1. Ask questions, but don’t pry. Let her come to you when she’s ready. Be open, but not demanding. If she’s not ready to talk about it, don’t pressure her.
2. Don’t compete with a ghost. Whether she lost her dad to death, abandonment, or just never felt like she had one to begin with, she’s not looking for you to fill that role. She’s looking for a partner, not a father figure.
3. Don’t try to fix her. First of all, that’s not your responsibility. And secondly, she’s not a thing to fix. Grief does not mean someone is broken.
4. Be understanding (even when it’s hard). You can’t ever fully comprehend what she feels (unless you yourself have also lost a father). This can be difficult because she might react to things you think seem totally normal or fine. Maybe she shuts down when she sees a father laughing with his daughter on his shoulders. You might notice when Father’s Day advertisements start rolling around she gets defensive. Grief is hard to explain. Impossible, sometimes. Do your best to understand this and be supportive. Even if she can’t tell you exactly what’s going on.
5. Don’t make jokes about ‘daddy issues’. This is only okay if she’s the one making the jokes. Humor is often a coping mechanism, but if you’re the one making comments it’s just going to make her feel distant from you and want to retreat.
6. NEVER compare. I’m not saying your dog dying wasn’t devastating. Loss of any kind can leave a permanent scar. But please be aware that comparing deaths or tragedies is, in general, a terrible idea. Even if you’re trying to make her feel better or like you somehow relate, just don’t. Every trauma is a singular experience. You accomplish nothing by trying to compare them.
7. Listen. Sometimes that’s all she wants.
8. Give her space if she needs it. We all grieve and process in different ways. Her wanting some time alone doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you or appreciate you. It just means she might want time to deal with stuff by herself.
9. Tell her you’re proud of her. Tell her you’re proud of the woman she is, how kind she is, how intelligent and funny she is. Tell her she’s someone others admire and list some of her best qualities. Tell her she’s amazing, and mean it.
10. Celebrate the good. Have fun together. Seriously! Just enjoy being in each other’s company. Go out on dates and be goofy together. Laugh way too loud out in public and watch people glare at you. Not every moment is going to be dripping in sadness. I promise.