Surviving Son

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My father killed himself last week. My parents divorced when I was
five (twenty years ago) and we moved 1,000 miles away. I saw my
Dad only occasionally thereafter, though we did stay in touch with the
rest of the family. I never found out all the reasons behind the divorce,
but I know it centered around his mental instability. My mother and I
have decided to go the funeral, out of respect for our other relatives. I
need help knowing what to say when people come up to me with
condolences. The truth is that I don’t really feel much of anything, and
I am going primarily to be supportive of my mother. I’m confused and
embarrassed by my lack of feeling. I think I should be experiencing
more than I am. Even my mother seems distraught, though it could be
that he killed himself rather than the fact that he’s dead. Can you help
me get through the trip and home to peace?

Surviving Son

Dear Surviving Son:

I can understand that your confusion. Your lack of feeling comes in
part because you didn’t have any real relationship with your father.
That’s understandable for someone who spent most of his life far
away, without any real contact, or sharing a home or experiences
together. Even though it’s understandable, consider seeing a grief
counselor to explore your confused feelings. Losing a parent is big
stuff and not to be gotten through as though it were just a bad

As for the embarrassment and taking care of your mother, focus on
the latter. When people say things to you they will be trying to comfort
you and to express their own grief. Come up with some simple
platitudes you can say sincerely (It’s a difficult time; He’ll be missed;
Thanks for your concern.) Stick close to your mother and help her
through the time. She had the deeper relationship with him and with
you. She’s the one who’ll need a strong shoulder to lean on.