Few things in life will be as shocking as the moment you learn your Dad has died. There is a fraction of a moment before the news fully begins to hit you when the whole world stops. The sounds around you seem muffled and far away. You are aware for those very few seconds that you are about to get slammed with a reality you can’t possibly already know how to cope with. Whether it’s God, or simply the instinctive reaction of the human brain that gives you that tiniest bit of time between knowing what’s coming and actually beginning to feel it, it’s a sensation that is difficult to describe. And then it hits you. Your Dad is gone. And your life will never be the same again.
When my Dad died a year and a half ago, I had no idea how I would ever recover. Despite the fact that my Dad had been sick for some time, and the reality that I am of an age where it isn’t unusual for people to begin losing their parents, I was still completely stunned when he died. I think somehow, somewhere inside of me, I clung to the belief that my Dad couldn’t really die. But then it happened.
If you are struggling to cope after your Dad has died, there may be ways to help yourself move through your grief. There were moments I believed nothing could help; nothing could ease my total heartbreak over the fact that my Dad had died. But I’ve learned that there are things that can help. And while none of those things can bring my Dad back, at least not in the way I wish they could, they still help me to continue moving forward to a place where I can find a measure of comfort. If your Dad has died, and you are looking for ways to help yourself cope, the following insights and suggestions might be helpful.
Accept that the experience will be different for everyone who’s Dad has died – The day after my Dad died, I called one of my closest friends to let her know. The very next day, she called me to tell me the shocking news that her own Dad had died as well, just one day after mine had. Not only were we shocked and grief-stricken at the fact that our Dads had died, but we also were stunned by the fact that we had lost them just one day apart.
Despite the fact that my friend and I are the same age, grew up in the same city, have had children who’ve grown up together, and have many other similarities in our lives (our Dads even shared the same name), our experience of loss and coping has been very different. I believe I’ve learned that the differences in grief and coping are a result of the differences in the relationships that each of us had with our Dads. For my friend, her Dad was her protector, and somebody to be silly with. So, for her, the fact that her Dad died means that she’s lost the person who served those functions in her life. Alternately, my Dad was a great teacher to me, and one of the very best friends I’ll ever have in life. When my Dad died, I lost a teacher and a dear friend. Even though my friend and I lead very similar lives, when our Dads died, we were challenged emotionally in different ways. So, while you may gain comfort from talking to another person whose Dad has also died, try not to develop any expectations for yourself based on their personal experiences. Just as your relationship with your Dad was unique, so will be your experience of grief after he has died.
You can’t rush healing – Even though a lot of people around you, particularly those whose Dads have not died, will seem to feel that you should be fine after a few months, accept and acknowledge that you can’t rush your healing. Coping with the pain after your Dad has died might take a lot longer than people around you can understand. There have been moments since my Dad died that I have honestly believed I would never heal. Not everyone understands that. At some point, you probably will be able to move through your days without the pain being as intense as it once was, but allow yourself as much time as it takes to get there. If it takes 5 months, or 5 years; you will only delay healing if you try to rush it before you’re truly ready.
I won’t tell you that the pain gets better – I will tell you though, that the pain changes. Your Dad has died. You will never be the same person again. For nearly a year, I couldn’t make it through a single day without crying. Now I can usually go a few days without crying, and the crying episodes are not as intense as they once were. I’ve reached a point where I can be happy for him that he is not suffering anymore, although I’m not yet able to feel that way all the time.
I’ll sum it up by sharing an experience I had a few nights ago. I was turning out the lights to go to sleep, and I heard my Dad’s voice say, “It’s going to be OK”. Without thinking, I answered out loud, “I know. It’s just a different kind of OK, and I’m still getting used to that.”
After your Dad has died, know that at some point you will be OK again; it will simply be a different kind of OK. You have to learn your new “normal”. It’s difficult, and it hurts. Hopefully, these insights will help you in your grief and your journey to move forward after your Dad has died.