I forgot to pack my razor.
I’m showering at 1 am. In 7.5 hours we will start preparing the body of the man who made and molded me for his union with his Maker. And I haven’t shaven in days. And the blades I thought I packed at 330am before heading out on a 24+ hour trip to the saddest destination I will ever visit, are most certainly sitting atop the chair on which I packed.
I’m a fast packer. Not a good one.
(Opens Daddy’s medicine cabinet door in his bathroom in India. Sees one perfectly placed razor with one, single, remaining blade.)
“He did it again. He planned perfectly.”
My Daddy had left a single razor blade just for me. With his silly Sensor Excel razor. Blades that are so hard to find I would buy them in bulk for him (100 blades last time) out of fear of them going extinct, and him choosing never to shave again.
Now? I won’t be able to look at a razor again, for a long long time, without tearing up or downright bawling.
How does a person who is affected so wildly by a single razor blade answer a question like “How are you doing?”
Visiting someone who is grieving is hard. What do you say? How do you take their pain away? Can you even? The circumstances are compounded by emotion as well as a lack of familiarity with this situation (who wants to get comfortable with death?)
Here are some things that have crossed my mind as I reflect back on past experiences, and dig in on an acute and intimate understanding of what we are going through now.
Specifically, what people who are visiting my mom can keep in mind when trying to comfort. I wish I had thought of some of these before having to live them, as I am sure I’ve fallen victim to these in the past.
1) Every question asked is a burden on the grieving to respond and answer. Think about it. Every time you ask me how I am doing, I have to relive how terribly I am doing. I have to tell my story over and over again. Not in a way that helps me heal, but stops me from it. Because to answer that question for you, I can’t start with where I am, I have to start with where you are. I have to give you all the context or nothing of value. And after being exhausted I will default to the latter. Instead of dealing with my current emotion. Instead of that, if compelled to ask me a question, eliminate the weightiness of it. “How are you feeling right this moment?” But I actually suggest just telling me you love me, telling me you are there for me, and being close enough to me that I feel your support not just hear it (hand on an arm, shoulder, a hug, whatever, steady check INS.)
2) Focus on doing over asking. Don’t ask me if I need Water. Just bring me a glass. Don’t ask me if I want food, leave food out for me to graze. Don’t ask me if there’s anything you can do, ask me if you can specifically do something. Better still, out of the goodness of your heart, do what inspires you. Keep my cognitive overload low. Reduce the number of smaller transactional decisions I make in a day so I can focus on the bigger things.
3) Its not about being strong, it’s about being healthy. Try to avoid telling me to be strong. When you do, you’re adding another weight around my shoulders. Am I being judged? Is there a way to grieve? Crying doesn’t make me weak. It makes me honest and proves I am dealing and engaging. Instead, alk to me about being healthy and finding my way. Doing what works for me. And let me know it’s ok to cry. To laugh. To sleep. To do whatever I want to do to find peace first and progress next. As long as I am finding my way to healthy. Advice is always welcome. As suggestions, preferably not as mandates.
4) Find and manage my momentum. People are compelled to say something which is what gets us into trouble. My advice is to wait for me to lead. If I am quiet I want to be quiet. Sit with me in my quiet comfortably and I will never feel more at ease. If I am sad or spiraling downward, field me graciously and redirect me back. Or be a life preserver with your arms around me, literal or figurative, so I don’t drown. And if you feel me telling a story, advance it and propel it forward. Get out your surfboard and ride my best waves, and tame my worst. But avoid cutting them off. You won’t effectively stop my feelings at the source but you can help ensure positive momentum.
5) I know I had a good life and was lucky to have him. But this still hurts like 1000 simultaneous punches accompanied by the strongest hands strangling my triple-chinned neck. Allow and encourage me to find balance. Accept my tentposts. My endpoints. My Absolute North and my True South. He lived an amazing life and we are proud to have been a part of it and blessed by him. And at precisely the same time, this is brutal and devastating. Our lives exist between those two endpoints for the foreseeable future. The space between them will compress. Our requirement to feel both simultaneously stretched across the widest expanse will change, and we will swing between one and the other less violently over time. Acknowledge both.
6) Bring energy. At the end of the day, the mood in the room of those people grieving is dictated by the people who grieve. But it’s impossible not to be affected by sincere, authentic love and positivity. Bring it. Don’t be afraid to smile. Lift me up and you create positive momentum in the room.
I love your support. Know that. Every bit of love, support, condolence. Every hug. Every pat on the back. Every text. Every email. Everything I love. The experiences that are most helpful though, and I believe this is fairly universal, are the ones that embrace some of the above. Just my $.02.
A single blade. Who knew a single blade in my Dad’s medicine cabinet would encapsulate our entire relationship.
Love you, Daddy. Also, the Sensor Excel sucks. The blade is so small it took me 13 hours to shave my face. No wonder you got up so early for work. You lived to 77 but 10 of those years were spent shaving.