It's been a month since my dad died. Just over a month really. Life is moving as slowly as sticky molasses at times but then life is also rushing past us. How can both of those things happen at once? We only have 3 more weeks before we move to South Africa.
I've found this last month difficult to cope with when dealing with others who I thought should have acted with more compassion or more sympathy. Expectations are funny things. There are things that I just thought would happen, words that I thought would be just said, help that I thought would be just given. But they never eventuated.
And then there has been the unexpected. The kind words, the generosity, the loving acts of thoughtfulness. Unfortunately they have been far and few between.
People seem so awkward about death. My dad is dead. Yours will die too. I'll die. You'll die. We're all going to die. Why are you so uncomfortable and strange around me? Why do you not know what to say? Why do you say nothing? Why, when you do say something, you say the most outrageous, hurtful things? I would never dream of saying those things to you!
I'm sure a lot of this is experience related. If your dad is dead maybe you will understand better how I feel. Maybe if your dad is still alive you're destined to say stupid things to me and others whose dads are dead.
I did a grief counselling course in my third year at Moore College that was offered as an elective after normal class time. The training was specifically for hospital chaplaincy. The key to the training was learning how to listen. How to just be a good ear and hear what people want to say. I thought the course was really good and really wished that everyone did it. I think I'll now email Moore and insist it be part of the degree. Significant aspects that stood out for me were the stages of grief as well as the different types of grief that people experience.
I distinctly remember going through numbness, necessary abstraction from the reality of the death in order to organise and sort through paperwork etc., and remembering good and bad times and general reminiscing. I was never and will never, I think, be angry at dad for dying. I have no regrets. I have no guilt. I truly believe that God was with me every step of the way readying me for the next step and this grief counselling course was part of that preparation to give me the necessary tools to deal and deal well. Originally it was for me to be useful to others but first, it seems, I had to be useful to myself.
The type of grief that I believe I'm experiencing is the grief of dreams and future hopes. Dad won't see my children and spoil them. Dad won't hear my tales about elephants and giraffes. Dad won't be proud of me and my accomplishments. Dad won't hear any more of my fumbling attempts to explain to him the gospel of Jesus Christ.
My own personal pain is one thing to manage but then there's everyone else around me. People say kind things and write nice cards but they won't call me and chat about how awesome Dad was. People need to say 'I'm sorry' and then quickly move on. Death is taboo in our culture. People think that if we can ignore it enough then just maybe it will all just disappear. So of course people won't want to chat to me about my Dad's death or life. It reminds them that they will die too.
Here's my suggestion to those who don't know what to say or do in these situations and want to offer comfort:
Ask them how they are.
Ask them about the person who died.
Ask them to tell them a story about them.
LISTEN TO THEM.
Don't give them advice.
Don't quote out of context Bible verses.
Don't tell them that they'll feel better soon.
Don't try to 'fix' the situation.
Don't forget them. The pain will last a long time.
These are just want I think at the moment. I'm still grieving. Different people want different things.
I don't have any close friends who would do the above list for me. I find that so sad and disheartening. There are people who would do it, I'm sure. Contacts from all the link churches we are partnering with as CMS missionaries, CMS staff and maybe some old friends. But no one who is really my bosom buddy. I miss having a bosom buddy. I hope God will give me one in Africa.
I think that Nathan and I have really suffered these last few years with so much instability in that friendships become unstable as well. What we are looking forward to the most about moving to South Africa is the chance to settle down for a few years, make friends and set up our life with the hopes of some measure of stability. That would be nice.