There are actually two events that, when combined, have had the most significant impact upon my life to date; the death of my parents. My father suffered a massive heart attack five years ago, and my mother lost her battle with lung cancer just fourteen months later.

My father traveled on business quite a bit, and he was in Kansas when he suffered a massive heart attack on Halloween. I was so shocked that I did not believe that it was true. I only believed that he died when I saw him for the first time at the funeral home three days later. I do not remember very much about the funeral itself. There were many people at the funeral home. Most of the people would hug and/or kiss me, and then tell me how sorry they were, or how he was in a better place. Another “favorite” that I heard was simply, “deepest sympathies.” What did that mean exactly? I heard it so often, that it made me crazy and I thought I would scream. I did not care “where” he was, and I only knew that he was not with his family where he belonged. I also remember the people who did not say anything at all to me. They simply came to the funeral home, said good-bye to my dad, and then left. At the time, I thought it was strange, but, the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated it.

At the time of my dad’s death, my mother had been suffering from bronchitis. One week, to the day after the funeral, my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. Sadly, after fighting the cancer with radical chemotherapy and radiation, she passed away shortly after my dad. Although we knew this was inevitable, my brothers and I were still stunned. Again, we endured the funeral. Again, I heard the condolences and that “she isn’t suffering anymore” or “she’s in a better place.” Again, I wanted to scream.

These two events radically changed my life in a very short time. I went from grieving daughter to confused, scared caregiver and back to a grieving daughter again. People that I knew or people that knew my parents, would tell me how sorry they were, or how they understood what I was going through. Again, I heard it so much that I just wanted to yell at them for saying such stupid things to me. How could they know? Because I sensed their awkwardness in their actions, I felt their words were hollow. I did not take any comfort in anything that was said to me. and I noticed many times that people would look the other way or go out of their way to not have to talk to me. No one knew quite what to say.

When someone you love dies, grief is a strange thing. It numbs you. It clouds your thinking. It makes you feel very alone. It wreaks havoc with your emotions so that you do not know whether to laugh or to cry. When a friend or an acquaintance dies, grief makes you feel awkward. Some people do not know what to say to the grief stricken, and others simply talk to fill the silence, and they say things that sound hollow or insincere. Like everyone, I hate going to funerals for many reasons. One such reason was because I never knew what to say to the bereaved.


It has been three years since my mom died. I think about her daily, and I think about the talks that we shared all of my life. I thought about what she told me about grief, and how she wished there was a book entitled “Grief Etiquette.” Her wish for such a book was based upon the fact that people generally do not know what to do or say when someone dies. I remember discussing my thoughts with her about how people treated me when my dad died, and how angry it made me. I was very annoyed by what people said, even though I knew they were said out of love and comfort. My mom pointed out to me that I have acted the very same way towards others. I was