Helping my dad grieve
April 26, 2007 3:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I support my dad in his grief?

My dad has had a really rough year, experiencing beyond what most people deal with in a five year span. Within 11 days of each other, he lost both his uncle (who was like a father to him), and his oldest brother, with whom he was also very close. This happened in October, and he's obviously had a very hard time with all of it. Today he learned that one of this best friends has stage 4 bone cancer.

My dad seems to be at that stage of life where everything starts changing (he just turned 50 in September). I just graduated from college, my younger brother just moved out and into his own place, and for awhile, we'd often find him in tears. He seemed to be doing better the last couple months. I moved home for 6 months until grad school starts, mostly to be here for him (we're very close), he bought a new truck and the property next door to us. Things were starting to look up for him. But with this most recent news, and the news that his uncle's house is selling and the estate closing (he's power of attorney), he is naturally having a hard time.

I was two years old when his parents died, so I just don't ever recall a time in my life when I've seen my dad like this. It makes it hard for me to get through a day knowing that he's hurting so much. I know that there's only so much a daughter can do, but I don't know how to do it. As a psychology student, I know what I would say to a friend or to a client, but the rules just don't seem to work with my dad. We're not very huggy unless I'm coming from/going somewhere (i.e. school) and despite our closeness, we don't really talk about feelings.

I just need to know what I can say and do to be here for him, to make it easier. I can't imagine losing my brother or my best friend. I'm worried about him, and obviously I love him very much and don't want him to feel so much hurt. I realize that this is something that he has to go through, I just need to know how to best be by his side as his daughter.
posted by messylissa to Human Relations (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Things that helped me when my life imploded (i.e. mom died): friends hanging out with me; bringing/making me food (and making me eat it); dragging me out for a walk or movie or trip to the bookstore.

I'm not very talky about this stuff either, but just the presence of someone hanging out with me - reading, watching TV, etc. - was enormously comforting. The times when I did cry, just having someone kind of pat my head and make suitable noises ("there there" or "it's ok") were good. Even in my fog, I understood that "it's ok" meant "what you are doing is ok" and not "everything is fine." Y(and your dad's)MMV on this.

Unfortunately, there isn't anything you can really do, except be there, and listen when he talks. You're a good daughter for helping your dad this way.
posted by rtha at 3:20 PM on April 26, 2007

What rtha said. He probably won't appreciate making a fuss, but just turning up with cups of tea / cakes...

If you know any of his oldest pals details, give them a call, and ask them to call round.
posted by Dub at 3:35 PM on April 26, 2007

Can you encourage him to go to therapy or a support group? Even if he isn't a talk-about-feelings sort of person, he might find comfort sharing with others who are going through the same thing or unloading to someone who isn't related to him.
posted by necessitas at 3:35 PM on April 26, 2007

I agree with rtha--just be there for him. I think that after he's lost so much, he'll need the reassurance that you're still there (he knows, of course, but it's good to have you visible). So stay in touch.

Definitely help him with all the practical stuff you can (e.g. meals, helping him with errands). When you're sideswiped by grief, just taking the next step in your day, be it making a meal or going to the bank, can be a huge difficulty.

Generally speaking, I'd follow his lead about how to talk about his loss, too. If he starts talking about his uncle or his brother, don't try to turn the conversation. And I'd also recommend including their names in a discussion just as you used to. (If the topic is travelling and your uncle was famous for his hatred of flying, for example, continue to mention that, if that's a common point of reference in the family.)
posted by Amy NM at 3:37 PM on April 26, 2007

get him a dog maybe. just an idea. dogs can be great for empty-nesters. great for people really.
posted by alkupe at 3:38 PM on April 26, 2007

You are a good daughter to be so thoughtful. When my dad's gone through similar losses (his parents within 6 months of each other; his brother a few years later), I found that the act of just being there seemed to help him a lot. He's reasonably willing to talk about such things, and I think it helped him when I just listened, or asked questions about his family, childhood, etc. -- so that he could reminisce a bit, and enjoy sharing the memories with me even as he felt such grief at losing his family.

Small gestures that show you're thinking of him (without making a big fuss) might go a long way, too. When in doubt, I've relied on baking cookies or other goodies for loved ones going through a rough time.
posted by scody at 3:40 PM on April 26, 2007

You really are a good daughter. My guess is you're doing the most simply by reminding him that people he cares about, and who care about him, continue to be around.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:51 PM on April 26, 2007

Scody > Clyde.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:52 PM on April 26, 2007

When my mother was struggling with depression a few years ago, I made her take an extended road trip to get her out of the house. (Part of her problem was not wanting to get out of bed. Ever.) She didn't particularly want to travel; I planned the whole trip and used emotional blackmail to get her onboard. And you know what? Seeing new parts of the country and interacting with new people was GREAT for her.

Sounds like your dad has some legal responsibilities, but if the two of you can spend some time together on the road, it might do wonders.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:37 PM on April 26, 2007

When my mom's mother, father and brother all died within a few months of each other (one suddenly and unexpectedly, one suddenly and expectedly, one slowly and expectedly), it took her about three years to get back to "normal," and she still gets sad. The things that helped her most: therapy, drugs, and talking to people around her about the people she missed.

I can't emphasize the drugs enough. She tried Prozac to no effect and had a really nasty reaction to Paxil, but when she found one that worked it really made a difference. She was still sad. She still had grief and grieving to deal with. But the pills helped give her enough of a boost that she could return phone calls, cook and eat food, live a non-paralyzed-by-overwhelming-depression life.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:43 PM on April 26, 2007

Things were looking up for him until just now, so I think it's soon to try and think about long-term responses. That is, time may heal what drugs would be intended to treat.

In the short term, it sounds like whatever you have already been doing was working, even if this news is a set-back. His best friend having cancer doesn't change that things were looking up before. You really do sound like a fantastically loving and supportive child. Just being thoughtful and present and caring probably means so much more than he can tell you right now.

Stay with him, keep listening to him, and trust your instincts about it. If there's anything that you can do to help him recover faster, it'll be something personal to you and him, anyway. You may very well be doing it already.
posted by mattpfeff at 5:06 PM on April 26, 2007

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