Sometimes, friends who want to start smoking cigars will ask me what they should try.  I typically recommend an Oliva Serie G cigar.  I think these won “best value cigar” a few years ago and I would agree.

They aren’t too expensive, they are available at most smoke shops, and they aren’t a bad cigar.  If someone is brand new, I’ll start them with the Connecticut wrapper (the light wrapper), and if someone has had a couple cigars before and wants a little more flavor, I’ll recommend the Maduro (dark wrapper).  They are both good sticks and not too strong for a new smoker.  Plus, if they take one puff and hate it, they shouldn’t feel too bad about the rest going into the ashtray.

Like the cigars above, I think people sometimes need some guidance for how they should act, talk or be around a father who has lost a child.  It’s different for different people, but I think the below advice is pretty universal.

  1. First and foremost, don’t be afraid to talk about the loss.  Many people avoid talking with a guy who has lost a kid because they are trying to give space, or they don’t want to bring it up, or for some other well-intentioned reason.  Honestly, this can lead to a deep sense of isolation at a time that is already difficult.  So the first piece of advice, go up and talk with the guy, and talk about the loss.  
  2. Don’t worry too much about saying the wrong things.  The truth is that of all the people who talked with me, almost 100% of them said something that was decent.  Now, in full disclosure, there were a couple of dicks who probably deserved to be fucking punched for what they said.  But, those guys didn’t become dicks in that moment, they were dicks before Michael passed away, and they are still dicks today.  All in all, I believe everyone who tried to say something helpful was successful.  Some were better than others, but I think everyone who tried to do good, always imparted some good into the situation.  So if your intentions are good, you’ll probably be fine.    
  3. Many people came up to me and just said “I don’t know what to say, but I am thinking about you and your family.”  That meant the world to me. And, you want to know the truth?  I don’t know what to say either.  I appreciate that someone just came up to me and acknowledged the situation.  There is a saying that goes “nothing helps a lot, but a lot of things help a little.”  Just acknowledging that me and my family were going through this was always appreciated.  
  4. You should know that your friend is thinking about his lost child every day.  I’ve had many people tell me that they didn’t want to bring up my son because they didn’t want me to think about my son because it might bother me.  Think about it this way, if you are a parent, you think about your kids every day.  Did you get that?  Every-fucking-day, we think about our kids.  I’m no different.  I think about my two boys every day. One of those boys is alive and one of those boys has passed, but I think about both of them every day. So it’s okay for you to talk about it or ask about it too.  
  5. Use the kid’s name.  Similar to the above, many people are afraid to say Michael’s name around me.  I mean, do they think I forgot?  Do they think I’ll break down if they say Michael? Look, I like the kid’s name.  I have a lot of good memories associated with that kid, and hearing his name gives me a serendipitous opportunity to recall one of those memories.   
  6. Tell stories if you have them.  You want to know something? There are few things that make a parent happier than hearing stories about their child.  I really appreciate when friends who knew my kid, or when one of my child’s friends tell me stories about their time with Michael.  Often I learn something I never knew about his life.  
  7. Also, I’m going to tell stories about my son.  This shouldn’t make you uncomfortable.  If you are talking about your kid dancing I may mention the time we caught Michael practicing the Macarena.  Or if its Christmas time, I may talk abut how we used to sprinkle “reindeer food” (glitter and oatmeal) on Christmas Eve, or how their Aunt Deb bought them marshmallow guns one year.  Those are special memories for any parent, and it’s no different for a parent who has lost a child.  Let us tell those stories without having to manage your emotions.  
  8. Most of the support stops after about two weeks.  Their world has been turned upside down, but after a couple of weeks, most of the support stops. At this point is a good time to reach out and offer to have dinner, or get together.  Usually something low key works better than a big event.  Think dinner with two couples at a low-key restaurant or a house, more so than a big party.  For me, one of my runner friends asked me if I wanted to join them for their Saturday runs.  I really love my running group, but it was too much after Michael passed.  Running with just one other person was easier for me.  Chicken wings and beer at a local dive bar worked pretty well too.  
  9. Allow the conversation to flow.  Sometimes that meant that I talked about Michael, but sometimes I just needed a break from the grief and wanted to talk about anything but.  Conversations that could go either way were definitely appreciated.  
  10. Recognize that a hell of a lot of energy is consumed with processing the loss.  For me this meant that the fifty hour weeks I had worked for most of my career weren’t going to happen for several months.  Even with working shorter hours, I remember thinking how worn out I was by Tuesday evening.  I actually gauged my recovery by when in the week I lost my stamina.  It took a long time before I actually got to Thursday with reserves, even longer before it was Friday at 5:00.    
  11. You are allowed to have bad days too, but your friend may not be able to help much.  I’ve written previously about how my “give-a-damn-o-meter” was reset after losing Michael, but that doesn’t mean that I stopped caring about my friends. You are welcome to share your frustrations and loss.  Recognize that your friend who has lost a child may not have a lot to give, but they still care about you.  
  12. Don’t make your grieving friend manage your emotions.  This happened a lot more than I ever imagined.  Either through friends who would tell me how much me losing my son has changed their world (Really?  Help me understand that one.) Or the friend who damn near had a meltdown in public upon hearing that I’d lost my son.  (Um, dude, you’re practically yelling, and everyone is looking at us, and I’m not really looking for additional attention right now). Or the friend who would say something like “I can’t imagine losing one of my kids.” And, then before I would get two words into a response he would say something like, “yeah, that would just have to be horrible.”  This happened with a couple of questions before I figured out that this guy just needed someone else to hear him process his fear of losing one of his kids.  (Okay, dude.  I get it.  It isn’t always about me and my grief, but that one probably should have been.)
  13. Finally, some conversations that are wrong at three months are okay at two years.  True friendships have to be 2-ways, so it’s okay to expect your grieving friend to sometimes be able to be in the role of friend for you, but remember that won’t be in the beginning.    

There are probably a thousand other things I could have said.  The biggest lesson I have, and continue to learn, is what I said before.  Nothing helps a lot, but a lot of things help a little.  If your friend has lost a child, there is no comparable pain, but the world doesn’t stop turning.  Reaching out to him is a way to help him process that pain and keep up with the turning world.