I have just finished reading Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. My mother read it. I am making my husband read it and I am encouraging my friend who is going through a divorce to read it. I didn’t read Lean In – and that was a purposeful decision because I thought there was a lot of noise around that book and it became a catch phrase that I felt lost its meaning. I say that because I wasn’t reluctant to read Option B – I think Sheryl is incredible but why I think she is incredible is because of how she so elegantly writes about something that is absolutely devastating and destroying and crushing.
Since I wrote my first post for Bottle and Heels my father died. It has only been 9 months. Every day is hard. It might not appear to be hard. I get up, I get dressed, I smile, I go to work, I laugh, I make others laugh, I bring energy to rooms like I always have. But it is harder now and so it should be. Option B talks so beautifully about the emotions you go through when you lose someone – she writes honestly, brutally and truthfully about her experience. I am grateful for that because her words have made it easier for others to understand the aftermath and for families and individuals to communicate their feelings.
I talk about my father and his death openly. I don’t always cry when talking about the fact that he is dead – as brutal as that might sound, that is the fact. I cry when I think about my father and how I miss him. He was my number 1 fan and my biggest supporter (albeit silently). He was just a proud dad and I knew that. That is hard. It is hard not having that comfort that no matter how I feel, or what I am doing well (or badly) my Dad is no longer here to provide verbal comfort or physical comfort. There is a real truth to the daddy daughter relationship – that bond is deep and undeniable. I get now why my brother would say “I was the golden child”. I wasn’t necessarily, but to my father I probably was.
Since dad died I have struggled with my community. It hasn’t been easy. My expectation was that people would be there for me – without me needing to ask. Without me needing to tell them when and where. I am fortunate to have a large community – but even then I struggled with the support I got…or didn’t receive. I have expected that people would encourage me to cry, to be angry or allow me the opportunity to be depressed or deeply unhappy in their presence and for that to be okay. I have had good friends around me – let me acknowledge that. I have had a friend who messaged me every day whilst he was dying and during the days after his death just letting me talk about him and share memories. I have friends who raise glasses of red to my father all the time. I have a friend who messaged me when she dreamt of my father and woke up in tears. I work with a dear friend and anytime I am sad she lets me walk around the block with her. I have had a husband who has dealt well with my rollercoaster of emotions and has identified that I am angrier than I was before – and he gives me the space to be that way. My brother and I can laugh about some of dad’s funnier moments – but we still can’t really talk to each other about our grief. My mum has been living with me for the past 4 months and I know it has been hard for her – and every now and then she cries. She does that privately – and sometimes publicly. But mostly we grieve internally and privately.
That is what I am struggling with. I know that not many people my age have lost a parent. I know people who have. I am young enough to be lucky enough that the trials and tribulations that my friends and I have faced haven’t always been that dark or that awful. There are awful moments absolutely and what I now know and I hope I can share is what we can do in those moments of absolute darkness to love and support our friends.
I cannot lie. I am disappointed in friends. It has consumed me and it has made me really sad at times. But I also know that I haven’t always been honest with people and asked for help or support. I have swallowed feelings at times and I have sprinted through conversations about Dad so I didn’t cry.
The first thing I want to say is that people who are grieving need to feel that it is okay to grieve in whatever manner they grieve. I am a bubbly loud person and I enjoy a laugh and the good things in life. That doesn’t mean I am not suffering or desperately unhappy. It means I deal with grief in my own personal way. Do not assume that I am okay. Ask me still. I will be honest. But when you stop asking is when you appear to stop caring and you place that expectation on me that I am OKAY. Let people grieve in their own personal way – but never stop asking people if they are okay or how they are. And wait….wait for the real meaningful response. If you are a good friend, if you a genuine in your ask then you will get the real, personal answer.
Turn up. Whatever it is, however you feel, just turn up. There is no right and there is no wrong in these hard moments. Go to the funeral (for your friend’s sake – I appreciate this isn’t always possible – but when it is just go), ask to come around to their house with wine, ice cream or a box of tissues. Don’t even ask – just turn up and if they aren’t there leave everything at the front step. Send them flowers, chocolates, vouchers or just a card. But don’t hold back. Don’t let your thoughts rule the situation. It isn’t about you. The situation is greater than any words or any actions you do – in this moment and in the years after the moment it is just being there and turning up that matters.
Don’t over complicate it. Keep it simple. It will always be the simple things that I remember as well. People who wrote me a card, people who didn’t just post on facebook but took the time to message me, people who called (even if I didn’t answer), people who just message to say “thinking about you”, my colleague who sent my mother flowers 1 month after dad’s death just to let her know that he was STILL thinking about her – he had met her once. Do not box me in or assume anything. There is no amount of time between Dad’s death that will make it easier or less present for me. That person has gone in my life and naturally there is a gaping hole in my life. So 9 months, 2 years, 20 years I will always miss him. Every memory of my dad is clearer than it was when he was alive. Everything thing that I knew he loved is even more present in my days. I see him in everything – when previously I could just see him. There is no getting over it…there is simply taking steps forward in my days knowing I have his spirit with me. But it might get easier to talk about him, and easier to enjoy the memories – but never just assume that I am done grieving.
What I now know allows me and equips me to be a better friend in these kinds of moments. The community you surround yourself with his important and that community might not have experienced such a loss before. I have learnt that I needed to let people in and be honest with them and that I can’t expect everyone to know how to care for me in the worst time I have ever experienced. But to those of you who are part of a community out there and you know someone is struggling, dealing with loss or just a bit lost, my challenge to you all is be genuine in every interaction and importantly – just turn up. Actions speak volumes and simple things matter.