Dealing with death is never easy. Frugal Dad, a blogger buddy, lost his mother on Sunday. I never met the gentleman or his mother. I haven’t even talked to him on the phone, but I call him my friend. He helped and encouraged me with my blog even though he didn’t know me at all and had nothing to gain by it.
I’ve grown to like and respect him a great deal. Knowing what he and his family are going through now is painful. The pain stems from the fact that I just don’t know what to say to help him get through this. I think we all want to help people who are in these situations, but we often struggle to find a meaningful way to do so.
When he published a post telling his readers about what happened to his mother, he received over 130 comments expressing condolences. It’s a testament to how connected his readers are to him. But at the end of the day, most of us said pretty much the same thing: “Sorry for your loss.” “My prayers are with you.” What else is there to say? I’m sure my buddy appreciated the outpouring of concern, but I wasn’t convinced it did much to ease his pain.
Don’t get me wrong. Each comment was heartfelt and genuine. But my experience tells me that when you are in the middle of a situation like that, the pain can be so intense that it’s hard to feel anything else. Maybe that’s the way it has to be. When we go through things like this, we just have to go through the process, and maybe there isn’t anything anyone else can do to make it easier.
I don’t pretend to know what my pal is going through right now, but I have experienced some pretty painful episodes in my life. I can tell you that I did appreciate others’ concerns…but it didn’t make it any easier. What did help was the suggestion that the person I had become was a reflection of the people I had lost. And to the extent that I live responsibly, honestly and with integrity, I keep the memory alive of those I’ve lost.
That’s my personal definition of success. This idea is much more powerful than I thought at first. When I remember that there is some part of me that reflects the best part of the people I love, I hold myself to a higher standard – and I expect others to treat me with more respect too.
It’s called humility. Not holding myself above or below anyone else – regardless of how much or how little money I (or they) have. I can expect mutual respect without having the fear of criticism. This can actually be a strong motivator in all our financial lives. We’ve all lost people we love. We can keep a part of them alive in us by being the kind of person they modeled for us. Honesty. Integrity. Responsibility. And making sure we only deal with people of similar character without fear of criticism.
When we allow others who don’t treat us well into our financial lives, we diminish ourselves and, in some ways, the people we love too. My experience bears this out. When I act in a way I can be proud of and when I only deal with others who are willing to treat me fairly, in some way, I just feel closer to the people I love – alive or otherwise.
These words can’t really help my friend right now. He’s grieving at the moment – just as he should be. But my dealings with him prove to me that he is a person of integrity, responsibility and honesty. So he’s going to find it easy, at some point, to feel close to his mother again. I hope that you haven’t lost people you love. But if you have, what helped you most? Did it change the way you deal with other people?
Very well said and I so agree. Integrity , honesty and responsibility. Three of the most important traits one can have . All other amazing parts of ourselves are built on the foundation of those three. Empathy , compassion , patience and a truckload of other deliciously human parts.
My mother dies in 2001. Just days after 911.
She was not to aware of what was taking place .
Very, very well said.
Just coming back here to read more comments. Like you Neal, I interpreted Jason’s comments in a different way to Nan. Personally, whatever the situation, I find it patronising when someone says “I know just how you feel” because the truth is, they don’t. I’m me, you’re you, and as Jason said, our feelings are unique to us. That doesn’t mean one can’t empathise of course. We all deal with things in different ways and what works for one won’t be appropriate for another.
I wish I could write about this more eloquently, but the truth is it reminds me how raw my feelings still are around my Mum’s death. I have found a ‘new normal’ – life is different.
Thank you everyone for sharing your stories and thoughts.
I am really grateful that you bring this up.
I actually interpreted Jason’s comments differently than the way you did, but your point is a great one none the less.
I can’t speak for others. I can only tell you that when I was 17 and became an orphan, I didn’t think that someone who was 43 and had a home and family really could understand what I was dealing with. It made me angry. It felt like they were diminishing the fear and hell I was going through.
