(Originally posted on 1st October 2019)
On 7th March 2019, at 7.15pm, my world fell apart. My dearly beloved father passed away in my mother’s arms after a battle with leukaemia and sepsis.
For a long time, I kept thinking he would come in from the garden, I would hear his walking stick clicking on the kitchen floor or hear him say “Alright, Boos?” (“Booboos” was his nickname for me), all I have left now are a bunch full of sentimental items, and memories.
One of the most profound things that I experienced in the weeks after my father’s passing was how often I heard the words “I remember when my grandmother/grandfather died..”. I don’t mean this personally and I am deeply sorry for your loss, but if you consider them as words of condolence at a very difficult time for me, please don’t. When someone is grieving someone closer, like a parent or a sibling (but not on par to a partner or a child), then the passing of your grandparents doesn’t compare to our pain, truly.
All of my grandparents are dead, so yes, absolutely I can say this. My grandparents on my Dad’s side were more or less estranged, but my grandfather on my mother’s side died 1st April 2005 from lung cancer and my grandmother died 5th December 2011 from Alzheimer’s Disease, both of whom I was very close to. Losing a grandparent hurts, but losing your parent is like losing a limb.
I fully get that you have a tonne of well-meaning advice and support to offer, I appreciate that and so will the next person, but if you start your emotional support with “I remember when my grandmother died..” then your advice and support immediately becomes pretty trivial to us. After all, a grandparent is not the same as a parent. Grandparents are usually pretty old when they die, my Dad was only 60.
Maybe there is is a hint of jealousy? I don’t know. Sometimes when I’ve heard these words of so-called support, I have wanted to shout at people “yes but your Dad is still alive!” . It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, really. Well-meaning advice that fails to grasp the reality of the situation- your Dad is quite possibly still alive and my Dad is….umm… dead.
If your Dad is dead, or if you know someone my age (a tender 31) who’s Dad (or Mum) is dead, these are the people I will listen to. If your Dad is dead, tell me about the passing of your Dad. Tell me know you healed, what you find helped, tell me all of it because I haven’t found a way forward yet for me. When a parent dies, it’s like a part of you is missing, when my Dad died, one of my first thoughts was “now who the f**k am I going to wind up?”. Dad and I used to banter all the time, so with his passing, I have nobody really that I can constantly jibe at. I don’t just grieve my Dad, I grieve what we shared and I grieve the part of me that no longer gets used, the part of me that now feels redundant and like it, too, is dying. Grief is so much more than just missing a person, a loss changes everything,
If your parents are both alive and the only support you have to offer is from the passing of a distant relative or a friend, my best advice is to be there and maybe just don’t say anything. Offer practical and emotional support but maybe don’t recall your stories unless asked. Sometimes, you telling us about the memories of your grandparents’ passing and the stories that go with will do far more to hinder than they ever will to help.
With all my love, hugs and support in the terrible pain that unites us all eventually.
Your good friend, Helen xx