When a Friend Loses a Parent

I’m going to warn you – I’ve been told that losing a parent can leave you on an emotional rollercoaster.  I seem to have been stuck in “angry” for quite some time now.  I mean this blog post with all due respect and to truly offer some insight on how to navigate the waters of a friend in mourning.

What NOT to do:

  1. Compare the loss to that of a grandparent (unless the grandparent acted as a parent to you).  I recognize that it still hurts to lose a grandparent (I’ve lost them all) but it is SO MUCH different to lose a parent.  Trust me.  The pain is much different and if you’re an adult, you will also be dealing with the closing of an estate.  IT IS SO MUCH DIFFERENT.
  2. Say “you are in my thoughts and prayers“.  I’m totally guilty of saying this myself (although I usually just say “thoughts” since I’m not the praying kind) but nearly 80% of the correspondence you will receive from well meaning people will be that very statement.  You will come to hate it.  When one of my friends loses a parent, I will say (or write) to them:  “Damn.  That really sucks.  Let’s go drink.”  I also welcomed messages with some comic relief.
  3. Avoid them.  I know it is hard to reach out to someone when you know they’re in pain.  You don’t know what to say (especially if you’ve never been in that position before) and you’re just sort of concerned about bothering them.  Bother them.  Call them.  While I didn’t necessarily want to talk to EVERYONE after my dad died, I was truly touched by the people that called me.  If I didn’t want to talk, I’d let it go to voicemail.  But just the act of calling was truly touching.  While texts, emails and cards are also acceptable, I will tell you that a phone call meant so much more to me.  And depending on the level of your relationship, Tweets and Facebook messages are also nice (but reserved for internet friends and not so close acquaintances).
  4. Say “let me know if there is anything I can do“.  Don’t put the onus on ther mourner.  Just say, “hey – when are you around this week?  I’m bringing dinner over.” or “I’d like to watch your child this week so you can [do whatever].  What day is good for you?”  Offer something.  In my case, I needed people to visit my mom and I’ve had some very good friends do so.  I’ve also had some nice offers for lunch and a movie.  These are all things appreciated!  Don’t make the mourner reach out to you – reach out to them!

And this is something that won’t necessarily happen to everyone, but if your friend is feeling extreme guilt or sadness for not being around when their parent died?  Don’t…

5.  Say they waited until you left to die.  Maybe this brings comfort to some but it just made me angry.  My dad died of a ruptured aneurism.  He didn’t will himself to live long enough for me to leave the hospital.  It was just coincidental that it ruptured after I left.  Please stop saying it.

What you SHOULD do:

  1. Go to the funeral service.  Again, the days leading up to my dad’s service were a bit tough for me.  I didn’t really want to see or talk to anyone the day of and sort of dreaded it.  But when I was at the service?  I was really appreciative of the people that came.  I had friends that I hadn’t seen in a VERY long time show up.  Friends that I don’t keep in regular contact with showed up.  Friends that drove over an hour (in some cases 2 hours) showed up.  Granted, there are situations where you can’t come (like you’re away on vacation or live in another country – I totally understand) but if you’re in the area, make an effort to go.
  2. Take them out.  I’ve gone out with a few friends since my dad died and the outings, no matter how small, have offered me a great relief.
  3. Check in with them post-funeral.  I had a friend point this out when she called… she said she knew that a lot of people will offer support the days following a death and up until the funeral but then will drop off afterwards.  Don’t do that.  Stick around!  You don’t have to call all the time but it is still nice to hear from friends.

So this is just my list.  I’m sure lists vary by person.  I had a good friend tell me that she wasn’t sure how to approach me during this time.  I admit that I can be a bit standoffish when it comes to feelings.  I tend to close myself off from people when I’m upset.  So with that said, I am trying to be understanding of friends that didn’t really reach out.  Right now I am so incredibly disappointed in them and have written them off – but is that just my roller coaster parked in anger talking?

These posts will be more upbeat going forward.  I’m not mopey all the time (although I still tend to cry when I look at photos of my dad).  I may also post some helpful tips on closing an estate because it is an awful process.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “When a Friend Loses a Parent

  1. First, you have every right to be as mopey as you want/need – upbeat is great, if that’s where you are, but continuing mopiness (mopeyness?) is also, well, not “great” but … “ok” ? ;)

    Second, having not lost either of my parents, I know I have no clue what you are going through… But the advice for either when it happens (not for a long time, please!) or for being a friend to someone it is happening to is much appreciated – because this is definitely one of those times when “I don’t know what to say/do/etc” definitely applies (for me) – so your advice is being taken to heart!

  2. kristin

    I think a lot of the sentiments that people offer, although well-meaning of course, are just as much to help people feel as though maybe they can say the one thing that will offer you comfort or help you through this. I think it’s ok to just admit that “I don’t know what to say but I will listen to you vent/talk/cry/reminisce.”

  3. I think these things are great advice. I would so take you for a drink if I lived on the East Coast! The other is not to expect people to rush through their grief just because it might make you uncomfortable. I always try to tell people to take their time for that reason. So feel angry as long as you need to–grieve the way you need to. That shit sucks, and you don’t have to act like it doesn’t.
    Something related on the flip side is when someone doesn’t die of something and someone says it’s because they had the “will to live.” Really? So all those other people didn’t want to live??? AGH! It makes me NUTS.
    Your internet pals are here for you.

  4. This is so helpful. Having never been through this, I appreciate learning what is helpful and what isn’t. Another friend of mine lost her father very recently, as well, and I tried my best to think about the best ways to support her. Honestly, I know it’s completely different, but I thought a lot about what I needed (and didn’t need) after my miscarriage. I offered concrete things instead of a generic “let me know what I can do,” though I do admit I may have said “I’m thinking about you” at some point. Mostly though I said “that fucking sucks.”

    And to you I say, this fucking sucks, and I so wish we lived in the same state so I could take you out!

  5. Oh my god, thank you for this list. I NEVER know what to say or do when someone I know has lost a loved one, and I’m pretty sure that everything that comes from my mouth is both awkward and inappropriate.

    In vaguely related news, does Hallmark make a “Well, that fucking blows cock,” greeting card? Because they should.

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