How do I do what I am supposed to do, and will it make me feel any better to do those things?
May 19, 2008 12:50 PM   Subscribe

The new normal sucks. How am I supposed to cope after my father's suddenish death?

My dad died about five weeks ago after battling cancer for about 5 weeks. We didn't expect him to die so soon after diagnosis. The doctor told me six months.

I came back to where I live after the funeral, 1000 miles away from where my family lives to finish school and catch up on all the work I had missed etc.

Since school got out a week ago, I have been finishing up all the uncompleted work I missed by traveling to visit my father before he died.

I feel like I really suck right now. I have a meeting in an hour and I don't think I can make myself go to it. I had big plans for today and couldn't do any of them. I do some of the things I think will make me feel better, like running or drinking fresh juice and eating well, but all I want to do is read and watch tv and sleep and research grief on the internet. I have a therapist I see once a week. Otherwise, I can't do the things I think people expect me to do.

I want to be alone and do the laundry and not fold it. I want my house to magically be clean. I dread sending an email that says "I can't come to this meeting, I know I said I would be over my grief by this week, but I am not, and I can't leave the house."

My therapist says I should try to do the things I'm supposed to do. But I don't want to do these things. How do I deal with this? What is the etiquette for grieving, and how do I make myself feel any better? I feel like I've grieved a lot and cried and cried and cried till I puked, but I am in shock and don't want to do anything.
posted by bash to Human Relations (29 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
My cat died two weeks ago and I'm not 'over it' yet. I still cry when I see something which reminds me of him... I gave myself a day off work, in which I slept in, walked, cried, and did things to try and distract myself. I think you have to plan on not being ok for quite a while, and accept that. (as far as housework goes, do you have a friend nearby who could help you do a massive clean up?)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:05 PM on May 19, 2008

I'm so sorry to hear about your father.

There is no etiquette for grieving, everyone deals with it in their own way. No one should expect you to be "back to normal" after five weeks and I'm sure people will understand if you excuse yourself from a meeting or take a time out full stop (I don't know if your schedule will allow for this but you should give it a try. When my dad died I took a suspension from my MA and finished it later).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 1:08 PM on May 19, 2008

Response by poster: I have a husband, and he has been really helpful with cleaning and other more important things. I just finished my BFA and I can afford to take the next two weeks to do whatever I want, if I really want to do that. I think maybe I want to go back to normal, especially since everyone has gone back to normal in their relations with me. I think maybe I don't know how to do whatever I want.
posted by bash at 1:12 PM on May 19, 2008

Let me start by saying that I am sorry for your loss. People should understand that you're going through an unusually tough period in your life right now. There is no quick-fix for grief, there is no standard way to grieve- it is an intensely personal course that has to run its due time. Five weeks is not a long time, give yourself some more. This too shall pass.

On preview: maybe a two week vacation away would do you some good- give you more head space to think about things, or not think about anything. But I feel that the last thing you should do is hole up. Best of luck.
posted by self at 1:15 PM on May 19, 2008

I'm so sorry about your dad.

I went through a similar situation with my grandfather, who was really like a dad to me. He passed away within a month of becoming ill, and it was all too sudden.

Unlike you, though, I had a job and bills to pay, so not showing up wasn't an option, so that was that. However, I know how you feel. What it feels like right now, it seems to be neverending misery. And I also know it sucks that this is the best piece of advice I have to give: it's not. It just takes time... time for you to adjust, time for your brain to wrap around the new reality. I remember I'd walk into my grandparent's house right after and it felt truly puzzling even if for only a couple of seconds that my grandfather wasn't sitting where he always used to. It sucks so bad, especially because it kinda feels like your brain is doing this to you. But it'll pass, and you'll adjust. And then you'll miss your dad fondly, and yes, it'll hurt that you miss him, but the misery does end.

So hang in there, and cut yourself some slack. Cry, spend some days watching tv - do have friends around, though, by all means - don't eat a lot if you don't feel like it. However, remember that unfortunately the house won't "clean itself", and do those things that you must do (even if because no one else will do them for you). If you made plans, keep them. Time will pass, and you will feel better eventually. Again, I'm truly sorry that's the only good advice. I know *I* hated hearing it...
posted by neblina_matinal at 1:15 PM on May 19, 2008

Don't be too hard on yourself. Take it one thing at a time. Don't consider not accomplishing "big plans" in one day as a failure; consider accomplishing anything at all a big success. And don't be afraid to ask for help. If there's anything that someone else could do in your place, ask someone. The people in your life are probably wondering what big or small things they could do to help you out right now.

