Grief and Fathers

When a father loses a child, and when a child loses a father.

Posted Jun 15, 2019

Anna Pospylova 123rf "A child stands at the window and waiting his father from the war" used with permission
Child Looking
Source: Anna Pospylova 123rf "A child stands at the window and waiting his father from the war" used with permission

It is never easy to lose a parent. It's out of one's imagination that their child will die before them. When you lose a father and when you lose a child, you lose a sense of self. Who am I without my father? Who am I without my child? I am still a parent to that child, yet the active role is not there. It's been stolen. In both instances, there is a sense of being orphaned.  

Across all ages, when the father is alive, we are still actively his child, regardless of what age we are. The role of the patriarch is a powerful one. Collectively, and archetypically,  we have all had a father, or a father figure, whether we knew him or not. The role your father played in your life affects how you grieve and how you live. 

The role your father played is different than the role you may have needed or expected. If your father was loving and modeled behavior that you wanted to reflect in your own life, you got a personal gift. Yet, if he could not be the father you needed him to be, lacking integrity or purpose or simply not being there, either in spirit or in body, then the magnitude of this loss can be even greater.

Survival Tools for Grieving Your Father

1. Plan for the day. Even if you believe that the day will not have an impact on you, don’t risk it. Reach out to friends and family. You don’t have to go it alone! Even if that is your typical MO, this is an opportunity to do things differently!

2. Write letters to your father. Or get a Father’s Day card and write a note to him. This could begin a ritual that you do for yourself every Father’s Day.

3. Do things in memory of him. If you are able to look at pictures, take out one or two of them that fill you with joy. Tell a story that reflects what your father meant to you. Wear a color that he liked.

4. Address an estranged relationship. What has that relationship taught you, and how you have used what you learned to better yourself? How do you love yourself differently than the way he loved you? What different choices did you make because of the tension? Own your growth and differences.

5. Be good to you! Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and take care of your soul by listening and breathing. Remember to breathe!

A loss like none other. Losing a child, regardless of the child's age, is painful and filled with senses of helplessness and confusion. Who am I? How do I survive in light of this loss? And how do I continue to find a life worth living? It is an isolating and emotionally interior and personal experience. No one can tell you to get over it. It's not something you get over. Yet, there are ways to learn to dance with it, partner with it, so it becomes less painful and more a part of how you see the world, and how you act in the world, and how you integrate with the people around you. This loss changes you forever. Who you become may allow for growth, self-understanding, and a vision you may have never known. 

Helpful Tools for Fathers Grieving the Loss of a Child

1. Be proactive in healing. Therapy is often helpful to sort out the intense emotions associated with your grief. Anger and regret are emotions that like to take up space in your world. Individual or group therapy help to calm the forceful nature of emotions. “Compassionate Friends” is an organization that can help to make you feel less alone in your grief. Healing occurs when you reach out for help.

2. Consider a “turning your grief into grace" group. This is self-help meets self-knowledge. Meet others who are dealing with grief. Meet the you who was taught to keep emotions internalized and keep that “stiff upper lip.” Let the “lip” go! It is time to understand that this is an opportunity to touch the part of you that has remained hidden, and it may be a gift to you from your child.

3. Get to balance. At times you will feel overwhelmed with emotions, and at other times, you will feel distant from them. On a piece of paper draw two circles. Put a dot in the middle of both circles. The dot is you. The two circles represent your relationship to your emotions before and after the loss. Write down the emotions that you were the closest to before the loss and the emotions you are closest to now. What differences do you see? What can you learn about you and your potent emotions?

4. Write letters to my child. When a child dies, the part of you that was a parent to that child does not have to die. The way you hold them in your heart will always be alive. Honor that part of you. Write your child a letter sharing your thoughts or your life with them. The conversation with them does not have to die.

5. Pay their lives forward. What did your child love to do? Were they into sports or the arts, or were they the light in your soul? Take who they were to you and share aspects of them by giving of yourself. If they were young and died without having developed their own sense of self, donate time in their name as a way of keeping their spirit alive.

You can make this into a noetic experience—one where there is an awakening with you, because you are in a process of being with the self, knowing the self, and soothing your own soul.