I’m grieving. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you’ll know that 5 weeks ago my father passed away. For the past twenty years he’s had a rare form of ALS — rare because most people with ALS die within 4 years of diagnosis. Three years ago my father developed pneumonia because his diaphragm was getting tired and his lungs weren’t getting the expansion they needed to fight off the viruses that develop in the crevices. He was hospitalized and we weren’t sure if he was going to make it. But he did. And for the next three years he was healthier than he’d been in a long time, thanks to the care he received at the long-term care facility he now called home.
Despite that scare three years ago, my brother and I thought we had a lot more time with our father. He once joked that he’d be sticking around until the Leafs won the Stanley Cup or one of us had a child. My brother will be having a baby in March, and so when I arrived at the hospital the night he passed away, I half-joked with him about this promise. But we knew that this would be his last night with us.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about grief. Last year I had an essay published about how I grieved my mother’s death through literature. A month later I had another essay published; this one was about my father’s slow death. I thought that when my dad’s death came, I would be ready for it. He’d been dying for twenty years, after all. But nothing could prepare me for the shock, anger, and devastation I would feel after losing the parent I had cared for for most of my life. His death left me wondering: what is it that I need right now? And if I can figure that out, how on earth do I go about asking for it?
Luckily, I have the most incredible community one could ask for. One pal created a google doc “Meal Train” where folks could sign up to bring me food each week. With the idea of going grocery shopping nearly giving me a panic attack, I cannot describe how grateful I am for the food that has been delivered to me each week. There were lots of practical things I needed support with and, again, I found myself grateful to pals who said “let me figure this out for you.” Because, when someone dies, no one really tells you what the protocol is for arranging a funeral. Or, in my case, getting financial assistance because there is literally no way you or your brother could pay for a funeral.
But one other thing I realized I needed was one-on-one time that was centred around an activity. There’s only so much talking about sad feels and crying that I can do in a given day. And while I know that nothing in my life feels normal right now, I felt the need to try to maintain some semblance of normal functioning. I have always been capable of doing fifty million things at once. Finding myself unable to do the most basic life things has made me feel even more dissociated from myself than I already have been (due to grief and ongoing chronic health problems). But if a pal could suggest 2-3 activities MAX and then let me choose one, that I could handle.
Many friends have reached out with activity hangs. Everything from making DIY bath products to taking me to a fancy pen shop on the other side of town. My friend Jessica messaged me and asked if I might like to take some photos with her. Jessica is a super talented photographer who I met through her project “This Woman I Know.” We hit it off and became quick friends.
So here’s what Jessica did:
- She showed up with a point and shoot camera loaded with film and her own camera in toe.
- I picked the location: my favourite park in the city, which is also across the street from my fav bookstore.
- Jessica showed up and we walked around snapping photos; sometimes she was behind the camera taking a photo of me and other times I was the one calling the shots.
- At the end of our walk — and the end of the roll of film — Jessica took the camera and got the film developed.
- She emailed me the digital copies and put the printed copies in the mail — this way I’d get to receive something in the mail and that’s another one of my fav things.
Before I show you the amazing photos from that day, I’d like to offer some advice to those who feel at a loss for how to support a friend when they’re grieving. Because we’re all gonna be that friend at some point in our lives.
What you can do:
- Don’t just offer support (i.e. “If there’s anything you need, just let me know.”) but offer specific things: “I’d love to drop some food off,” or “can I come over and do your laundry for you?” If you know that you’re good with logistics/the practical things, you can ask “What’s the next thing you need to get done?” because maybe asking the person to name everything they have to do might feel very overwhelming to them.
- Affirm the shit out of them. Asking for support is soooooooooooo hard. And when you’re grieving, you might feel like you need more support than ever. And if you’re me, then you’re definitely gonna find yourself confronting the narrative that your needs are too much. But each time a friend says “I’m so glad you asked me for that,” I feel a little less anxious.
- Instead of asking “how’re you doing?” (to which I want to respond “I feel the worst ever and have no sense of who I am anymore, thanks for asking”) ask: “How’re you doing today?” Also, be prepared for the person to “own their affect” as I like to call it, and tell you flat out that they’re not doing okay. That everything sucks. And affirm them for telling you the truth.
Oh, and just because you should really be prepared for this: the day Jessica and I showed up at the park also happened to be the annual Halloween meet up for the French Bulldog association. Yep. FRENCH BULLDOGS IN COSTUMES!!! ENJOY! (All b&w photos featuring me + colour photos are taken by Jessica)
Tags: black and white, film, friendship, grief, photo diary, photography
This post was written by Margeaux