Saturday, October 5, 2013

There is No "Position-Perfect" in the Key of Grief

This week, we've been coping with the loss of the father of a close friend of CJ's. It was one of those incidences of seemingly run-of-the-mill symptoms turned into vicious infection whose effects could not be altered or stopped. Very sudden and very tragic. Though we don't know the family really well, the fact that a 14-year-old girl lost her dad resonates here.

I had very few encounters with the dad. Whenever he dropped off or picked up his daughter after a visit or a party, he was always pleasant, smiling, polite. He always treated CJ well, too. His occupation was one I admire--teaching children and youth how to play and share music. It takes a certain demeanor and a great amount of patience to bring out the best in kids learning to play instruments. He definitely had those, and the kids he taught had great respect and admiration for him.

There is one memory of him that I will cherish whenever I see his daughter. It was a middle school talent show night. Several of CJ's friends were performing, and I took her to see the show. The daughter took the stage for a vocal/piano performance. I remember the piano not being in quite the right place and the microphone stand clearly not being at the proper height or floor position. The daughter and stagehands did what they could to make things right, but I knew that it wasn't an ideal set up and could affect her performance.

Then, up from the seats, moving swiftly toward the stage steps came her dad. He tackled that microphone stand like a true roadie, making all of the necessary adjustments with speed and ease. He made everything position-perfect, which I have no doubt is what he would do for any of his students. Then I remember the look from his daughter--the smile that said, "Thank you, Dad. Now, I'm ready to play." 

Though her dad never sought any attention, and left the stage as quickly and stealthily as he got himself up there, he garnered a big round of applause from the audience. I remember thinking, if not actually saying to CJ, "I wonder how many people know that's her dad?"

Of course, she performed beautifully. But the picture ingrained in my mind from that night is the dad who sought the very best for his girl.


*     *     *

It is not easy being 14 and having to navigate what it means to have a friend lose her dad. CJ and I have had a few talks this week. We've talked about how sad we are. How shocked we were at getting the news. Then there are the "I don't know what to do to help" questions. What has made this situation a little more challenging is that some of CJ's other friends had a deeper relationship with the girl's father--being as he was their music teacher. Understandable. But CJ was worried whether she was being supportive enough. 

It's a good conversation to have, because--as other friends of mine have written over the past year--grief is not something that comes in a standard-issue box with an end date. It would make sense that her other friends would feel a different kind of loss than CJ and that their response in this time would also be different that hers. It didn't mean that CJ's grief was any less real nor was her response to the situation any less appropriate. Death is not an easy thing to deal with period, and there are no black-and-white responses. No "position-perfect" postures--regardless of how society might try to suggest that there are.

As a starting place, CJ wrote her friend a letter. What she might not be able to say effectively in person--especially in an environment like a viewing or a funeral--she could surely capture through her writing. I thought that was just right. Knowing that grief is not an event that closes out with the funeral, I encouraged her to keep listening to her friend. Find out what she needs along the way. She and her family will need support for a long time. The most important thing really is the being there.

And, the being yourself....