Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Ask Polly: My Dad Died Unexpectedly And I Can't Get Over It

graveHi Polly,

Last year my father, who was 56, died suddenly of a heart aneurysm. He took me out for my 24th birthday dinner, and then two days later he was dead. I feel like the past months have been a mess of every emotion possible. I'm a great big ball of pain, and it seems as though grief is the one thing no one will talk about with me. My dad was the parent who showed up for me, who supported me as a writer. We shared so many similarities: a tendency to overthink and undersleep, a need for long intellectual conversations, a deep and sometimes painful sensitivity, and a love of words. My mother has said she can't understand why I'm so sad and depressed over my dad's death. It's a message I've gotten before, as though I'm overreacting in my grief. That I need to toughen up and get over it. I'm in therapy, but I worry about how I will ever deal with this. Can you give me any advice?


The Daughter Left Behind


Your mother can't tolerate seeing you unhappy. That's all. She's unsettled by it, and worries that you'll never snap out of it. As a mother I can relate to that very well, and I'm sympathetic to her. She only wants you to be happy.

But—BUT!—there’s a certain kind of childhood to be had, in the company of someone who only wants you to be happy. Think about what that means, the flatness, the scentlessness, sterility of that: I. Only. Want. You. To. Be. Happy.

Here's what I DON'T want you to be:


Your mother doesn't want you to struggle, or overthink things. She doesn't want you to be sensitive, or complicated. She doesn't want you to honor exactly who you are. She wants you to GET OVER IT so she can feel at peace again. She's probably a little bit controlling. Just a guess. She's probably a little bit anxious.

And again, I understand that, and I have empathy for it, as a sometimes-anxious woman with kids. But you have to find a way to set all of her expectations and desires for you aside. You can love her and still do that. You have to find a way to get a little space for yourself, to get a little distance, so you can look back over that distance and say, "This person, my mother, is conflicted and sad in ways that she won't admit. She wants us to lie together. She will react negatively to ANYTHING that I do that doesn't feel absolutely safe and controlled and happy and that's not a direct reflection of what she wants for me."

Your mother doesn't want you to be an artist, a writer, an intellect. But that's what you are, right? That's what you want and what you believe in. You want the truth—you want to feel what you feel. You want to feel completely, painfully alive, and you know, instinctively, that this includes diving straight into your grief and not coming up to the surface until you feel like you're ready.

My father also died when he was 56 years old, completely out of the blue, from his first heart attack. He was in great shape, and extremely youthful. He ran or swam every day. He was a professor of economics, prone to bizarre digressions about human nature and spirituality and also prone to aggressive, off-color jokes. He was ruled by his emotions. I don't want to imply that he and I had the same sort of relationship that you had with your father; my dad could be very difficult, and I was treated more like a sidekick than an equal. But he loved me and he showed it, and when he died, I felt like the center of my life would never return. He and I were both very needy, very raw, and the rest of my family was much more controlled, more skeptical, more reserved, far less prone to starting a fight or leaping into the fray or showing their asses. When he died, I mourned for about four months straight, and then something shifted. I turned something off. I didn't want to play my role as joker. I was the last remaining emotional wild card in my family, and I felt ashamed of that suddenly, and for the first time, I withdrew. I was 25 years old, and after several years of drifting and drinking too much I got a boyfriend, got a great job, got in shape, and shut all the emotional neediness and messiness out for a while.

Maybe I made a decision to BE HAPPY. I wrote cartoons and that was part of it, too—I stopped drawing attention to myself as much and drew attention to my work instead. I pushed that clown onto the page, and became much more flat and controlled in real life. I dated a child-like artist, somebody who lived like an Unfrozen Caveman, who needed my help. I was strong. But I wasn't happy, not exactly.

