a better place, god has a plan, or any other cliché that sounds appropriate but really minimalizes my current, very real experience. He died. And no, this is not like the time your great-aunt died when you were three. Even the true stuff like ‘time heals’ doesn’t feel good to hear yet. You can simply say, “I don’t know what to say” and just be there. We can sit in silence. Or I probably have lots to say as I work through this: all kinds of sad, weird, dark, crazy, angry, contradictory, random stuff. Just be there, listen to me.

----- Reach out -----
Don’t wait for me to reach out to you. Call me, when I’m lying in the depths of devastation and meaninglessness, it’s easier to answer the phone than to find one, figure out who to dial, actually do it, and hope they will answer. Randomly stop by, and bring a funny movie (and food!). Be prepared to walk away without hurt feelings if I just want to be alone (leave the food). Likely I’ll need the company and the relief. Just the fact you checked in on me makes me a tiny bit less alone.

But you have to reach out a lot, and let me say no. Don’t expect me to be ready to share my pain with you when you’re ready to be available to me. I might finally be feeling good for a few precious moments, don’t force me into a conversation about “how I’m doing with all ‘that’” just because you have an extra ten today and want to feel like a good friend.

----- Give -----
Do the little things for me. I need practical help. Whether I am accepting it or not, my life goes on and I need to eat, fulfill some responsibilities, and take care of myself. The grocery store is unbelievably overwhelming. Why are there seven different kinds of EVERYTHING and which to choose? I can’t. It’s meaningless. Everything is meaningless. Why eat? Deliver me lunches, go grocery shopping for me, come fix me dinner, help me clean my space, take me on walks. I won’t think ask you for these things, but I need them.

It takes time. There’s no correct process or timescale. For me, years have passed and I’m happy and joyful again. I’m forever grateful to the few really good friends who didn’t disappear once the funeral ended. For the rest of my life I’ll miss my dad; what I like best now is reminiscing with family and old friends about him. The stories help him not feel so permanently far away. But he is, he died, and there’s no use ignoring death or minimalizing grief. Talk about it, be there, listen, reach out, give - don’t disappear. Love.

Taylor Hesselgrave
Portland, OR
[email protected]

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