Melissa writes in: My brother, Michael, died yesterday of a heroin overdose. He was 40 years old. The grief I feel is a fraction of what my parents are experiencing. I was detatched from my brother for years because I could not be around him because he was often under the influence of drugs. I grieve for his loss of life, but the pain I feel from watching my parents grieve for loss of a child seems equally as painful. He died in my parents’ home, where he had lived for 3 years after the consequences of his addiction took its toll. My father found him sitting on his bed, syringe on the floor, after returning from mass. My father told me today how he moved my brother’s body to the bed, where he rubbed his back and stroked his hair. As a daughter, how can I help my father move thru his grief? This website has been very helpful.
Neil Chethik, author of FatherLoss, responds: Dear Melissa: I’m so sorry about the death of your brother. While you have detached from him, you still may feel the pain of his loss in the days and months ahead. So be aware of your own feelings as you try to help your dad. If you start feeling pain “for no apparent reason,” reach out to your friends, family or a grief therapist.
About your father: His grief will be uniquely his own. No two people grieve alike. The best thing that you can do for him is to allow him to grieve in whatever way works best for him. He may cry, and he may not. You can assure him that the number of tears he sheds is not indicative of his love for Michael.
You can also be available to your dad to talk. Some men like to talk when they grieve; others don’t. Again, the number of words that he says about Michael is not an indication of his love. One way of approaching your dad would be to say, “Dad, if you ever want to talk about Michael, I’d be honored to listen. And I wouldn’t have to say anything in response. I would just be there to hold your words.”
As a group, men tend to grieve more actively than do women. They often feel better if they do things that honor the life of the person who has died. So you might suggest down the road that your dad do some things that he used to do with Michael. Or listen to Michael’s music. Or read the books Michael left behind. Your dad also might like to support, in Michael’s honor, a local or national organization that helps people with drug addictions. Doing things that connect us to the person who has died is particularly helpful for men.
In the end, Melissa, I think the best thing that you can do for your dad is to remind him that he is not responsible for your brother’s death. You can do that in words. You can also do that by showing him that he produced another child — you — who is compassionate, loving and willing to grieve alongside him.
Neil Chethik is author of the book, FatherLoss, available at www.FatherLoss.com.