I got an IM the other night from my oldest friend. By which, I mean the friend I have known longer than any other. Chronologically, he's one month and twenty days my senior. We grew up across the street from each other.
He was letting me know that two of our friends from the neighborhood had lost their fathers within the past day or two. One I know better than the other, but it's sad, regardless.
I need to send some condolences. I hate to admit this, but I have sort of a standard format I use with sending sympathies. I always add something personal, too - but the bread and butter part of the letter is kind of a pattern I worked out when I first started having to send sympathy cards at any real clip.
I'm getting to that age - the one where my friends' parents are starting to die. I wasn't the first of my crew, by a long shot. I have friends who lost parents at a younger than expected age. Starting with my husband. By the time we started dating, both parents were deceased.
It is, of course, the natural order of things. But that doesn't make it any easier. I feel for these kids, because, we are the kids. I obviously feel for the spouses as well. And I feel especially bad that funerals are basically a no-go these days because of Covid restrictions. While I can't say I enjoyed my father's memorial service, I will say there was closure, catharsis, and I had a great audience for my set, er, eulogy. I might have enjoyed his memorial service a little. It may have just been adrenaline.
I also spent no small amount of time thinking of how grateful I am to have a friend who let me know - I would have found out about one of the two deaths by Facebook within a day or two, but the other - well, that would have probably been months or years if I heard at all. Mom isn't as hooked in to the greater network as my friends' mother. Mom tends also to forget things more easily than she did, say, ten years ago.
Our little subdivision is remarkable. My friend who messaged me - we have been at a number of important life events for each other. His Eagle Scout ceremony, my wedding, Dad's funeral. He is one of those people, that whenever I see him, it feels like a big life raft has just floated up, and I didn't even know I was treading water.
I hope that I can be the raft for someone, somewhere, some day.
I'll close with this advice. When you are struggling to find what to say to someone who has lost a family member, say something. Avoid, "in a better place", "everything happens for a reason" kind of thing. Offer your sympathy, remember something nice and specific about the person who died, and offer some words of comfort to the living. That's my basic formula. One of the best "after dad died" stories I can share is that my husband's cousin Susan told me that when she met Dad she was telling him about her life in Alaska and suggested that he should visit and would like it there. And he basically said, "Nah, this is the best place to be, I'll stay here." Which is funny, because I totally know he'd have said that, and it was just a slice of Dad that reminded me that sometimes, he was wrong. Because I went to Alaska, and it was marvelous. Not that I didn't love stories where he was the hero, but every hero is also sometimes the goat.
Love your family, love your friends, and be a life raft when you can.