Life Advice


Health & Spirit

Grieving parent wonders how to respond

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: I'm wondering how to respond to people inquiring about your children when one of them died in the not-too-distant past.

My 35-year-old daughter died last summer, after a hellish battle with cancer. We are all, of course, still struggling with grief, though we've had great support and the impacts are diminishing over time.

My struggle is with questions like, "Do you have children?" "How many children do you have?" "How's your family?" and similar questions that arise in casual conversation, or with people you've not seen for several years.

I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't believe my daughter is still around, and using the present tense implies existence, so it feels wrong to me. And this is even worse when her 7-year-old daughter is with me: She knows that her mom is gone.

I never had to think about this before, and find it disturbingly confusing. Any advice?

-- Grievin' Grandpa

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Dear Grandpa: My sincere condolences to all of you. It can be excruciating to try to describe your life in a casual way when you are so very sad.

You don't say how many children you had, so I'm going to say that (for instance) you had three. If people ask, "How many children do you have?" and you don't want to discuss things deeply, you can say, "My wife and I raised three kids." If you want to dip in a little more, you can say, "Our oldest, Gwyneth, passed away last year from cancer" (supplying the cause might spare you from more intrusive questions). If her daughter is with you, simply say, "And this is her awesome daughter and my granddaughter, 'Cammy'!"

Without question, this is extremely challenging, but I hope that through time you may realize that for every awkward or even heartbreaking plunge into grief you might experience through spontaneous reminders, there will be many, many examples of kinship, kindness and comfort from people who have walked a similar path.

Dear Amy: I am a guy in my late 30s. I have a "good friend" of the same age who lives in a different city four hours away.


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