Now, 35 years later, of course I understand that they were just expressing their sympathy and solidarity as best they could. As an adult, removed from the terror of the moment, I do apprecaite the comments that were made because I understand them now. But at the time, it made me angry.
Having said that, when I read the stories above, I kept saying to myself, my G-d, I have no idea how these people dealt with what they went through. Have I lost people I loved? Yes. Have I experienced tragedy? I have. But I haven’t gone through what these folks have. Each of our experiences were our own.
As Jason said:
“ No, none of us know exactly how another feels. Each person’s loss, and the void it leaves in their life, is unique to them. ”
Anyway, it was wonderful that you brought attention to this. I wonder how other people feel?
Thank you, Jason, for saying that you appreciate people that say “I know how you feel.” I was dismayed to read the comments above from Neal and others that such expressions of solidarity anger them! Why does such a sentiment provoke anger? The person expressing his condolence may not know how you feel, but either they have already experienced loss (in some other form) or they can imagine losing their loved ones and can surely empathise with your situation. So why are their sentiments disregarded? And instead, what one commentator above valued more was offers of food and help! While I am sure such offers are welcome, it comes across as a very selfish thought, that a person’s sentiments are not valued as much as his actual help.
When I experienced a loss or difficult times, it gave me solace to know there were people who cared for me, people who shared in my grief. That was really enough. Of course, I was also grateful to friends who actually came forward and helped me, but that didnt mean that I valued any less the friends that expressed sorrow over my loss.
Neal, I am a firm believer that we are a product of those we love, and we take on certain characteristics of those we grow up with and respect and admire. Through us, a part of them will always go on, and hopefully we will have a similar affect on those who love us.
Well written tribute.
Well stated. Wise words. The older I get the more I realize that the best parts of me are theirs. It is a solace and a joy.
Thanks again to Neal for this beautifully written post, and for all of your comments. My faith in the community of bloggers has been strengthened by this event, and I’m convinced that even strangers (strangers only because of physical separation) can still have empathy for someone from afar.
When you think about it, it is really an evolution in the human experience, because before these forums were available, all we had were local friends and family to rely on for support in tough times.
Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I don’t have many offline friends to surround me during this time. The show of support I’ve witnessed here, and at my own site, have meant more to me than I could ever fully explain.
I especially appreciate the comments on “I know how you feel.” No, none of us know exactly how another feels. Each person’s loss, and the void it leaves in their life, is unique to them. Being there for a friend or loved one who is grieving is the most important thing you can do for them, but let them grieve in their own way, and don’t try to understand how they are feeling. I’ve caught myself saying this in the past, with good intentions, of course. However, this experience, and the comments shared here, have made me more aware of how to be a better friend for someone facing similar circumstances.
Bonnie…..you model strength for all of us.
After my folks died, the mom of the family who took me in told me that pain doesn’t really go away – it just comes up less often.
That has been my experience.
I feel inspired by all of you and strengthened.
i am very sorry to hear of frugal dad’s loss. and you are totally correct that we take on the good part(s) of the people we lose. In the last 4 years, I lost my only two brothers; they were twins,3 years older than me, both died of lung cancer at the ages of 54 and 58. Both of my parents also died; mom of a sudden heart attack at 69; and dad at 75 of lung cancer. not to mention many other relatives and friends who’ve passed away in the last several years. even though i may have had “issues” with my parents/brothers, all i remember now are their virtues. i don’t think you ever do get over the losses, but the losses definitely redefine who you are as a human being. and it keeps everything in perspective. some everyday things just don’t seem that important; it’s alot easier to just smile about minor (or even major) annoyances and frustrations; and sometimes you just walk a little slower and appreciate the day. i don’t think it much matters what others say to you after you’ve experienced such a loss, but it certainly made a difference to me that some people said something. i’ve found that those who have never lost a close loved one really don’t understand. but that’s not their fault. in any case, i think you have to grieve yourself, then life goes on, albeit different. and as another commenter said, a different good.