Then I went into therapy and I realized that, two years later, I hadn't grieved my father's death nearly enough. Two years of grieving, even if you're not trying to turn it off most of the time, is NOTHING, when it comes to a parent or a spouse or anyone you've lived with for a big part of your life. When it's someone like your dad, who formed your identity? Of course you feel lost without him. You want him back. That's a gigantic loss. And it feels like you're losing part of your childhood, too, when someone important from your childhood disappears. It doesn't help that your mother doesn't understand or doesn't accept what a huge sea change you're still grappling with.

So: You need to get some distance from your mother and just handle her a little more, probably. Forgive her, talk about her in therapy, try to lean on her, but accept that she'll probably never get it, or she'll be too invested in your "getting over" this to get it. (Was she married to your dad when he died? It doesn't sound like it, but if she was: WHOA.) She isn't the right person to relate the full force of your emotion to. You know, mothers often can't fill this role, sadly. Many of us are just too invested in our kids' survival, and anything we perceive as threatening to that gets the heave-ho, even at the cost of their TRUEST, FULLEST HAPPINESS.

No one else will talk about grief with you? See, this is the bullshit thing about suffering a big loss when you're so young. I went through this, too. Very few of my friends—and I had lots of friends—were capable of even discussing my dad's death with me. It made them uncomfortable. That's how young we were. They were sure they'd say the wrong thing. We were all so self-conscious and inflexible and unaccepting of the immense gulf between different peoples' experiences. Some people stay that way, too. They try to downplay death, or act like the death of a third cousin and the death of a parent should be tackled with the same blasé toughness. It happens, you get over it. And if you talk about someone else's death, about how it affected or affects you? That's self-involved and pathetic.

Not only is this attitude bizarre, insensitive, and pathologically self-protective, but it shuts out the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you don't know that much about death yet because you've never had a close friend or family member die. When you lose someone very close to you, someone who makes up this essential part of your history and your future, your worldview shifts dramatically. You have a palpable feeling that everything and anything good can disappear at any time. I missed my dad a lot. I also felt like everyone I knew was going to start dying. I also hated that my dad wasn't able to go on living. I wanted him to be alive; I wanted him to feel rain on his face, to eat a great meal, to read something funny, for HIS sake.

After my dad's death, I felt more anguished AND I felt more alive than I'd ever felt in my life. I felt more grateful than ever. I only wanted honest people in my life, people who could talk about heaviness and melancholy and really savor it instead of feeling uncomfortable. I don't think I stuck to that. I think I couldn't handle staying in that space for very long, because it made me feel too raw. So I retreated.

Don't retreat. You need to find people who will talk about this. Figure out who they are. You're in therapy now. If your therapist isn't helping you deal with this that well, then get a new therapist. Or find a grief counselor, too. Or find a therapy group for people mourning a big loss. Look hard at your friends and figure out which ones you can lean on a little more. Someone out there can handle it, I'm sure of that. You just have to figure out who it is.

And you need to write things down. Every day. It'll help you to understand what shape your pain takes, so it doesn't take you by surprise, so you can talk yourself out of feeling paralyzed by it.

You also need to exercise every day. Mourning and exercise go very well together. You're already in a lot of pain. What's a little more? Fatigue can feel pretty redemptive when you're sad.

Because mourning is about being alive. That's something you have to remind yourself of, and maybe you should even take a shot at trying to explain this to your mother. Leaning into your sadness is not REFUSING TO BE HAPPY. Leaning into your sadness, every day, inviting it into your life, getting up and putting on some running shoes and running and walking and running for an hour or two, and crying while you run or walk—that’s reaffirming that you want to keep living. That's celebrating how much your father meant to you and how he will never disappear from your life, ever. That's knowing that you will survive this and you'll carry it with you and it'll be a big piece of who you are.

Because you don't ONLY want to be happy. You are not a two-dimensional cartoon cut-out who keeps all pain at bay, at the expense of your very soul. You are not someone who will tell other people to take their own complex, difficult, colorful experiences, experiences that you don't know anything about, and push them down, store them away, bury them, because it MAKES YOU UNCOMFORTABLE. You are going to feel this crushing loss for as long as you need to feel it, you're going to feel the full force of it, so that you can also feel:


You ARE going to feel grateful. This is the paradox of mourning. Incredible sadness carries with it an ability to touch the purest strain of joy, to experience an almost ecstatic release, to see an almost blinding, undiluted beauty in everything. Your dad will always be a part of your life. I hated it when people said that kind of thing before my dad died; I thought it was a sad lie told by needy liars. But it's true.

