Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lessons in grief.

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.


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  1. Thanks for putting this out there. It's so true that sometimes until you've experienced something it's hard to know how to respond. This really helps. Love you guys and am continuing to pray for you guys as you figure out life without dad. xo

  2. Katie- this is so true. I have endured both losing my father (very tragically) and suffering a miscarriage all in a matter of months. Sometimes just an acknowledgement of the situation brings comfort. What helped my family most when we lost my dad were the friends and family that came over and just took the lead. They cleaned the kitchen, organized all of the food we had received, took phone calls, cleaned up, etc without us having to reach out or direct. In a time like that i felt like even the simplest of decisions, like where to store extra food, were extremely difficult to make. Now that i have gone through both of those situations, both unique in their own way, they have made me a more compassionate person. I can say i know what it feels like to go through a loss of that kind. And i know what can bring comfort in a time like that. I have also learned that after all has settled and the services are over and things calm down- those can be the hardest times for the family, i know it was for mine. When everyone stopped reaching out and checking on us, and life just went on. That time was just as hard if not harder than when we lost my dad. I know my losses have changed me in so many ways, please know that everyday gets a little bit easier. Prayers for you and your family during this time and for the time to come.

  3. I couldn't agree with you more. My brother passed away 8 years ago and I remember people texting us or facebooking us and all I could think of was seriously?!?! At least call so I can hear a voice. Or send food or coffee or even just stop by and offer a helping hand. Losing someone is never easy, but it is also hard for the friends of those who lost because sometimes they feel helpless, I do know that. But like you said we all learn from situations and how we would do things differently from that point forward. A parent, a sibling, a matter who has passed having that human to human contact like you said is a hug. It is that extra little something that shows the person truly cares. Thank you for sharing this. I know no words take away the pain. And I haven't lost a parent...but I am truly sorry for you and your husband and the family. It is hard. Just grieve like you need to and when you need to. From experience never let his memory fade, talk about him, share stories to your little ones. We talk about my brother often and it helps. :)

  4. I completely agree with the fact that sometimes it seems hard to figure out what to do. As you said, you think they need space, when really, they just need to know you are thinking of them, whether it's a card/food/etc.. it's hard to determine. I also see how today people think a text/FB msg seems personal, when it's really not (in some cases it's fine, as you said depending who it is) Actions speak louder then words, and sometimes we really need that. Unfortunately, it is not until we experience events (good or bad) that we then know how to react to those situations in the future. Nice post, makes you think how you can be there for people in the future if something were to happen, good or bad.

  5. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for writing this. I felt all of these things when my MIL died. Now, if a friend loses someone, I will be immediately dropping off food, as that's what helped me the most. You really learn who your true friends are when you lose someone you love.

  6. It is so nice that you and your husband have each other in this difficult time and are being loving and supportive. When my dad died my nom's best friends were there at the ready literally at her bed side hours after he passed. One deemed herself in charge of "food and phone." Her humor and presence remain such a calming relief in my memory.
    You say that you notice that time is helping to heal. I just wanted to warn you that anniversaries are tough. I found especially each month up until 6 months and then annually. Still, 13 years later I am a wreck all day. And still my friends remember. It makes me feel so loved and blessed because I make a point not to post anything on Facebook about it because that is just not me.
    I can tell, though that your kind heart will help you and your husband through the tough times. Seems like you have great support too.

  7. This spoke volumes to me...even with my brother being sick over the past few weeks, I felt the presence of all of those people who TRULY wanted to be of help and who were truly praying for us. And like you said, missed the presence of those who should've been.

    This makes me look at grieving so much differently...makes me want to really reach out to those hurting and not just be a text message in a phone. You always write in a way that gives me a different perspective on something. Thanks for that!

  8. DAMN. I'm so sorry. I'm the person who was slow in responding, and I didn't even think of it from this perspective.

    Very well written, and I'm so very sorry.

  9. Jumping in and just doing something for the friend or family member who lost someone really is a gift of love. It's so incredibly tough and there are no words to help. I don't wish it for anyone.

