We don’t know exactly what day it was that my father died. It’s a long, sad story that I won’t get into here, but the point is that as a result, the entire month of February feels terribly melancholy.
We will resume our regularly scheduled programming next week, but as I prepare for the 11th anniversary of my father’s passing, I wanted to share some small bits of wisdom I’ve gathered along the way. If you’re experiencing any form of grief or loss, I hope these words will provide even a little bit of relief – if only just to know that you’re not alone.
Make Space for Grief
I used to push away my grief so I wouldn’t have to feel it. I’m good (maybe too good) at staying busy and keeping myself occupied. I’ve learned that the grief is going to find you no matter what, so it’s best to make some space for it. Sometimes that means carving out time to write or walk or listen to music. For me, it usually means looking through my father’s old hand written letters, or his photos, or driving by his house (which is now occupied by a new family that painted it a truly shocking shade of turquoise). Sometimes it means having a good cry (or scream) in my car. Figure out what works for you and claim the space you need.
Create a Ritual
Once a year, in February, my brother and I spend the entire day together. We visit the cemetery and stare at our father’s headstone that reads, “Beloved father and friend.” Sometimes it’s raining, and sometimes it’s bright and clear out. It feels brave and hard to visit him, so afterwards we always go for a hike, and treat ourselves to a really nice lunch. As part of our annual ritual, we started buying ourselves nice ceramics, one piece each year. Now we both have what we need, our stacks of plates and bowls marking the passage of time.
On my Dad’s birthday I like to cook his favorite meal for the kids (Swedish meatballs and fancy mac and cheese) and then toast his memory with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream cones (another of his great loves). These annual rituals provide a safe container, and some structure, for the grief that bubbles up each year. Make sure to create something customized and special for yourself. You might actually end up looking forward to these traditions as I do.
I used to shoo away any form of empathy related to my grief. I’m an “I’m fine!” kind of person, but slowly over the years I’ve learned to allow gestures of kindness in – in little bits. When I was tasked with rushing to coordinate my father’s funeral, Jordan lovingly offered to pick out the suit he would be buried in. I let him. I had no choice really, as that kind of decision felt not just unbearable, but paralyzing. His small gesture felt like a warm rescue blanket.
Recently my friend Naomi offered to find a beautiful stone for me to leave on my father’s headstone. “We’re sisters,” she said, when I told her through tears how touched I was. Grieving the loss of someone you love can make you feel like you’re drowning, and it can be hard to let other people in. Even if they don’t understand, or can’t begin to comprehend what you’re feeling, I’ve found that if you’re open to receiving it, people will surprise you by showing up in the most generous ways you can imagine. Do your best to let them.
Find Resources That Resonate
Over a decade ago, the only resources I could find were terribly sad local support groups and a handful of very heavy books. Since then I’ve discovered a collection of new, disruptive voices in the grief space that resonate for me much more. Among my favorites are Modern Loss, All There Is with Anderson Cooper, and the Ghost Stories podcast, all of which feature candid and refreshing conversations about loss.
March to Your Own Beat
When I lost my father, all the people had all of the advice: Keep busy. Slow down. Wait to clean out his house. Go through his things immediately. Read this bestselling book about depression. Join a suicide loss support group. Stay away from groups. Ultimately, I ignored all of the advice and did what I needed to do: A mix of staying busy, weekly therapy sessions, crying alone in the car, eating all the Ben and Jerry’s, hiking my father’s favorite trail, and confiding in a few very dear friends who commiserated and cried alongside me.
When it comes to grief the only 100% can’t fail advice I have is this: You do you. Your grief, and your grieving process, are going to be unique, so do your best to honor what you need when you need it. Here’s to being kind and patient with yourself throughout the process, however long it may take.
Sending love to any of you who are navigating through grief or loss of any kind.