On the first Saturday of August, I woke up to a perfectly sunny sky and the news that my vibrant, youthful dad had abruptly passed away of a heart attack in the middle of his kitchen. There are lots of things to be said about the days immediately following that, but to put it lightly, it was the worst. There was nothing I could do to bring my dad back no matter how much I wished for it, and on top of it, I suddenly developed a slew of new responsibilities I never knew existed. As his only child, I was the final decision-maker for everything that happened to his remains, his personal possessions and the plans for his funeral. Luckily for me, several family members stepped in to help me out, but most every plan or legal document needed my signature to move forward, and that was scary. It was like a dark comedy film come to life.
When the days-long memorial for him began, I also became responsible for taking on the role of hostess-turned-sounding-board to my dad’s many friends and family members who turned up from all over the country. The visitation for my father was eight hours long, and it turned into some kind of cross between a cocktail party and a confessional. The packed room was alive and full of laughter like I’d never seen in a funeral home before, but whenever I had any downtime, people approached me with their most burning thoughts and memories about my dad or my family, as if I somehow had the answers to all the questions a sudden death leaves behind. But beyond the revolving door of guests’ navel-gazing, I also received a wonderful gift — endless advice about grief from friends and acquaintances who had lost someone close to them. I’m barely beginning to process my dad’s absence, so I’m hardly any kind of expert on what grief looks like, but here are the tidbits of advice that I have received so far from people who have been there. If you’re grieving too, take whatever resonates with you and leave the rest. We’ll all get through this together.
1. Be kind to yourself. Whatever you’re feeling is okay.
2. The pain of his absence will never go away, but it will get easier in time.
3. Just because we can’t understand the timing of life doesn’t mean things don’t happen for a reason.
4. Take comfort in how many people fill the room at a person’s funeral. My father’s visitation had the parking lot so overflowing with cars that people were forced to park on the grass just to get into the funeral home. It was a comfort to see how many people he connected with and how meaningful his life was.
5. Life ebbs and flows, and you will come back around to a happier time again, no matter how impossible it seems.
6. The rituals of grieving may seem kind of stupid, but they really do help. Funerals are weird. Lots of even more bizarre rituals come with them — corny photo slideshows with emotional background music, sitting around and talking about someone who isn’t here anymore, putting people in the ground — and they can all feel kind of formulaic and out of alignment with the actual person you lost. But there’s a reason we’ve been going through these same motions for so many years, and when they’re all over with, you might find yourself with more closure than you expected.
7. The first year is the hardest.
8. This loss will change how you see things. It might make it tough for you to make future plans for fear of somebody else up and vanishing out of your life, but it also might make it really hard for you to care about the gossip, petty jealousies, and other little stressors you once worried over. Life is so very short, after all.
9. The person you’ve lost will let you know they’re okay. Obviously, we all have our different beliefs about what happens after death, but many, many people approached me privately and told me this. The story was very similar from each person — after they lost someone close to them, that person turned up, either in a dream or by some other waking means, to let them know that wherever they are since passing away, they’re happy there. This came from both very secular and very religious folks. I’m clearly no expert on this stuff, but it was cool to hear.
10. Life goes on. According to what people tell me, anyway. I’m still trying to figure out how I’m supposed to just continue on like normal. One thing I’ve learned in life is that there are times when we feel like we can’t keep going, yet even as we say those words, we’re doing exactly that.
11. Devote whatever time you have in this life to loving everyone around you the best that you can.
[Image via Shutterstock]