Two days after my dad died, I called his insurance agent, to cancel his car insurance. The guy had a thick Southern accent. He didn't get all stiff and weird on the phone, like most people did. He said, "My god. He was just in here the other day. He looked so healthy and young." It was a very honest response. Then he said, "My dad died when I was 25 years old. That was 25 years ago. I still remember him perfectly, like I just saw him yesterday. I still have dreams about him." At the time, I thought that sounded incredibly heartbreaking and depressing.

But here it is, almost 20 years later, and I get it. I remember my dad perfectly–his big laugh, his voice singing "Danny Boy" with showy bravado, his teasing tones, his little Muhammad Ali dance. If I turn my back on how important he is, I block my path to joy. I block my ability to bring joy to other people. He is a vital part of my life. And even the sadness I feel about losing him is vital. It makes every color brighter, it makes every single moment of happiness–or longing, or satisfaction, or grace, or melancholy–more real, more palpable, more complete.

Don't wonder how you will deal with this. You ARE dealing with it. Don’t wonder how you will get over it. You will NEVER get over it. I know that seems heartbreaking and depressing and wrong. Trust me that it's also gratifying and miraculous and astonishing and endlessly inspiring and important and helpful. Letting this pain in and growing from it will give you strength and resilience that you can pass on to other people in ways you can't possibly understand now. It's NOT all about you, not remotely. You are not stuck. You are not wallowing. This is a beautiful, terrible time in your life that you'll always remember. Don’t turn away from it. Don't shut it down. Don't get over it.


Are stoical motherfuckers always tell you that you're overreacting? Write to Polly and overreact away!

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Photo by Brian Smithson.

42 Comments / Post A Comment

Bittersweet (#765)

Oh, TDLB, I feel you so much. My dad died very suddenly from a severe allergic reaction last August, at the age of 70. Otherwise he was perfectly healthy.

His wife and close family were all completely wrecked by this event. We allowed ourselves to feel all the hard/messy things Polly lists above, and to have that be OK. 8 months later, I'm still often blindsided by grief in unlikely places, and I'm sure 80 months from now it'll be the same. I broke down in church a few weeks ago after hearing a very "Dad-like" hymn, and after the service, my friend told me she still grieves for her dad, even though he died 20 years ago.

Your grief is OK, however it manifests, however much you have. You are not "overdoing it," or doing it wrong, and anyone who tells you otherwise (including your mother, as much as she may have good intentions) is full of shit. Sending you strength and courage.

@Bittersweet After been in relationship with a guy for 3 years,he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to someone online and she suggested that I should contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that don't believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I meant a spell caster called Dr, Aduwawa and I email him, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened, that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him, that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem and who is different from all the fake ones out there. Anybody could need the help of the spell caster, his email: ( or you can call him on +2348112019701, you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or anything. CAN NEVER STOP TALKING ABOUT YOU SIR.

NOONE CAN TELL YOU HOW TO GRIEVE. You just have to. Wishing for you peace and freedom, and some sympathetic human company who at least listens, and at best understands.

cmf406 (#243,306)

Heather's right — the trick is to go all the way through the grief to the other side, without getting stuck. I hiked and cried a lot — figured if I was hiking, I wasn't sinking into my mother's depression/alcoholism pit, but was still working my way through it. Thank god for sunglasses. Therapy is good. Writing is good. And there are always going to be people who are weird about it, but you'll find your tribe. Mine is full of orphans. With any luck, we're all going to be bereaved at some point. Learning how to do this well, and gracefully, and without lying is an essential skill of adulthood.

laurel (#4,035)

No one close to me has ever died. I worry they're all going to go at the same time.

bureaucrab (#247,615)

"…grief is the one thing no one will talk about with me."

