Our parents shape our thoughts, our values and the trajectory of our lives. Therefore, it is not surprising that the loss of any family member, let alone a parental figure is devastating. Your whole world shifts and suddenly you are forced to navigate this world without guidance. Yet, the pain of losing an estranged father is like a barbed arrow. What ensues is unresolved pain, anger and confusion.
When I was 19, my father disappeared out of my life as a result of an affair. I’d see him here or there at family functions once or twice a year. I tried to reach out to him, but he never responded so I was left feeling dejected and unwanted. When I was 26, my father died because his brain tumor spread throughout his vital organs. I tried desperately to properly mourn the death of my father.
At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the stages of grief, but boy did I understand that the anger I experienced should have been stifled beneath tears. That is the message I was taught from society and my Chinese culture. I was to feel sadness for the loss of his life. Surely, when a girl’s father dies, part of the first man she ever loved dies with her. Rather than mourn his death, I mourned the relationship we never had. I ruminated about how I may have unintentionally pushed him away, or how I could have salvaged a broken relationship. All my fantasies of my father walking me down the aisle vanished. Instead of mourning his death, I began to compensate by dissecting the circumstances that led to the demise of our relationship.
In very unhealthy ways, I prolonged my grief. Rightfully so, I was angry and helpless. By taking on some responsibility, I was making sense of the shaky ground in which I stood. So with great intention, and quiet moments of contemplation, I wrote my deceased father a letter. It was a letter of forgiveness. I forgave him for his selfishnessness. I forgave him for hurting my self-worth. I told him how much I needed him in my life, then and now.
This letter, with the permission of my mother, I tucked away in his casket the day he was buried. It was this singular, physical gesture that helped to dispel the contradiction and turmoil in my life.
Coping with loss looks different for everyone, depending on your age, religion, and relationship with the deceased. These suggestions may be helpful as you navigate the death of a loved one.
This blog post is inspired by Father Loss: Daughters Discuss Life, Love, and Why Losing a Dad Means So Much by Elyce Wakerman.