Reflections on Grieving a Father
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It seems hard to talk about grieving a father without first reminding you of this: before the day that your parent died, you’d never lived a single day on this planet without them. You might not have seen your parent every day or talked with them every day, but the only way you ever knew and understood this world was with them living in it. For better or worse, they were part of your reality for as long as you had a reality. It is no wonder that it feels utterly impossible to make sense of a world that exists without them.
This may seem a painfully obvious reminder, but it is one that I come back to surprisingly often as I continue to grieve my father’s death in new and different ways over time. Once, in my mid 20s, I was talking with a 65-year-old man who had recently lost his 90-year-old mother. He was annoyed that everyone expected him to be ‘okay’ because he’d known she was ill and because she was older. He said to me, “I’ve been on this earth for 65 years and for 65 years she was one of the only things I knew for certain. The world doesn’t make sense without her”. Though on the surface we were so different and our losses felt quite different to me, his description of that confusion and pain grabbed me. I think of his words now whenever I meet any person who has just lost a parent.
There are no universals in grief. Every loss is unique to the person grieving it, specific to the relationship we all had with the person who died. But there are things shared – shared between those who’ve known loss at all, shared in the experiences of those who’ve lost parents or children, siblings or partners or friends, who’ve lost someone to overdose or suicide, to stillbirth or illness or an accident.
The moments that have often stayed with me in my grief are the moments when someone shares something about their own loss that allowed me to see my own grief more clearly, to remember that there are no universals but there are things deeply shared. Though I only had 18 years on this planet with my dad, not the 65 years he had with his mom, that man’s comment felt like it tapped into something at the core of my own loss. In those first 18 years of my life that he was here, my dad was one of the few things I knew for certain. It is no wonder that all these years later there are still days that I struggle to make sense of a world without him.
I have now lived more years on this planet without my dad than I did with him. And still I know that everything in my life would have been different if my dad hadn’t died. Every single day, every single thing. I have a wonderful life in so many ways. And yet my brain defaults to imagining that absolutely everything would have been ‘better’ if he hadn’t died, thinking it would have been ‘right’ and the way it was ‘supposed’ to be. But that’s just a made up story, the alternate ending that I wish for. When you stop and think about it, there are infinite alternate endings. That alternate life, the one where he didn’t die, it could have been better or it could have been worse – much worse, even. I have no way to know. Heck, how do you even quantify ‘better’ and ‘worse’ when it comes to the complexity of a life? All I can actually know for sure is that one thing would have been better – he’d have been here longer. As for the rest, it’s a mystery.
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9 Comments on "Reflections on Grieving a Father"Click here to leave a Comment
Janet Roberts June 29, 2022 at 9:57 pm
I lost my dad 29 days ago. I feel irrevocably broken. 💔
Jen June 19, 2022 at 12:22 am
Just lost my dad 2 days ago. Had his Father’s Day gift planned – just trying to hold it together. I want to celebrate my husband, he is an amazing father and partner. He doesn’t want anything as he knows how hard this is for me. Ugh, it’s just so hard and painful, still not sure how to navigate this horrible new normal.
Atb June 18, 2022 at 8:50 pm
My dad was still alive two years ago for Father’s Day. I was 51 when he died about a month and a half later, at the age of 88. We couldn’t even properly memorialize or bury his ashes for another year after he died. I miss him every day and that first year he was gone, I barely made it. It’s a hole I will never be able to fill and the world really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me anymore. My mom has he own feelings about him and his death but she seems surprised how much I miss him and she makes me feel awkward even talking about it. Same with my brother. Seems like no one in my family really feels this loss as strongly as I do. I really hope there is a heaven and that I can someday be with him again. Meanwhile, it’s lonely without him.
