Losing your dad is one of life’s most painful and traumatic events. It’s different for each person, yet there are some shared emotions and issues. Here are a few words of advice that I hope will help you as you go through this painful time of loss.
• Attend to present feelings Don’t wall your grief off. Spend time sharing your pain with others—friends, family, pastor, therapist, or other professional—someone who will listen without judging. You may be surprised at the feelings that surface. Regret, guilt, relief, and anger are all normal feelings at a time of great loss. We can learn from these feelings, if we allow ourselves to become aware of them.
• Check your own biological clock At whatever age, expect to feel orphaned in some sense. After all, you’ve lost the only dad you’ll ever have. But there are ways to compensate—by seeking out other father figures for friendship and counsel, for instance. Older adults have much wisdom to share. Take the time to get to know one or two. If you’re a father, you can honor your dad’s memory by putting some of that good fatherly energy you got from him to work for your own kids.
• Work through past issues No relationship is perfect. There’s bound to be some pain and conflict when you think about your dad and the ways he may have fallen short as a father—and you as a son or daughter. Maybe you’re feeling that “father wound” now. If so, get some help so you can work through it, and hopefully reach a point where forgiveness is possible. Forgiving your dad—and yourself—for a less than perfect relationship will help you move through your grief and start to feel whole again.
• Look forward to future understanding Healing doesn’t happen all at once, just as grief doesn’t end all at once. If you’ve allowed yourself to feel the feelings, you will find that as time passes, peace and healing can return. Memories don’t fade, but the emotions begin to lose their painful edge (although they can come back with unexpected intensity if triggered by something. A friend says he misses his dad every time he smells pipe smoke). Preserving the good memories is an important part of moving on with life.
For many people, belief in an eventual reunion in the afterlife is a source of comfort at a time of loss. I know that for me, I’m looking forward to seeing Dad walk through that door again, in a place where time has stopped and clocks are no longer needed. Until then, I will always be grateful for the clock—and the love that filled the hours he shared with me, father to son.