All of your comments touch me. Sitting here – trying to keep my keyboard dry.
Especially to those who shared their own terrible losses, I think this is also really important for Frugal Dad to see.
We survive. We love again. We have joy again.
I think by sharing these things, we can also help our friend.
I also just couldn’t stand it when people said,”I know how you feel”. It made me very angry when I was grieving.
The question,”What can I do for you” is better but better still, as was said by Pebbledash, just being their to listen to our friends is about the best we can do.
Thanks. Really. Thanks for sharing your stories.
my father died suddenly 6 years ago at age 62 (we found him dead in his house). i don’t think anyone could have said anything that would have made it better or easier. people who said ‘it’s for the best’ or ‘it was his time’ or ‘i know how you feel’ just got me angry. people who said ‘i’m so sorry, please let me know if you need anything — food, cleaning, someone to watch the kids for a bit’ were just wonderful and what i really needed.
there are good days and bad days, even now. holidays were never really hard, as i was prepared (and my dad was a difficult person and made holidays really hard). his birthday? bad. the day my third child was born and i couldn’t call him to tell him he had another grandson? bad. watching one of my boys play soccer or do a cool gymnastics move or have a school event and he’s not there? bad.
i tell people now that the hurt never really goes away, it just gets different, and you get used to the fact that a person in your life is missing now.
David@DINKS Finance says
Beautiful article. I know Frugal Dad really appreciated this and it meant a lot for him.
blt dono says
I think the best words spoken to me after my dad passed away were:It will be good again, just differEnt, but a different good.
You have offered a very thoughtful reflection here. It is true – although we may be cared for by many people during our time of sorrow, the grief is ours alone and we must live it every single moment throughout the healing process. When my 22 year old son died unexpectedly almost nine years ago, I thought I could not live through it. But here I stand, with my life more focused, my priorities corrected, and my deeds focused on helping others. I believe my son has taught me to be the person I was meant to be. When a heart breaks, it can also let the Love in … so that it may one day be returned twofold. Peace and comfort to all the bereaved and broken hearts out there.
I have been following your friend’s blog for some time now and just before his loved one died, he gave me some advice that really helped me. He showed this integrity that you are talking about. He is a good man.
This post is very impressive too. Clearly you are what you talk about. I lost my sister several years back in a car accident. The thing that helped the most was realizing that I couldn’t have protected her, but that she was being ultimately protected now (I believe this because of my faith). It allowed me to release her memory and my guilt, and allowed me to move on. I think it created a slightly more humble me, and that has been a very good experience.
What a beautiful article.
Frugal Dad is a very kind and caring person.
Thoughtful post. I lost my Mum very suddenly and unexpectedly nearly three years ago. Whilst supportive comments didn’t take away the pain, I did feel supported, and that helped me keep going. What upset me most of all was the people who crossed the road because they didn’t know what to say. A simple “I’m so sorry” acknowledges your loss. What I couldn’t cope with were people saying “I know just how you feel…” Sorry, but you don’t, my pain and grief is unique to me. My Mum lives on in me, and for that I’m truly grateful. Her loss has taught me to be more thoughtful and considerate to others. And sometimes when you’ve lost someone close you just want the space to talk about them, for someone to listen, without interruption. There was a great post earlier this week at 37 Days on grief, well worth reading – it linked back to an piece from 2006. Go read!
You make some very good points. At a time of loss you must go through it alone even if you are surounded by friends and family. If you take the time and really think about what you most appreciated and learned from the person you have lost it helps you to feel close to them again. If you take it a step further and try to use those memories to help you live a fuller richer life you will never really be without that loved one. “Frugal Dad” will find his way past this time of pain and loss and become a better person for it.
Great article – very real thoughts. We are a reflection of those we’ve lost.
I really like that thought you’ve got there about our best selves containing the best parts of those that have gone before us. I know it’s one of the great (unexpected!) motivators for me in some hard times. And yes, it holds you to a higher standard and keeps you from slacking when you remember what those before you went through, which essentially got you to where you are today.