The Singular Experience of Grief

by Dana Demas

Anyone who has experienced loss knows it can be a harrowing experience.  When my dad died suddenly of a heart attack, I went through many stages of grief. And unlike in the books and in the movies, my waves of numbness and sadness didn’t follow the “5 stages” I’d heard of before I was touched by loss.

When cancer or any force takes a life too early, I’ve discovered that only time heals the deepest of wounds. Losing someone you love is like no other experience in the world. But I found solace in a few comforts during that time:

  • Dinners from friends and family. The demands of everyday life felt overwhelming in the weeks and months following the loss of my dad. Ready-made meals kept us happy and nourished. Otherwise, we often didn’t eat. My dearest and oldest friend, Tyra, arranged for friends and family to provide us with dinners. She arranged a weekly schedule that produced wonderful dinners at our doorstep for almost three months. People really knocked themselves out – preparing feasts-in-a-bag, from garlic bread to chicken pot pies to desserts. We also had the added bonus of seeing loved ones as they dropped the food off, for a warm embrace and a quick hello. 
  • Companions. Though we didn’t always want to talk, it was a powerful tonic to have friends and family around us during that time. The most reassuring people were those who could sit in silence with us comfortably, and listen when we opened up. For the most part, we didn’t want to be asked questions or given advice. When you’re grieving, the idea of talking when you don’t want to, or to be polite, feels unbearable. I wanted people around me, buzzing in the background with their own activity and there to listen when I was ready to talk.
  • Grief books. Although five stages of grief felt too linear, reading self-help books was comforting in the months after my dad died. I especially liked How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Has Died. My mom and I both voraciously read many grief-related books in the months after losing my dad.  
  • Appropriate movies and music. This is somewhat personal, but I found that TV, movies and music could either be terrible triggers for my grief, or powerfully soothing. I enjoyed more generic, upbeat stuff in the weeks and months following my dad’s death. I just couldn’t handle sad songs, profound movies or especially anything violent. With so much on TV that is crime- and violence-obsessed, it’s good to stick to things like The Food Network, science shows, old movies and background music that doesn’t have strong memories attached to it. 
  • Letters. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but the letters and cards people wrote to us were very special. They continue to provide a source of comfort to this day. Every so often, I read a note or email someone wrote me and I remember all of the love my dad inspired in others. He is with me in spirit, and those letters help me remember him a little more clearly.

What comforts you in times of sadness?