I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by lampoil at 1:16 PM on May 19, 2008

They gave my dad three to five years and he didn't even make one so I know all about that. I probably wasn't right for about nine months afterwards. I wasn't functioning very highly during that time. Five years later my mom is still just pulling out of it. If you need more time, you need more time; I don't think anyone can dictate someone else's grieving process. There's no shame in being busted up over losing your dad, it was the hardest thing I ever dealt with in my life.
posted by The Straightener at 1:24 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have a job and bills to pay. I don't know where you got that I don't have those things. I think I resent those things particularly right now.
posted by bash at 1:33 PM on May 19, 2008

I don't know much about your grief, unfortunately. One thing you might be want to do, if it's in your budget, is getting a cleaning service to handle cleaning your house. Maybe even ask if they handle laundry as well. If you find it hard to do these things, find someone to do it for you so you can get the mental space of 'this is taken care of' available..
posted by mephron at 1:38 PM on May 19, 2008

I am very sorry to hear this. I think not everybody is capable of recovering in the same manner or in the same amount of time. In your case five weeks is not enough to grieve but as your therapist says the world keeps on moving, you say you have given this route a serious try and are still unable to just get back into the thick of things, since you've already tried and find yourself unable to do this, take one more day off, do nothing, take a couple of hours during the day to think about your father, about his life, your relationship, when he died, why he died, and most importantly the reason why you miss him so much and how you are going to cope without him being around. Is possible that once you understand a way to feel better and you visualize your new world you'll feel a bit better about returning to your normal activities (which as you mentioned will probably not feel normal for a while)
posted by The1andonly at 1:40 PM on May 19, 2008

Sorry about your dad. I can only say that it would take me a long long time to get over the same thing. 5 weeks would be nothing. So I think you need to give yourself some time and cut yourself some slack.
posted by sully75 at 1:43 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm so sorry for your loss.

My mom died six months after her diagnosis. I had patches of "normal" in the year or so after her death, but there are three or four months from the immediately-after period that I just don't remember. I know I went to work, and I know I went grocery shopping (because I remember breaking down in the cat food aisle a couple of times - I adopted her cats), but I spent a lot of time reading and watching escapist stuff. Even for an "expected" death, I can't see how you can put a time limit on your grief. I do remember feeling that it was surreal that life kept keeping on, even though it seemed to come to a screeching halt (for me).

Be gentle with yourself. Indulge in some bad TV, pointless internet, and big-and-stupid movies. Let people help you. (Except for the people who think you should be "over it" - they are not helpful, and it's really okay to ignore them.)

It will pass, but it will pass in its own time. For most people, trying to hold off the grief just means that it will build up and knock you on your ass later. The periods of time when you feel capable and "normal" will get more frequent and be longer, but it's not a process you can force.

In my work, I was fortunate to work at a small place where nearly everyone had experienced the death(s) of people they loved (I worked with a lot of gay men in the 90s), and nobody thought it was weird or thought badly of me if I was a little fogged out, or couldn't come in that day. I don't know what your work culture is like, but let people know what's happened, and please do stop saying "I'll be fine in [X] weeks" - as you've discovered, that doesn't work.

One of the cats that belonged to my mom died a couple of weeks ago, just two days before the anniversary of her death. It made me a little weird all over again, but I gave myself permission to cry when I needed to, watch bad TV (that's not really different, though!), and I let people know that I was in a rough place.

What you're feeling now is normal, and it will pass. MeFiMail me if you want.
posted by rtha at 1:44 PM on May 19, 2008

Best answer: First of all, etiquette is for your dealings with other people and has virtually nothing to do with working through your own feelings of grief. The etiquette of doing what other people expect you to do while you are dealing with grief is pretty much that people will say they are sorry for your loss, give you a few days or a week, and expect you to be the same person you were before and not bring up the topic of death, dying, your feelings about your dead relative, etc. It reminds them they are going to die someday, you see, and people don't like to think about how they will die someday -- so they don't like you to talk about it. Sucks, doesn't it?

People will act like you should be over it already, and won't understand that you can't get anything done, and will slowly pull away from you over time and not want to be around you any more if you talk about the death to much. Your husband may be an exception to this. Be thankful you have him to help you.

Welcome to the new normal. It sucks. It just does. There's not much to be done about it.

I recommend you do do the things you are supposed to do, you pretty much have to just push through and do them, otherwise you will lose your job and your home will become a cluttered mess, which won't make you feel any better.

