Love Through Loss

No one knows what to say. We don’t know what to say. No one can imagine. We can’t imagine either.

New to death? So are we.

While nothing can take away the pain or fill the void of a loss, so many thoughtful words, acts and gestures have helped us carry on to the next day – even with joy.

From our experience, here is a list of what we (my sisters, my mom and I) are finding helpful and comforting in the days and weeks following the loss of our dad. Above anything else, the biggest act of love is to show up and reach out with a listening ear and compassionate heart.

What to Say

  • Ask “how are you today?” rather than “how are you?”
  • Talk about the person they lost, offer kind words, a warm hug and a listening ear. This feels much better than any well-intentioned avoidance of the person.
  • If you have experienced a loss, share meaningful perspectives you have learned through personal experience.
    • “The future that I felt entitled to with this person wasn’t actually ever mine. This path that I am on is the exact one that was always intended for me.”
  • My aunt came up to me on Christmas and said, “I just want you to know that I miss him so much. I miss him every day. I’m not trying to make you sad, I just want you to know that.” The perfect combination of acknowledgement, love and empathy.
  • Offer understanding, prayers and support that don’t expire.
  • I love when people text me a memory or a story about Dad. I love the random texts because it’s nice to hear Dad is on other people’s minds too.”
  • Send a “Thinking of you and your [loved one]” text to show support on both holidays and random days.
  • Follow-up after the service or celebration of life is over.
  • An email over a text is great in the beginning if it’s not someone super close to you.
  • If the person is upset or having a moment, assume it’s because of their loss. Offer love and grace, no questions asked.
  • Let them know that they aren’t crazy and what they are feeling is normal.
  • Sit, cry and make them laugh.
  • Briefly give tips on what helped you during a period of grief.
    • “Grieve how you need to and don’t judge yourself for how you are feeling. Feel what you need to, when you need to.”
  • Text, email or call to share your favorite memories or the way the person they lost made you feel
    • “Your dad always made me feel so understood and heard. He genuinely cared about what I had to say.”
  • Let them know you are eating their loved one’s favorite food, listening to their favorite song, etc.
  • If they are religious – send a comforting bible verse or song.
    • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
    • “He will send His angels concerning you.” Psalm 91:11
    • Homesick by MercyMe

What to Do

  • If there is something you want to do, be persistent. Follow up if they forget to respond.
    • “I’d like to bring you or order you dinner. What night works best?”
    • “I’d love to meet you for a walk. If you are up for it, how does next week work?”
  • Bring over normal food and groceries like eggs, bananas, avocados, bread.
  • Freezer meals are great.
  • Do something to help them honor the person that died:
    • A poem
    • A special tree or plant
    • A candle to light during the holidays
    • Organizing an annual memorial bike ride or event that suits their loved one
    • Have a mass said in their honor
    • Turn their funeral flowers into a rosary
    • Name a star after them
  • Attend the funeral and celebration of life.
  • Send a meal a week or two later.
  • Do their laundry.
  • Clean up their house.
  • Bring a seasonal item if applicable to help bring joy (i.e. pumpkin cookies and decor for pumpkin carving)
  • Remember that the person is still grieving months down the road, so offer to take them to dinner or do something after the storm has calmed.
  • Babysitting!
  • Offer to visit the cemetery with them.
  • Be the “check-in” person if you are close to them while honoring their personal space.

What to Give

  • Journal to write down thoughts
  • Magazines and mindless books
  • Melatonin and calming essential oils
  • A book on grief
  • A daily devotional book on grief
    • Healing After Loss by Martha W. Hickman
    • Grief Day by Day by Jan Warner
  • A poem
  • Print out helpful quotes on grief to give them hope
  • A nice handwritten note with memories or kind words
  • Prayer shawl
  • Memorial item such as a necklace or ring with loved one’s initials or something specific to honor them
  • Custom Nike shoes with loved one’s initial

What We Did for Ourselves 

  • Giving and receiving huge, long hugs
  • Showing up every day, even when it’s hard
  • Crying when we need to and not crying when we need to
  • Doing “normal” activities even when nothing feels normal
  • Exercise
  • Pray – endless prayers of gratitude and of mercy
  • Talking to our Dad
  • Welcoming the big cries whenever they come
  • Talking about memories
  • Laying and sitting with loved ones
  • Getting outside to feel our Dad and to see God’s beauty
  • Paying attention to the nuances and signs from our Dad
  • EMDR and therapy
  • Yoga to process grief
  • Walking around outside with my shoes off
  • 4-7-8 breathing
  • Xanax on hand those first couple weeks if you are struggling with anxiety or panic attacks
  • Talking to the right people who have stood where we stand
  • Doing what feels right that day, that moment, but also giving myself a little push
  • Hanging out with people who fill me up, make me laugh and I can be myself around
  • Making self-care a priority
  • Watsu Water Therapy







Me & Death: It’s Complicated

Some of my best memories with my dad were spent in his white New Balance sneakers and light-wash, loose-fit Levi’s jeans; hiking, walking, doing chores, working on school projects, soccer games or hanging Christmas lights. He was casual and simple, with an extraordinary capacity for unconditional love and random acts of goodness.

My dad consistently met chaos with peace and with one quick glance of those crystal blue eyes, I felt understood. He always “got it”, he was always on my team and he gave the best back massages that always ended with a triple tap. Not the triple tap!