First of all, I'm so sorry your dad died. That sucks. And your grief is normal.

And yes, people are terribly afraid of grief and of the grieving. People always feel like if they can't magically fix something then they aren't helping, and grief makes us confront that we can't fix everything (to say nothing of the whole facing-your-own-mortality aspect of supporting a grieving person).

The only way to get better is to let yourself feel what you feel. That's the only way to get it out and ultimately let it go. And just because we know we'll (likely) outlive our parents doesn't mean it's an easy thing to have happen, especially when they're still pretty young. You SHOULD still be working through it in the first year. Feeling your dad's absence is now a part of your existence, but it's still a very NEW part. It will take time to fold it in so it's not a primary focus for you. In fact, for me, the second year after each major death has been more painful than the first – that's when the "forever" part of their being gone really sinks in.

I definitely recommend asking people to sit with you and let you talk (or whatever it is that you feel you want to do). In my case, asking people to come be with me when I wanted someone there was the ice breaker that they needed to actually be there. And then they saw how my grief was changing over time, and understood that I was getting better even though I was still working through it.

It's unfair, but often when we need people most, a lot of them don't know what we need and so we have to ask for it flat-out. But I think if you do that then you'll find people who are supportive and willing to be there for you.


Pippa Laughingstock (#248,091)

"This person, my mother, is conflicted and sad in ways that she won't admit. She wants us to lie together. She will react negatively to ANYTHING that I do that doesn't feel absolutely safe and controlled and happy and that's not a direct reflection of what she wants for me."

My relationship with my ex-boyfriend, right there.

nofunnybusiness (#10,151)

Thank you for this. My dad died last summer after a long illness, two months after I got married and on my 30th birthday.

I still have the nagging feeling that, while I need to grieve, I don't know how, and seeing the connections between grief and those other feelings–so helpful, especially when I've been unwittingly so preoccupied with assuring my mom that I'm "happy" and "okay."

nofunnybusiness (#10,151)

And my thoughts are with you, TDLB. I'm sorry for your loss.

TheTardis (#266,926)

I've never lost someone close to me. But I do have a mother who only allows me to be "Happy". Like Polly said you need to create some distance with her. She is not the person you can truly lean on, because it ultimately comes back to a place of "Get over It". Forgive your mom for not being what you need. And embrace the things that she can give you. Wishing you all the best!

garlicmustardweed (#264,986)

Yes, embrace that you will not get over it. It is not something to get over. He was and is part of your life. My therapist reminds me of this when I grieve how my mother could not love me as a child. I feel this immense pressure to "get over it" and stop thinking about it, and stop being angry about it. But that would be denying that something truly heartbreaking happened. It did. I know mourning a parent that never was and mourning a very real but deceased parent are not exactly the same thing, but you gotta just let yourself cry about it whenever you feel like crying. And find people that respect and try to understand that pain, even if they don't really relate to it or know what to say. As long as they know its important to you.

paddlepickle (#8,731)

Holy crap did I need to read this right now. My ex boyfriend committed suicide a few weeks ago and it turned my entire world upside down. So much of this resonates– from the way I can only stand to be around people with real depth and substance, to how I feel alternately grateful and miserable and terrified of everyone else dying. Fortunately I have some great people who are there to listen and really understand what I need, including a therapist, but I still find myself putting pressure on myself to move on and be happy and not think about it all the time. It's not just the pressure I get from needing to be at work and living my life as normally as possible, it's just that I don't WANT to feel this anymore. Right now I hate the idea that I'll be living with this grief all my life, so I'm comforted by the idea that it can be a good thing.

franceschances (#96,473)

@paddlepickle I am so fucking sorry. That is a a shitty fucking situation.

Remember that you can take breaks from grieving, if that is what you need to do for yourself. You can say, self, I am putting this aside until I see my therapist because right now I cannot breath because I don't know how to live. That's self care, too.

