Losing your father (or a father figure) can be one of life’s most traumatic events. As people who are known for being your biggest cheerleader, friend, fixer, and life coach—losing them will change your life as you know it. Each person has a very unique relationship with their father. This means that no grief experience will ever be exactly the same. However, there are some common emotions most people feel after losing their dad. Grief reactions may also depend on your stage in life. A younger person who still lives at home and depends on their father for daily support may feel a stronger sense of abandonment, whereas someone in their 60’s who remained close to their father may feel a stronger loss in regard to the decades of friendship established between them and their father. No matter your age, keep reading for some specific emotions you may feel after losing your father, as well as ways to work through these emotions.
The time immediately following the death of a loved one can be hectic. There’s much that must be done to make arrangements, and these arrangements can take away a majority of your time and energy. Because of this flurry of activity, the full emotional impact of your loss may not hit you right away. You may still be in a state of shock or disbelief during the first few months following the passing of your father. Realize that being numb to the pain doesn’t make it any less real. It’s perfectly normal to not fully feel the loss right away. Don’t grow frustrated if you aren’t experiencing the emotional reaction you expected.
Another common emotion many people feel is intense sadness or depression. As it is with the loss of any loved one, realizing that someone who you loved and cared for very much is gone from this world is a somber experience. While managing this sadness is specific to each person, it’s important that you allow yourself to acknowledge and respect the emotions you feel. Trying to hide your sadness is not healthy for your grief journey, and may prevent you from full healing in the future. As hard as it may be, depression is a natural part of the bereavement process, so it’s better to accept these emotions than to fight them.
Please note: While depression is a normal part of grief, it’s important to reflect on the severity of your depression over time. If you find that your depression persists without any good days, impairs your function of daily activities, or prompts thoughts of self-harm, professional help may be required.
Since fathers are often recognized for their protective and providing nature, losing your father may stir feelings of abandonment. The man who was once known as your “fixer” and guardian is no longer around to support you. You may feel as if a level of security is gone from your life. Coming to terms with this change will be hard, but don’t lose hope. Learn to rely on other people in your life. Reach out to trusted friends and family. Lean on your local parish community. Most of all, take this opportunity to remind yourself how much you are personally capable of – losing your father is undoubtedly difficult, but God will give you the strength and support you need to move forward in life.
While no one is ever ready to lose their dad, those who lose their father earlier in life may feel angry. You may feel as if time was stolen from you, or that you’ve been cheated from monumental occasions. Even for those who lose their father later in life, anger is a natural part of the grief process. God’s plan isn’t always easy to understand or accept. If you find yourself experiencing anger, know that it is natural. Like any other emotion you may be feeling, don’t back away from these feelings. Instead, acknowledge them and try to focus your energy on working through this anger to reach some level of peace and healing. Similar to symptoms of depression, you may want to seek assistance of a professional if anger starts impacting your daily living.
As unbelievable as it may seem at first, eventually you will achieve some level of peace and comfort in regard to your father’s passing. Full understanding can only come with time and much self-reflection. As Catholics, we can also find immense hope and peace in the promise of salvation. It is our hope that one day we will be reunited with our loved ones in the presence of Christ. As you work through your grief, try to shift your mindset from saying goodbye to your loved one toward saying “I’ll see you again.” Also consider that your loved ones are likely lifting you in their (now divine) prayers and cheering you on to find new courage and peace.
A healing way to work through your grief, and the various emotions you may feel along the way, is to find ways to honor your father. Watching his favorite movie, making his favorite meal, or ordering his favorite cocktail are all ways you can feel closer to him. Keep his memory alive by looking at pictures of him often, and telling your favorite stories about his life to other close family members and friends. There is no reason why you can’t keep a strong relationship with your father even after his passing.
If you’re interested in further grief support, please consider attending one of our monthly Grief Support Groups. These informal and all-inclusive groups meet once a month for 1-hour. Come be in the presence of those who understand. For grief support dates and locations, please visit clecem.org.
Post written by Katie Karpinski