It's been a little over 3 weeks since Declan's dad passed away. At first you feel like you can't breathe. Then, like everyone told us who's been there-every day the pain softens a little bit. It's not easy, but it softens. His presence is missing, and I know my husband misses his dad desperately. He was truly one of a kind.
It's like any other tragic event, though--that it's hard to put yourself in that place, feel the pain, understand the needs, and truly feel for someone unless you've been there, or in a situation close to it. You see, before I suffered with my miscarriage, I could feel sad for someone who miscarried, but the truth is--I could not truly empathize. I could not put my feet in their shoes and understand. I couldn't really walk that walk with them. Once I experienced that pain myself, even though I wish I hadn't at the time, I could now fully understand.
Having been through something hard like losing a parent, and walking this road with my husband (and he was a father figure to me, too), I now really get it. I understand the needs of someone going through grief of this kind. What they need from others. How to love them well.
It actually made me ache in pain to think about times people around me have lost someone and I've not responded in some way. Maybe we didn't reach out. Even if silently, unobtrusively, really. Because having gone through this as a family, it's so fresh on our mind, and we realized what a blessing it was when people did reach out.
Even in the simplest, most practical ways.
See, no one was looking to hear the perfect words. There are no perfect words to say after such a massive loss. Because obviously nothing can replace that hole. But an I love you and I can't stop praying for you is nice. I will admit that the tangible things are what stuck with us all most. And afterwards, those are the things that made us as a family feel loved in a time that was so hard for us.
A card with a thoughtful note, a memory even, of his dad. Flowers. Fresh cookies or bread. A hot meal (this spoke volumes, actually). Frozen food for later. People who stepped up to watch my children and truly wanted to/insisted. A gift card or something to use for now or later or to help with funeral preparations/costs.
Truthfully, those things felt like getting a giant hug. Those things were tangible reminders that we were cared enough about to go the extra mile for. That even though life is moving on all around us, and your life is too---you know that ours is not. Ours has stood still and life is a blur in those immediate grieving moments.
What I learned from this, having just gone through it, is to be FAST in my response when I learn of someone's loss. That whether you think they need space or not, it's still better to just do something. Because the truth is, when everyone thinks that you need space (which, you may or may not depending on the person/family), then nothing happens for days, and in creep the feelings of rejection and being unloved, and does anyone even care that our world was just turned upside down?
I learned that, while a text or facebook message is nice, it might have jaded our societies way of reaching out a little bit. We now think that's a completely appropriate form of sending our condolences. Don't get me wrong, for some level of friendship/acquaintances, it might be totally appropriate. For others, not as much. I learned that it does take away that human to human touch and connection though, and the extra effort that it takes to mail a card and write a real note.
I learned that in grief, even though you've had 90820938 text messages that say let me know if you need anything, you will not have the emotional capacity TO reach out if you need anything. That for a close relationship, the best thing to just do is just respond, fast. Drop off the meal at their door without asking. Insist on taking the kids. Have food delivered for the family while they're all together grieving. Something.
The truth is, the days or week(s) between the death and the funeral are hard. Life is completely turned upside down. Normal life stuff stops. You're in this weird, awful fog but yet having to think clearly enough to plan a meaningful service. There's no time to grocery shop. You're driving back and forth to be with family multiple times a day. Your house is a complete and utter wreck, your fridge is empty. You're just numbly going through your days trying to wrap your head around what just happened. How to move forward.
I feel bad that I know I've failed when people close to me have lost someone they dearly loved. I KNOW WE HAVE. Declan and I have talked about this multiple times. How we feel like jerks for not realizing the emotional capacity of losing (a parent), and how differently we'll respond now, having been there and knowing the depths of the pain. That little extra touch of we're thinking of you and taking time out of our day to let you know that goes a long way.
I'll also add that for days we discussed the service, who showed up, who we felt were missing, etc. It spoke volumes to us when someone came because they loved us enough to show their support, whether they knew his dad or not.
If anything, I'm grateful we learned how to love others better through such hard loss, to know what spoke to our hearts, what made us truly feel loved and cared about.