My dad passed away a couple of years ago, and I've had to consciously take breaks from the full force of my grief. Letting myself know I can come back to it makes it feel less like I'm acting, and more like I'm taking care of myself.

RobotsNeedLove (#236,743)

@paddlepickle I'm so sorry.

You will live with this grief your whole life, but after a while it won't overwhelm you all the time. You will laugh, and work, and think about other things.

When I had my first big loss at 15 (a sort-of boyfriend, a dear friend, who also committed suicide) my mom told me: people are Buddhist rock gardens. Throughout life, we get rocks in our gardens. Some are big boulders. They never go away, but we learn to rake the sand around then.

This boulder isn't going anywhere. But it's ok to rake the sand around it. And really beautifully, if you choose.

Myrtle (#9,838)

@paddlepickle losing people to suicide is a subset of special hell. I'm so sorry for your loss.

paddlepickle (#8,731)

@franceschances Thank you so much for sharing that, and I'm sorry for your loss as well. I think I've been a little scared to take breaks in that way because a big part of what I've been dealing with in therapy is anxiety caused by repressing or not letting myself feel my feelings– so with this, it feels like 'must feel EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME or I will ruin everything!" But you're right, I think putting it aside from time to time can also be important.

paddlepickle (#8,731)

@RobotsNeedLove I love that boulder image! Thank you so much.

paddlepickle (#8,731)

@Myrtle Thank you– the emotional support I have gotten from unexpected places has been one of the main things getting me through this, internet strangers among others.

PolarSamovar (#263,661)

@paddlepickle I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.

I lost my husband to cancer 6 months ago, after 18 months of torturous treatment. One thought that has helped me keep going is that while I need to feel everything — not all at once. Not all the time.

I feel sad, I cry. But while I do, I don't keep feeding the story that made me cry; eventually I find myself wondering what to have for lunch. I know that I'm not done crying forever. But I'm done for now, and, hey, lunch.

PolarSamovar (#263,661)

@RobotsNeedLove Love the image of the boulder and the and.

charlsiekate (#231,720)

My sister died four months before I was born, when she was five and a half (after a long illness) and my brother was a year old. I grew up in a household that could not ignore grief. My mom always said that grief is like a cup that is full and overflowing, you can only absorb so much at a time. C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed is an excellent book, and Elizabeth Kubler Ross is amazing. Finding real people to talk to is more important, but books always help me fill that void between the people I need in my life and the people I have in my life.

This might sound crazy, but if you don't have a pet, I think you should get one.

franceschances (#96,473)

@charlsiekate "that void between the people I need in my life and the people I have in my life."

THANK YOU. That is something I've been struggling with since my dad died. I've had to let go of a looooot of expectations of people, and had to grieve that some friends that I thought would be with me through everything could just not. fucking. show. up.

Bittersweet (#765)

@charlsiekate Lewis is amazing, and I found Kubler-Ross to be really helpful. However, I never realized that the 5 stages of grief are not linear until I felt 2 or 3 of them (or all of them) at once after my father passed away.

Getting a pet, if it works in TDLB's life, is a great idea. Our dogs really helped us through my dad's death, and they continue to be wonderful foci/means of support.

charlsiekate (#231,720)

@franceschances Those people who couldn't show up, they are going to have a rough life until they learn how to show up. Cause the lose of a parent is a pretty sure bet eventual tragedy in most everyone's life. I think it's harder when you are younger because your peers can't relate, but it is an invitable. Our society sucks at teaching coping skills, when coping skills are really the only thing we actually need to learn. It is actually a reasonable consequence of only wanting your kids to be happy. It's possible no one ever taught them how to appropriately handle the unhappy.