About the only thing you can do is realize that life is short, and it will end someday. If you want to do something, don't put it off for too long. Find things you enjoy, and do those. Things you want to do. Not laundry. Other things.
posted by yohko at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2008

I'm sorry, since you spoke only of school and school work, I assumed you were a full-time student.
posted by neblina_matinal at 1:47 PM on May 19, 2008

Response by poster: It's ok. I didn't clarify how much I have going on. I just finished school (did about 5 weeks of work in two weeks to graduate on time) and am headed to grad school, and have a job.
posted by bash at 1:49 PM on May 19, 2008

Oh, and if your therapist seems uncomfortable talking about death and grief, find a new one. You can keep the old one for the things they are good with.
posted by yohko at 1:50 PM on May 19, 2008


I don't know you well enough to say anything really specific, but I just wanted to let you know a few things:

1) many of us have been where you are now. and we weren't normal at 5 weeks. Hell, I wasn't normal at 5 months, though by that point I had it hidden a bit.

2) You have a job, and maybe you have to show up and force yourself to perform at an "adequate" level, but you shouldn't feel ashamed or embarrassed if your performance is way below your normal standards, and if you really, really don't want to do it. That's normal. Don't worry about it.

3) You might want to talk to somebody who shares your religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are atheist or similar. To vent about the unfairness and the bullshit of it all, but also to talk about the good stuff and the ways in which they'll live on (e.g. through you.)


sorry for your loss, and on a more selfish note, i wish i didn't relate so ludicrously well to your post. take care.
posted by Project F at 1:54 PM on May 19, 2008

Best answer: Sorry to hear about your father, it seems incredibly unfair.

In addition to the great advice presented already, consider whether the old normal is something you really want to go back to - you aren't the old you anymore, are you? You have a different perspective now, and you've been reflecting on life. The death of a parent is a massively maturing event, regardless of your age. Perhaps the things you are supposed to be doing (attending dumb meetings) aren't the things you want to be doing right now (revisiting that scene of a pleasant/unpleasant memory). Your priority right now isn't to "move forward". In fact, trying to figure out how to move forward and why you haven't moved forward is a defense mechanism that suppresses your grief and emotions. You need to reflect and think and feel. So it takes you more than five weeks. Oh well.

To help with the process of reflection, with experiencing the grief, consider writing a letter to your father that you never intend to show anyone. Just sit down with a pen and start writing. It doesn't matter if you think it is a disorganized, rambling, incoherent mess. The purpose is to reflect your own thoughts and emotions back to you. Doing this will start to focus your feelings not just about him, but about you yourself and everyone close to you. This will lead you to a greater understanding of you.

If you don't want to do this, or it seems like a daunting or terrifying task, consider whether the reason you don't want to is because it would be too painful for you or make you too sad. Because those are precisely the reasons to do it. If your grief is behind a closed door you don't want to just open the door. You want to walk in and lock the door shut behind you.

If you need a prompt, start with "I wish (I/you/we)..." or "Why (did/didn't) you..."
posted by Pastabagel at 2:11 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

My therapist says I should try to do the things I'm supposed to do.
The problem is that death has a nasty-almost-willful way of casting doubt onto what we're "supposed to do." Call me old fashioned, but I think this is the time to say "Fuck the folding and the cleaning and the big plans and the other people and the meetings and the email. They're not important. Yea to reading and sleeping and watching crap tv and diving further up and farther into grief." And when you're further along with your grieving, the things that you were supposed to do may become important again. You might again look around and say, "Oh man, the laundry is so good so good so good so good." Or not. And you'll deal with how things are then.

I'm sorry.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:14 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Truly sorry for your loss.

Grief is a really personal thing, and not everyone handles it the same way. When my dad died about 3.5 years ago, I forced myself back into my routine ~7 days after his passing. For me, it was the best way. That might not work for you, but I really suggest you give it your best to not just let everything go. It's ok to grieve; it's necessary. Remember, though, that you still have your life to live. Doing that in a way that would make him proud is a great way to honor his memory, once you are more centered.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of, and miss, my own dad.
posted by owtytrof at 2:21 PM on May 19, 2008

How am I supposed to cope after my father's suddenish death?

Day by day, man. I'm so sorry. Remember that grief strikes everyone differently. So if your house is a mess and your meals unhealthy for a few months, don't worry. Do what you absolutely must do (pay the rent, go to work). Let the other stuff slide for now. There is a new normal coming. But the old normal is gone. My mother died 30 years ago and a day doesn't go by that I don't miss her.
posted by nax at 2:24 PM on May 19, 2008

I'm so sorry about your dad. I lost my mother to lung cancer three years ago. It was expected - she lived about a year and a half after her diagnosis but we expected her to live quite a while longer. The shock of it makes the loss even harder to bear I think.