Fratina longnecker-allen June 17, 2022 at 1:54 pm
Good morning all, my name is tina and as i read all this today i cried the whole time reading as each story touched my heart and I myself am grieving, im dreading fathers day. My dad was my world, my life, my everything and i fight everyday to understand how he could be fine and healthy one min and 3 days before my wedding his health declined dramatically. My dad was a triple heart bypass patient and 5 days before my wedding he had a shock treatment done to his heart to try and get it to beat in rythym, during the procedure they waitind 3in before shocking his heart to get it to start pping again, it took them two times to shock him before his heart started beating again. When he came home that afternoon he looked great, he looked healthy, the next day he said he wasnt feeling very well and if only i had taken him to the hospital. Because he didnt have my mom take him like he said he would, that evening i believe he had a stroke because the next day at my wedding reherssal and dinner he looked very sick, he was having a hard time breathing and would get winded very quickly, he refussed to eat and he could barely walk me diwn the isle at rehearsal, his left side of his face looked a little droopy and his hand was kinda deformed and he held his arm wierd. Everyone refussed to listen to me said the doctors tested him for a stroke and the test results showed no signs of a stroke but he physically showed the signs. The next day at my wedding aug 28,2021 my dad didnt even remember i was getting married, he refused to get ready and he was very out of it, at the church my brother told me that my dad couldnt walk me down the isel because he was to weak so my brother walked me down the isel to the alter and to where my dad was sitting, my dad then stood up and gave me away, kissed my check and said i looked beautiful. When he sat back down he staired off into space, it was like he was looking right through you, he wasnt my dad. At the reception he refused to eat, and he barely drank anything, and then it was time for the father daughter dance and i was so hurt and angry, i didnt get my father daughter dance, he wouldnt even sit in a chair on the dance floor with me and listen to the song wr picked, he told my brother to dance with me. Well it wasnt the same and i couldnt dance to mine and my dads song with my brother so after that my mom and uncle loaded my dad up into the truck and they drove him to pouder valley hospital in Colorado, there they had diagnosed my dad with covid phnemonia. We had to fight for the hospital to let us see him as they informed us that he was dyeing. I saw my dad twice before he passed away and i dont even know that he knew i was therr, he couldnt talk and he barely opened his eyes. Well the morning of September 8th i saw my dad for 20 minutes not realizing that that 20 min was going to be the last time i see my dad. On september 8th, 2021 at 10pm was the most tragic moment of my life, my brother and uncle pulled up to my house and came inside and i collapsed when i heard my brother say “sis dad is gone, he passed away an hour ago.” My dad died alone in a hospital room with no family around, that doesnt sit well with me at all. He has been gone 9 months and everyday I miss him and wish i could hear his voice, see his face and his smile, hear his laugh and feel his hugs. He taught me everything and he is a hudge part of the woman i am today but the one thing he never taught me in life was how to live life without him and never did i think that 12 days after my wedding he’dbe gone.
So to all whom has lost a dad i truely feel your pain and may god bless you and guide you through the journey we try not to foresee.
Elizabeth June 17, 2022 at 7:09 am
I have also lived more years on this planet without my dad than I did with him. And yet I talk about him every day, “My dad used to tell me…” or “What would my dad say if…” or “Hahaha, I remember my dad doing…” And that´s my way of keeping him alive. I write every year a thing I thank about him or a reason I love him. He would be 92 now (he died at 55), So I have a list of 92 things and I love to read this list every year on his birthday and on father´s day. I love him dearly and I don´t miss him because he is with me. He is part of me!
Litsa June 18, 2022 at 9:50 am
Ahhh love this!!
Sarah October 14, 2021 at 8:54 am
I recently had to deal with the loss of my father to cancer so I can relate. one day he was fine and than over a period of maybe four months he took a turn for the worst next thing I know I’m setting up a hospital bed and meeting with the hospice team in my living room. It definitely was a hard thing to do but it was something my father had wanted was to not die alone and I honored his wish and took care of him until the morning when he took his last breath right after I said gm and I love you. I’m still dealing with this loss and it’s so hard.
Lindsey Chaplin June 18, 2021 at 2:51 pm
Thank you, I really needed this today. I’m very new to this club, just 9 weeks ago and I am absolutely broken without my amazing Dad. I am dreading this Sunday as I want to make it special for my children and my husband, knowing how much they deserve to celebrate him. And understanding there are no guarantees. But at the same time dreading the pain. Thank you for your words of comfort.
Larry P June 18, 2021 at 2:16 pm
Lost my first wife 18 years ago – remarried 4 years later lost her four years ago… lost both parents (4 years apart) when we were kids (I am the oldest of 5) two youngest brothers—Just looking for a place to unload