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I learned that when someone you love loses someone they love you cannot be in touch too much.
It’s now 84 days since my dad died. It’s been strange stuck halfway across the planet, unable to grieve with my family, and I still partly believe when I finally get home he’ll be there somehow, that his spirit will linger, that I’ll see his dent on his pillow, that I’ll bury my face in his wardrobe and find the essence of him there, like one more hug.
However, what’s been strange too, and touching and baffling in varying degrees, is the way people have reacted to my loss.
I have friends who were in touch every single day, often several times, for that first week. I know it was uncomfortable for them; I know they were tiptoeing and fretful; they said “I don’t want to bother you” often. As if they could. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, cocooned by their kindness.
I learned that when someone you love loses someone they love you cannot be in touch too much. And I learned this too: silence stings. Some friends stayed very quiet, but I noticed and it hurt.
Perhaps people fear they don’t know the “right” words, but there are no particularly wrong ones, except maybe “get over it”. You cannot fix things, so there’s only listening to be done, and turning up.
You’re not going to offend the bereaved by caring. Please, send that message, pop that note into a letterbox, write that e-mail, make that awkward call. Do it again tomorrow, and again next week. I was only grateful for the offers of a socially-distanced coffee, of company on dog-walks, of phone availability any time of day or night.
There was the friend who delivered a homemade cheesecake, the one who arrived with sunflowers and baking from her kids, and then the dear neighbours who got together outside to raise a glass in honour of my dad.
Two friends arrived on my doorstep on different occasions, each with a bunch of flowers and a bottle of gin. They know me well. We stood corona-distance apart and cried. There were Catholic masses bought, Jewish candles lit, a donation made to a children’s hospital in my dad’s name, bouquets sent, and cards of condolence too. Yes, overtures may be difficult to make, but they’re truly comforting to receive, for how could love ever offend?
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