The first few weeks you're eaten by the have-tos, all the arrangements and people expect you to be flattened. I found the next couple of years to be very hard. After about a year I didn't wake up crying over her absense every morning. It got better very slowly and not on a steady pace. You might join a grief group - hospice and hospitals near you will probably run one. I think everyone has to find their own balance between coddling themselves and doing the necessary stuff to pay bills and just live. It's a hard miserable slog but it will eventually ease. Be gentle with yourself and expect to be tired and overwhelmed for far longer than you'd ever have guessed.
posted by leslies at 2:24 PM on May 19, 2008

Im sorry for the loss of your Dad. You might want to try grief counseling as well. Some local hospices even offer these services free. I thought my life would never be the same again after the loss of our baby, and it never was. Loss is something you deal with on a daily basis. Hope that things get better for you soon.
posted by Snoogylips at 3:13 PM on May 19, 2008

I'm very sorry for your loss. I know exactly how you feel. My Dad only lasted 2 weeks after his cancer diagnosis and I had just lost my Mom less than year before. It is true that everyone grieves in their own personal way and your feeling about not wanting to do anything rang a bell with me. It's a difficult adjustment, this "new normal". Things will never be the same and you will miss him every day for the rest of your life. But, time does heal the rawness of the hurt, somewhat. Just do what you feel like doing, and don't worry about the rest. Sometimes you just need to talk with someone who has been through the same thing. I know I do.
posted by wv kay in ga at 3:45 PM on May 19, 2008

i'm so very sorry. my dad was starting to slow down with age and then died very suddenly in an accident this past winter, and i've been slowly dealing with my own situation for a while, now.

while your mileage may vary, here are things that i have found helpful:
realize (and if possible, accept) that you're going to be running at diminished capacity for months. cut yourself a lot of slack. heartbroken is just as good a reason for a sick day as a fever. maybe you can't deal with a full week of work at a time -- for several weeks, i was taking at least a day a week off, and doing so made it a bit easier to go to work on the days when i did have stuff i felt i needed to do.

figure out what the absolute basic necessities needing to get done, and try to do those. if it's not a basic necessity, don't worry about it. if you can afford to hire a cleaner, do it and solve the problem of wanting your house clean by means of a powerful tool -- your checkbook.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:05 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Right now, and for...well, as long as you can get away with it, operate on a "bare minimum" level. Let your husband know he's gonna have to do the folding for awhile. Don't take on anything new. Do the bare minimum you can get away with at your job. You'll probably have to suck it up there for 8 hours a day, and that sucks, but everything else you have control over, and hell, you may only be in the mood to watch crap TV for months. You'll have to do less of the "I should be working out and cleaning out the storage room and blah blah blah" stuff. Hell, you've only got 2 free days a week where you don't have to "suck it up" the way you will at work, let yourself relax during them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:02 PM on May 19, 2008

I'm another person who, after a parent's death, took quite a while to return to adequate/normal functioning. In my case it was my mom, who went through a year and a half of slow, awful dying, so it was very much an expected death and fell in the "blessed release" category; and yet, even so, I was basically useless for the next half-year, a time from which I have almost no memories.

The one thing I'd add to good advice above is: be very careful about taking on responsibility for complex important stuff during this period, however long it lasts for you. I was very impatient with myself, wanting to get myself back on track right away, and I took on handling my mom's estate and a bunch of other legal/financial things, refusing any help from people who were in much better shape to deal with them. The result was that I really bollixed up some stuff because I was unwilling to admit how out it I really was, and for how long. People in my life were very ready to understand that, and to help out or cut me slack; it was my own stubbornness or ego or self-image that kept me from accepting it.
posted by Kat Allison at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2008

Oh dear, do be gentle with yourself. It took me about 9 months to really start getting my act together after my father's rather unexpected death. You're not going to be operating at full capacity. You might forget to do things that you normally wouldn't forget. That's normal and human. Be forgiving of yourself for those kinds of things. Cut yourself the slack that you would cut someone else in your situation. Now is not the time to beat yourself up. Things will get better a little bit at a time, then one day you will look around and realize that you can handle things again. If you are a spiritual person, hang on to your faith, and look to your faith to help in your healing.

All my best to you and yours.
posted by kamikazegopher at 2:26 PM on May 20, 2008

btw, as i'm dealing with the 6-months-ago loss of my dad, i'm finding this thread to be incredibly reassuring.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:36 AM on May 31, 2008

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