Have you ever lost someone you love?
The worst day of my life happened three years ago today. For the past three years, I’ve shared my thoughts about death to help prepare people for it (as much as anyone can prepare) and to offer comfort. To say I was ill-prepared–and remain poorly equipped–would be an understatement. I hope that by sharing my experiences, people feel more comfortable discussing death before and after it happens and that perhaps people find validation of their own emotions.
I often think back to what was. I look out the window with excitement and see my father coming home after work. I feel him hug me as he walks in the door. “How is my #1 guy?” he would ask. I see him lifting me on his shoulders, bringing home bags of pretzels, and reading to me in his favorite chair. I see him cheering for me from the little league bleachers, teaching me how to drive, and reading my work and smiling with approval. I see the look of gratitude on his face when I would surprise him with something he needed. I see him guiding me during times of need, laughing as he tells stories and the other way around. Sadly, these memories don’t make me feel good as people had told me they would. They only create sadness and longing. I try not to think of them for that reason. I still can’t even look at photos of my father because it’s too painful.
Sometimes I see my father in my dreams, and we’re together again. These are incredible moments. Since I’m not awake, it feels real. These have been the best moments for me. Even after I wake up, it feels good because I felt like we spent time together.
Three years later, it’s still surreal. Sometimes I find myself reliving that day. We were laughing, and a few hours later, he was gone. No notice. No goodbyes. That was it. I felt like everything that was alive in me died that day. The pain remains. You may ask how you will go on if you experience tragic loss. I’ve found the sun rises and the days begin. Time doesn’t stop for tragedy.
More than anything else, I miss the opportunity to be kind to my father, to do nice things for him, to surprise him, and to pay him back for the lifetime of love he shared with me. That brought me the greatest joy–to give back to him for being such a good father. Time ran out. In Things to Do For People You Love Before They Die, I offer some advice you may find helpful before you lose someone you love. Before time runs out.
If you’re faced with the important task of providing support to a friend or family member who lost someone they love, here are a few tips that may be helpful:
1. Avoid using their loss to talk about your own. Keep the focus on the person grieving.
2. Be a good listener.
3. Avoid telling someone how the lost loved one would want them to feel.
4. Avoid telling someone you understand. Everyone’s experiences with grief differ. Validate their feelings. There is no wrong way to feel sad.
5. Be present. Check in regularly. Don’t assume someone is all right. Grief can last forever–and even get worse.
6. Don’t say things like, “Well, at least you had a lot of time together.”
7. Avoid telling people the person they lost is now in a better place unless you’re certain they believe that.
On my night table, I have my father’s watch. He wore it every day of my life. It reminds me of the time we spent together and inspires me to use the time I have left to help make the world a more humane place.
The pain of loss never ends. The yearning never ends. But good parenting never ends. And love never ends.