My dad and I had a great relationship.

I don’t, however, have a great relationship with death.

My concept of Heaven and hell is pretty similar to the one I constructed as a child from church and CCD classes. It’s not something that I have developed over the years because it’s not something I’ve been confronted with head on and it’s not something I like to think about.

I feel so ill-equipped with trying to find peace and “answers” in response to my ignorant, question master, Grief. Questions about where my dad is and what he’s doing, despite being someone with a solid faith. I know he is in Heaven. I know he is here with me. I know that I find his memory in everything I do right now.

I just desperately want to know that he is okay. I want to know that he is happy. I do, deep down I do. From every dream and every conversation we’ve had in this new type of relationship, he is nothing but perfect.

I think a part of the struggle is me projecting my fear of eternity onto him, mostly because it’s a big, beautiful, bright unknown. Unknowns are scary, uncertainty is unsettling, but as I am learning about this whole grief thing, discomfort tends to hang on you constantly like an overtired toddler.

The line between life and death is paper thin. The difference of one breath. The two used to seem so far away from each other, but not anymore. It’s less of a separation and more of a compilation.

Every day the sun comes up. Some days I want it to freeze and for everyone to stop and share in our sadness, validating the magnitude of our loss, and other days I wish it to be 365 sunrises later.

Coura gets older with every bath, like a tiny part of her babyhood is swept away with the sponge. She always looks more mature wrapped up tightly in her towel; bright and clean. [I wish I could say that’s why she only gets a bath once a week, but that would be a generous explanation for my second child laziness.]

All of those trite sayings like “life goes on” and “life’s short!” are actually, annoyingly and thankfully so very true.

I don’t know if there are oranges in Heaven or if there is night and day or if eternity is a place where we go and relive all of our alternate lives.

But thank you God for incredible sisters who share my feelings, thoughts and soul. For new friends and old friends. A husband who holds my hand through it all and kids who bring out all the joy and tears. For a mom who is brave enough to get up every morning, run, shower and face the day with a smile and tears. For loving aunts and an uncle who is a treasure chest of stories, legacy and deep love.




What If It’s Great?

I couldn’t walk after my dad died. My anxiety was crippling. I thought I was also going to die. The grief had manifested so physically that I could barely get up. Every type of food made me nauseous like I was back in my first trimester of pregnancy. I had to stop breastfeeding my 4-month-old daughter because I had nothing left to give.

It was the lowest point of my entire life, but I’m here. I’m moving. Most days forward, some days back. The path I’m on feels unfamiliar, so in a way it doesn’t feel like mine, even though I know it is.

Today I walked for 45 minutes. I made everyone breakfast. I drove Maisley to preschool. I don’t have to Uber to therapy anymore. I’ve never been more grateful to be accomplishing ordinary daily tasks.

There’s been a shift in my grief after over the last couple of weeks. Discomfort is pervasive, but it doesn’t quite feel like I’m on the Hunger Games anymore; on edge every second of the day wondering when and how grief will strike – a hail storm of anger? A tidal wave of sadness?

Still, everything is upside down.  Red is blue and blue is green. 

My grief has more questions than it does answers. It doesn’t understand, trapped in the limited capacity of my human mind. Why him? Where is he right now? 

Every day of this coming year feels like unchartered territory; random ones like May 15th and special ones like December 25th. What will every day be like without Dad? What will it feel like in the spring and summer?

In therapy today I talked about how I’m a little apprehensive every time my mom calls. What if the tone in her voice makes my heart sink to my knees? 

My world changed on a hopeful, bright blue, Saturday morning. Sorrow fell out of the sky and hit me like an anvil on an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. A part of me had been waiting my whole charmed life for that phone call.

Would it have helped if I had been worried and fearful all morning?

Not one bit.

Whether I expect bad things or good things, things will just happen. Life will continue to happen.  I can feel myself inching toward a shift, because, what if it’s great? What if I expect good things? 

Feeling that positivity and hope start to permeate my perspective feels more genuine than living in the twilight of foreboding joy. 

Anne Lamott said it best: “To have been born is a miracle. What are the odds?”

Life Right Now

I am a deeply sensitive person. I often “numb out” when watching sad movies or hearing sad stories because it’s just too much

Now I am here, living out my worst nightmare: something bad happening to someone I love. And it’s real, even though it doesn’t feel like it. 

Enter: anxiety, panic attacks, physical pain, fear, endless questions. 

The deepest sadness I’ve ever known is now tangled throughout my everyday.  I have to feel it and let it move through me.  In the midst of it all, I have to keep committing and recommitting to living out loud, just like he did. 

Each day I am discovering small joys, grounding myself by touching the dirt and sitting on our cool driveway. Walking barefoot around our rain-kissed neighborhood. Listening to Coura Joan laugh. Doing sidewalk chalk of really big, really spooky pumpkins with Maisley. Taking baths with lavender epsom salt. 

There’s a house down the street that has a life-like skeleton in their driveway as part of their halloween decorations. Everyday, the skeleton is doing something new. Yesterday he was fixing a car, today he is skating on a ramp, what will he be doing tomorrow? That skeleton, that dead, plastic set of bones we have dubbed “Steve”, might just be the best thing in my life right now.

A tiny part of me can see that in feeling this full spectrum of emotions, that in my biggest brokenness, I am becoming more whole. That this is life. Sorrow, despair, joy and love.