  10. this was amazing and convicting and encouraging on all levels katie.. thank you for putting it into words in such loving way... love you!

  11. I missed the opportunity to say how sorry I was to hear about the loss of Declan's dad. I'm sorry. I know that wasn't what you were going for in this post but I'm gonna take the moment to say it. I will keep you guys in my prayers and for the rest of your family too.

    I liked the part where you said to not worry about being overwhelming or saying the wrong thing, that in the end someone hurting just needs the support. Good words and thoughts. Thank you for sharing.

  12. This post was incredible. I lost my father 5 years ago on Thursday and I'm not going to lie... it still hurts. But even now, I can still remember who was there at the service. Who cared to even send their condolences.

    Thank you so much for writing this post and for explaining your grief so eloquently. I'm so sorry for you and your sweet family's loss. I am still awkward at what to say. I'm much better at just giving hugs... so, random internet hug?

  13. Yesterday, I found out that someone very close to me had a miscarriage. I sent her a text and said I didn't want to bug her so I didn't call but if she wanted to talk, I was here. And she called me immediately. This post, though, made me realize the answer to "hmmm, should I send a card or some flowers?"
    Thanks, friend!

  14. There's so much truth in this post! After my mom died I got countless offers that I never took people up on. I was too emotionally exhausted to be quite honest. I also didn't want to bother anyone or inconvenience anyone. Sure they offered, but was it just the standard response? Something everyone says?

    The people who just showed up on my doorstep with dinner or made me get out of the house when it's maybe the last thing I wanted to do no matter how much I needed it, those are the things I remember most.

    Hope your family is doing well and starting to heal. The pain often hits at the most random of times, but as each day goes by it happens less and less. Hugs friend.

  15. This is an excellent post about this, Katie. I have yet to lose someone very close to me and it IS so hard to know what to say and do at the time. You gave me a lot to think about. And I appreciate your perspective and honesty.

    And I am so sorry that you had to write about this from experience.


  16. i agree on so many levels. when my father passed 3 years ago and I spoke at his service, i remember getting up to speak and looking out over the church and seeing for the first time the number of people who showed up. It was insane. I remember seeing a few faces in the crowd and thinking to myself WOW look who showed up. And while people that were there may not have known my father, they knew my mother, my sister, my brothers or me. and that was the nicest feeling. the way that you described the days between the death and the service is accurate. you are in a fog, days smoosh together and things become blurred. You become a robot and your brain almost becomes mush. you simply act and do and thinking becomes fuzzy. I remember those days all too clearly. And something that surprised me was how long it took to really feel that he was gone. I was privileged enough to be at my father's bedside and hold his hand as he took his final breath so I KNEW that he was gone. But it was like there was a part of me that had not accepted it yet. that takes time. sorry for rambling... bottom line is I agree with you. you can be empathetic to people who have experienced things that you haven't until it happens to you.

  17. Beautifully written. And so sadly true. I lost my dad a year ago and know exactly what you're talking about. The grief is something you will never understand until you've experienced it for yourself. And the pain is something I still live with daily. I pray that I can be a better friend to others who are hurting because of what I've been through.

  18. Yes, this. With the various forms of grief that me and my family have gone through over the last 2 years from a loss of a parent to the loss of our home, This. Thank you for writing these words that I have been unable to write myself.

  19. After one of my miscarriages, I put the phone on silent and ignored all the texts. My best friend didn't even try to text. She showed up, walked into my room, put on a Friends DVD and then crawled into my bed with me. She never said a word, she just sat there with me. IT was the best thing anyone could do. Same friend showed up when my Grandma died, picked up my kid and took her to the park for a few hours so I could get a break. I so wish I was closer to you and could have done more. Know you guys were, and still are, in my prayers. Love you girl.

  20. What a beautiful post! I so agree; these things became apparent to me after my husband's heart attack last fall. Even when an illness occurs, it is nice to have these things happen as well. Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts on this subject.