But there is a lot to be said for just showing up. My mom said when my sister was sick, she most appreciated her friends who just showed up, and didn't hang crepe or wring hangs. Someone who didn't ask what they could do or act like the world was ending, but instead showed up and acted normal and asked questions or baked cookies or made her laugh or just gave her a hug. Simple acknowledgment is easier and more powerful than most people realize.

baorange (#272,037)

I'm right there with you. I was 22 when my mother died about 9 years ago. The death of a parent is an extraordinarily huge loss at that age – and potentially harder to recover from than if it had happened earlier in childhood – especially for a woman. I agree that it is hard to find friends who will sit with you in your grief through this. They just can't do it. That's where therapy and self care come in, because you have to sit there, mostly by yourself, for however long it takes. I, like Polly, took a "break" before I was done grieving, and it came back to haunt me about 8 years later. I got slapped in the face again with these lessons- bad things do happen to good people, and nobody knows why, and trying to imagine and protect against those bad things either through denial or medication (in the form of busyness, food, alcohol, drugs, or other people) is only going to bring more pain in the long term. So just keep sitting with your grief. You are not alone. Be gentle with yourself, little one. You're so brave.

sugarpea (#1,799)

@baorange you expressed what I was trying to in much more eloquent terms.

Patrick M (#404)

I don't mean to jump on the "My Dad Died Too" train (it is the worst train), but my father died last May and I don't think it's something you get over; I think even when it's not something I'm directly thinking about, it's like a constant bass line underneath everything else.
Something that helped me was seeing Laurie Kilmartin go through a similar experience on Twitter last February. I'm not saying "Go read those tweets, it will fix stuff", but just: seeing someone else with a roughly similar mindset as mine go through it and hitting similar dark places and finding similar absurdities ended up being something that was good for me.

@Patrick M Truly, it is the worst train.

sugarpea (#1,799)

I also lost my father at 56, when I was in my early 20s. I was devastated, alienated, and disoriented. A little over 10 years have passed now, and I spent big chunks of those years grieving (particularly in the first years), but also: there were many joyous times in there, and time for healing and new loves and explorations. Wishing you strength and love, letter writer. I am so very sorry.

rhodan (#2,774)

As a newish member of the dead-parent club (it's been two and a half sad months) I cannot agree more with 'Don't get over it.' Seriously, fuck that. It will always be sad, and thank goodness for that; thank goodness for feeling. And thank goodness for knowing that your life is not over (because gosh! it feels that ways sometimes) and thank goodness for realizing that you can be really desperately deeply sad about your dad and happy and grateful at the same time. Which is what I expect I'll be in one way or another for the rest of my life.

de pizan (#272,058)

Also a member of the dead father club. Mine died a week before my 17th birthday from a brief bout of cancer. I just wanted to say on the grief timetable, the first year was actually bearable for me. I think it was because I was on autopilot/survival mode the whole time, and was the oldest child at home so was trying to take care of everyone else. It was the second year that was the hardest. Not just because it was fully sinking in that he was never coming back, and realizing that I was starting to forget already what his voice sounded like; but also because I was starting college and major life upheaval, and I no longer had my dad there for that. It will be 20 years in September, and although the pain and loss subsides, it will catch you unaware at unexpected times. Some years and some anniversaries (his death date, his birthday, your big events that he never saw, etc) will be easier and sometimes harder. So don't ever let anyone tell you how to grieve or when you are supposed to be over it. There is no over it, there's only learning how to live with it.

franceschances (#96,473)

@de pizan For me, weddings are the worst. I went to a string of weddings last fall, and by the last one I could not sit in the ballroom and watch the father daughter dance. I stood in the hallway and cried.

2192850474@twitter (#272,691)

@de pizan Ahhh I'm so glad someone else calls it the dead dad club! Both my boyfriend and I are part of the club too, and in our own morbid way, we joke about how we tend to find people who are in the club without trying.

Letter writer, my father died completely unexpectedly when I was nineteen, and Polly's advice is so spot on. It took me three years to maybe feel SORT OF normal about it, and even now, at six plus years since his death, it is emotional and just…really really fucking sad. It never stops getting sad. Death makes everything acute, and as Polly said, it also makes everything really beautiful. Your priorities change, and the weight of what it means to be alive is sharp within you right now. I'm so sorry. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but I will tell you this: You are not alone.

