The story originally appeared on The Mighty.
I was 40 years old when my father died. That’s 40 years of spectacular memories with my father. He was and always will be my hero. He spent the last seven years of his life bravely battling stage IV tongue cancer. During the last four years of my father’s life, his pain was endless, and there was no cure. Cancer, in case you didn’t know it, you suck.
As time passes, I have more and more friends losing their loved ones to this horrific disease, more and more friends losing their dads. Everyone deals with grief differently. Some say our grief is as unique as a fingerprint or a snowflake.
Unless you’re directly in a grieving person’s shoes, it is difficult to understand the magnitude of loss the person grieving feels. For many it is an impossible task to express the impact of such a monumental loss. But just because something is difficult does not mean we do not want to discuss it. Those of us who are grieving want to keep our loved one’s memory alive. Not a day goes by that I do not think of my dad. I am a part of him, and he is always on my mind.
The past year has given me my own guidelines on speaking to a grieving person. Even if you have the best intentions, there are some things I believe you should never, ever say to a daughter who has lost her father or pretty much anyone grieving a person of significance.
“He suffered so much! Now he’s in a better place.” — Witnessing my loved one’s pain was torture for me. I watched my real-life superhero in pain, and I now carry pain with me daily. Please do not remind me of his pain when you are trying to help.
Don’t bring up my marital status and ask me if I have any regrets. — Just because I lost my father doesn’t mean I’m broken. I am a strong woman because I am my father’s daughter. He played a major role in making me the person I am today.
Please don’t tell me to move on or ask if I’m still upset. — All this does is point out a significant amount of time has passed since my dad died. When you lose someone you love, you don’t just “get over it.”
Don’t tell me only the good die young. — Unless we are listening to Billy Joel, please don’t say this, ever.
Please don’t tell me my father would not want me sad. — I miss my dad, and sometimes I just need to be sad.
I’m not perfect, and I’m guilty of telling bereaved friends their loved one is in a better place. I had the best intentions when I uttered those words. Until I felt the gut-wrenching pain of grief, I was not capable of understanding how this sounded, and how family members might not want to hear that. I know my father is in a better place, but that does not take away my pain. Actually, nothing will take away my pain, but there are things we can do to help.
Here are my suggestions of what you can say to a friend instead.
“Your father was a great man. I miss him too. Want to hear a story about him?”
“I found this old photo of your dad. Here’s a copy for you.”
“Tell me more about your dad.”
“I wish I knew him.”
“I wish I had the right words, but please know I’m an awesome listener.”
Grief can feel like all the love we want to give, but cannot give, creating a hole in our hearts that never goes away.
We all grieve differently, but one thing we often need is someone to listen. Grief is messy and complicated. There is no guidebook for the loved ones left behind. Sometimes comforting a friend is as simple as silence and a hug.