The Answer is C: None of the Above

My friend, Tiffany, recently left this post on Facebook. Needless to say, I identified.

“I told a lie last night. A lady asked where my parents lived, I said California. What else could I do? If I tell her my Mom is in California, then it implies my parents are divorced. If I tell her my Dad is in heaven, then I just would have made her feel bad for asking. There's no damn good answer.”

No damn good answer, indeed. It’s a weird milestone, the first time you are forced to acknowledge the death of your parent to a stranger. How to do it? Do you just respond with a vague generality? That’s probably the easiest thing to do, until you start thinking about it, and then agonize under the crushing guilt of negating your father’s death with a polite lie of omission. Been there, done that, donated the T-shirt to Goodwill.

Or you can gently explain that your mother has been recently widowed and your entire family is still reeling with the grief of losing their patriarch, but thank you so much for you kindly meant and terribly hurtful question. Not awkward at all.

You could start crying. That’s always fun. I’ve been on the other end of that, and I can tell you that not only does the asker feel horrible, but also? They suspect you are a wee bit… well, unhinged. Not the image I like to project, since I’m already widely known as a ditz.

You could take the bitch route and stare them down. “My father died recently. Thanks for ripping the band-aid off that emotional scab. Want to kick my puppy a few times?” I don’t personally recommend this, but it almost certainly will circumvent any further questions. Or conversation, for that matter.

There are a lot of ways to handle it. I’ve developed a standard answer:
“My mom is widowed, but my parents lived in California for 55 years. They were actually high school sweethearts, isn’t that awesome?”
Told with a smile and an upbeat tone of voice, it relieves any guilt that might be hatched and relates a very sweet facet of my parent’s relationship. Of course, I get the requisite condolences. I’ve learned that they are unavoidable and honestly, I appreciate them. Sometimes, people ask about my dad and I have an opportunity to talk about ALS a little. Other times, they change the subject and we move on. Either is fine with me.

Of course, I’ve had a year and a half to get to this place. Tiffany is in a different place in her journey. I’ve had a lot of really excellent advice from people who were once where I am. That has been a tremendous blessing. Beth and Jessica propped me up, sometimes without even knowing it. If I can do that for someone, then I will be satisfied. We all need a hand. We all need a shoulder. And we all need a friend, especially on a path as dark and winding as grief.