Much love from another member of the Dead Dad Club.

Myrtle (#9,838)

I envy those who are writing to mourn the loss of their father.

BeenThereDoneThat (#258,177)

@Myrtle me too because for me it says that there was a connection, a real relation,something that will be missed.

franceschances (#96,473)

@Myrtle @BeenThereDoneThat I hope you let yourselves grieve not getting from your fathers the love that you deserved.

doraleigh (#239,253)

TDLB — your mom, my mom. I didn't recognize this for years because that kind of attitude can mimic normal-seeming caring behavior. For instance — you/me: crying; mom: don't be sad! See, this seems like an appropriate response — my mom loves me and doesn't want me to be sad. But it took years (and thousands of dollars in therapy) to realize this is a BS response — the correct response is "I see you're feeling sad. do you want to talk about it?" or even just a big hug. Now that I am a mother I recognize the urge to make things better (by squelching sadness) and fight against it, but it's a struggle. You've got to feel things, TDLB. I've got to feel things. My son has got to feel things. It's the human condition, mothers be damned. My mother, I think, actually believes that being sad is an unnatural state or one that can make you sick or some such BS. Don't buy that baloney if yours is spouting that, too. Find someone or someones who will let you just feel it and who isn't scared of it. Those people are few and far between, they're out there. Good luck and I'm really sorry for your loss.

twinkiecowboy (#235,093)

So much sympathy for you, TLDB. Sometimes I think our obsession with "closure" and "moving on" can be very detrimental. I lost a sibling when I was a teenager and for a long time the idea that grief was something that was never over frightened me. It's not that your grief will always feel as overwhelming and intense as it does right now. For me, it's like a wound that healed but left a scar. You will always see the space where your father was, even long after it's empty. That's okay. It means his memory and importance in your life will always be with you. But like someone said above, it's okay to take breaks from grieving, too, or to continue with your life in a way that doesn't necessarily look like grieving. As long as you're staying open to feeling things and not judging yourself, there's really no wrong way to do it.

AsWeAre (#272,328)

Wow, thanks to everyone for the excellent discussion. It's such an important issue to talk about. I lost my father when I was in my late 20's (about 20 years ago); we had to "pull the plug" and watch him go… it was rough. But I learned how vital it is to take responsibility for my own grief and not let anyone else tell me how to do it.

It's important to remember, in our culture we're really only given one chance to grieve with some freedom, and that's in the few months immediately following the loss — so by God, you have to take full advantage of it. Because one day everyone around you start saying, in words or attitudes, "Are you still crying about that? Isn't it about time to get over it?" Which is horseshit, but also a good incentive to, as the author says, LEAN INTO the grief. Give it your full attention and love. Treat like a severe case of the flu that, if not properly cared for, will just linger — and may even escalate into something worse.

And try to remember that other people aren't comfortable with grief mainly because it scares the hell out of them. But that's not your problem. Do what you need to do. It's okay to wallow a little… eventually you'll get sick of that, and let it go a little more. As someone else said, you never "get over it," because that's not how grief works. But if you take care of your grief, and seek out people who will support and comfort you (even if that's a mental health professional), and don't judge yourself even when you're falling apart or fucking up… it will get easier, and in some weird way, sweeter. When I think of my dad now, I always smile. It's sort of wistful smile, but it's still rooted in love.

So, hang in there… many have been there before you, and we're on your side. At some point you'll be the one giving comfort. You'll be stronger, and you'll feel at peace about it.

My daddy died suddenly on May 7 1990, he was 56 yrs old. My heart is broken for good. I am 55 now and I still cry for him every day. When I wake up in the morning I am sad that I did.. Nothing will fix this, I am in so much agony and pain that it's unbearable. You have a right to your feelings, I will be in this torture till I die.

Theshoegirl (#282,072)

This is a really good post Izicathulo

jackson862 (#283,248)

My fathers passing in April of this year sent me a feeling of grief that I wouldn't wish on anybody.

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