1. People might say all the wrong things.
You can’t blame them. Even when people are at their most empathetic, they are unknowingly offensive.
Five minutes after my father had passed away, I walked down the hospital corridor to go get some water, to get away from the whole thing and pretend it wasn’t real, to talk to my sister – in my blurry delirium, who even knows why. I was just walking. Wandering.
As I made my way back to my Dad’s bedside, a nurse pulled me aside.
“I’m a friend of your Aunt,” she says.
“Oh,” I say.
“I know how you feel. I lost my grandfather six months ago. Cancer is an awful thing.”
My Dad just died. Five feet away from where we are standing, talking right now. In fact, his lifeless body is still right there. And someone has the audacity to claim she knows how I feel? Hell, even I don’t know how I feel.
What I think is: “Fuck you.”
What I say is: “Thank you.”
People confuse the terms “empathy” and “sympathy.” Empathy is feeling someone’s sorrow because you’ve gone through the exact same experience. Sympathy is feeling for someone but not being able to relate.
Please don’t say “I know how you feel” – unless you lost your hero, too. And even then – maybe, just …..don’t?
2. You might have a film reel forever inside your head.
If you’ve ever gotten “that” phone call, if you’ve ever been told to “call all your loved ones and tell them to come right now,” if you’ve ever had what you thought was an under-control situation take a major turn for the worse – you might be familiar with this feeling.
As daughters we grow up assuming our Dads are the pillars of strength. The epitome of a “man.” They are our heroes.
To walk in on them — all of a sudden — during their very last breaths of life… It shifts and shakes up everything you thought you knew about the world.
They’re not supposed to be like this. Ever. Your Dad is supposed to be invincible. He slays the monsters in the closet. He tucks you in too tight at night. He defends you with the schoolyard bullies. This is not him.
And suddenly you feel uncomfortable. Vulnerable. Fragile.
The image of them in this state plagues you every morning wake up. Every late night dream.
It replays like a horror movie in your head. Over. And over. And Over.
And you feel just as vulnerable. And just as broken. And just as horrified. Every. Single. Time.
3. Your mother’s sadness might break your heart.
As I write this, people are marrying at a later age and staying together for a shorter period of time. But in any lifetime, a happy marriage of 40+ years is a feat.
Most widows now have spent their twenties (and maybe even teens) with their spouse. Those are crucial, formative, coming-of-age years. They’ve shared every milestone together. They’ve grown together. They’ve shared every single “first.”
My parents met when my Mom was 23. They saw each other every single day after that. For forty-two years. Forty-two years.
When your Dad dies, a really big part of your Mom will go, too. She might feel incomplete. There will be a huge piece of her that is missing. A piece that you can’t ever, ever replace.
And it will absolutely break your heart.
4. You might be angry.
You might be angry indeed. You might hate the world. If you’re spiritual, you might curse the greater power who took your Dad away from you.
You will despise every soul – stranger or friend – who has a living father. You will despise them even more if they are rude towards their Dads and you will want to somehow knock some sense into them.
Your job might make you interact with happy families and you will have to smile at them and pretend you aren’t jealous.
At the very peak of this, you might encounter a downright miserable soul who seems to have a problem with everything and you will silently wonder: “How are you alive, and my Dad isn’t?!” You’ll disgust yourself with this thought as soon as you think it.
You’ll also be angry at forces you can’t identify. You’ll try to take this unchanneled, unexplained anger out on spouses, friends – you name it.
But don’t do this. This is so toxic. And your Dad wouldn’t want it. At all.
5. You might fight with your siblings.
Everybody will have a different take on how things should go. And everybody is grieving in a totally different way.
Sometimes, after a death, siblings might fight over possessions. “He left this to ME?” etc etc. Don’t let this materialism consume you. Cut the bullshit and don’t be selfish sibling twats.
Things are merely things. The memories are everything.
6. You might be thrust into adulthood.
All of a sudden, shit gets real. You might be asked to become a Power of Attorney for your Mom. Or for your parents’ estate. If you’re relatively young, this might seem a bit too much to bear, all things considered.
But rest assured your Dad’s death will cause your Mom to get legalities in order, pending her own death. (Did that make you shudder a bit? Me too.)
7. You might destroy yourself with ‘what ifs.’
Please don’t do this, if you can help it. The past is the past, and what happened happened.
Some people have a tendency to go back and say “If we had done this…. Then….”
This adds nothing to the grieving process. In fact it only complicates the grief because it leads to guilt on the part of the griever.
You can never go back. You did everything you could. Whatever was best for your father. Always.
Don’t think anything different, because you know in your heart it is the truth.
8. You might become your own handyman.
One legacy your Dad might have lent to you is his handiness. My Dad happened to be an electrician, though he was a bit of a “jack of all trades.”
For the jobs I wish I could call him for now – hanging a heavy metal mirror, changing a light fixture – I miss his expertise as much as I miss his presence.
You will learn a lot (or learn to lean on people a lot ) and your Dad will be proud.
If you ask for a “Robinson screwdriver” or anytime you use a power tool, your Dad might be winking at you from the clouds.
9. Holidays might suck.
In the first year or so after you lose your Dad, people might tell you that the holidays “Are a time to remember your loved one.”
But you really don’t need this reminder – you remember them every single second of every single day.
Holidays will suck, period. And some people’s advice on getting through the holidays might suck even more.
“Light a candle for your loved one,” they’ll recommend. “Start a new tradition this year,” they’ll say.
When the truth is: You hate candles. You don’t want new traditions. You miss the old way. You miss how things were. There is an empty seat at the table this year and a tremendous void in your heart and you want them both filled.
10. You might be okay.
You might find yourself thinking about what fatherly love is all about. You might see babies and you might think about how your father held you when you were that small. And you might realize the dedication and sacrifice that goes into every human life. (And the countless sacrifices he undoubtedly made for you.)
You might finally realize the preciousness of life. I mean, you always did, right?
Only now, much more so.
You might learn that time does (or at least tries to) heal everything.
You might come out of this cynical, angry, depressed, beaten, and broken.
Or: You might triumph over the heartbreak and come out with a completely revitalized respective, a new lust for life and a new, unparalleled appreciation for family. Maybe you always knew it. But maybe now, you know.
You might be able to fake quite a few smiles, successfully.
You might inherent your father’s strength, and with that, you might be okay.
You just might.