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Reflections on Grieving a Father

 

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 early 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. 

from WhatsYourGrief.com

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kayc:  Great article.  Thank you for sharing. 

8 hours ago, kayc said:

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. 

This thought has popped up in my mind many, many times.  My Dad passed away when I was sixteen due from an automobile accident, a time when drivers weren't required to wear seat belts.  He was a quiet, hardworking Dad and had strict restrictions at what age I was to date, dress, etc.  As I look back at his quiet, strong temperament I think how many choices I made after he passed would not have occurred if he had survived the car accident.  I know I would have never ventured out to another state after high school graduation where later I met my husband.  I do believe he would have approved of my choice of a husband.  My Dad would have enjoyed having a few beers with my Bob and listening to all the fishing stories.  Funny how life twists and turns.  Dee

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Both my mom and dad adored Steve.  He knew how to charm my mom and talk guy stuff with my dad.  My dad has a special place as he was my stepfather as my birth father died when I was 1.  I have a sister 12 years older.  He took on a ready made family and sadly he and my mom lost 2.  I was 4 when they married and he was my dad for life.  I felt for him as my sister was not accepting, it took me years to get she knew our father very well being 13 when he died.  At least they became friends when she grew up.  I miss him a lot.  I used to send him The NY Times crossword as the Albuquerque paper didn’t carry it.  He talked my mom into letting me get my first dog.   He also came down hard on me when I disrespected my mother as a teen.  He was.......dad.  ❤️

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I remember someone telling me, when my Mom passed: "No matter how old you are when your mother dies, it feels like you've been cheated."

That's not universal, either as I've met people whose parents were abusive, but for the majority of us, I suspect it's true.

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I came from a horrible background, alcoholic father, controlling abusive mother who was very mental.  I loved them but my teen years esp. were a nightmare, and my mom didn't make my adulthood any easier but when I was mid 40s I learned to set boundaries and let her own the consequences.  

She had stage IV dementia when she passed, I was a very good daughter up to her last breath...not because I had to be or owed it to her, but because I genuinely loved her and knew her mental state was just that...my hope is in the next world, they will be made right, daddy no longer alcoholic and weak, mom will be what God had intended her to be.  Who knows what threw the switch in her or if she was born that way, my aunt said she was like that as far as she remembers.  Daddy died when I was in my 20s expecting my first child.  He was my "good parent," so to speak.  He may have failed me but I know he loved me.  Maybe my mom did somewhat but just had a helluva way of showing it.

I do miss them though.  Not the bad stuff, but the good parts.  I remember all my life feeling disappointed with my interaction with her...I'd hope for a normal mother response, but rarely got it.  Still one can hope, but it seems it set me up for disappointment too.  Next time around I won't be disappointed.  ;)

 

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