A Hero’s Passing: Grieving the Loss of Your Father

Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope.

– Bill Cosby

If this quote makes you smile, you must know a father like mine: selfless and wise, strong and sensitive – loving and loved beyond words. Regardless of physical stature, a father is a giant among men. And when a father dies, he leaves a hole the size of Texas in the hearts of his children.

An Orphan Is an Orphan at Any Age

No matter how old you are when it happens, your father’s death is a defining moment, catapulting you into adulthood in an instant. Although I was a mother of two when my dad died, I felt like a lost little girl. Outwardly, I was the competent adult – thanking the doctors and nurses who cared for Dad, handling arrangements, greeting visitors, making sure Mom was okay. But inside, a little girl’s voice cried: “What will we do now? What will become of us? Daddy!”

Grief is personal, and no two people grieve in the same way. A child or adolescent may feel bewildered, frightened, and abandoned, not only because he lost the dad who represented security, stability, and love, but also because other significant adults may be emotionally unavailable to the child as they struggle with their own sorrow. If your father died when you were very young, you may find yourself revisiting your loss at various stages of your life. Even years after your father died, you will miss his presence with each passing milestone.

These days especially, if you are a young adult in your 20s when your dad dies, you may still be living at home as you work to establish your independence. In addition to your emotional loss, you may face the loss of financial or other material support from your father.

In your 30, 40s, and 50s, the loss of your father may hit especially hard, forcing you to confront your own mortality for the first time. At the same time, the demands of career and family may constrain your ability to grieve fully and freely.

If you are blessed to reach your 60s or 70s before your dad dies, you may be surprised that letting go of him is no easier than it would have been decades earlier. Well-meaning but misguided friends may say things like, “At least he lived a long, full life,” but you know that even after all these years, he died much too soon. Those extra years only reinforced how much you counted on your dad to always be there for you.

Coping With Your Loss

So how does one cope with the loss of a hero? Grieving takes time, but healing will come. Still, as long as you live, you will miss the Dad you loved so much – the one who taught you how to ride a bike, throw a fastball, change a tire. The one who led by example, showing you how to live a life of faith and service to others. The one who let you know that no matter what happened, no matter where you were or what you were doing, there was always someone back home who loved you unconditionally.

How do you cope with a loss like that?

As with any loss, you may experience a flood of intense emotions in the weeks and months following your father’s death. Grief demands that you step back, slow down, and allow yourself to feel those feelings. Listen to your heart and your body. Take time when you need it, and seek the support of others. No matter how young or old you may be when your dad dies, you father’s death is one of the most significant losses you’ll face in your lifetime. Give yourself the time and space to heal.

Honor Thy Father

As the acute pain of early grief subsides, your intense sorrow will give way to an occasional quiet pang of remembrance and longing. Now you can turn your energy to honoring your father, rather than mourning his loss. You can make the world a better place by passing on the wisdom and skills your father gave to you.

  • Teach a child a skill your dad taught you.
  • Prepare your father’s favorite meal and share it with friends and family.
  • Play your father’s favorite music and feel his presence.
  • Share defining stories about your father with your children and other people in your life.

What If You Were Estranged From Your Father?

Sadly, children and their fathers are sometimes at odds, and sometimes those conflicts last well into the child’s adulthood. If you were estranged from your father when he died, you may have a very different view of his death. In a future post, we’ll talk about finding closure in the face of such a grief.

Tell Us About Your Dad

Please take a few minutes to tell us about your dad. If he is alive, tell us what makes him special; if your dad has passed on, tell us how you coped with your grief.

Discuss: A Hero’s Passing: Grieving the Loss of Your Father

5 People Discussing
  • My Dad died on January 10,2011. I am 57 and Dad was 92. I am unfortunately experiencing what is called “CompoundedGrief” because in the last 6 years I lost both of my sisters and my mother and he was the last in my family of origin.
    There were many years when I was younger that we not particularly close, although he kept a stable life with my mother and I did see my parents. He was busy with work and travel with mom, Once my mother became ill ,my sisters died, I took loving care of both of them. This was a gift perhaps in disguise… Then left with Dad now, I continued caring for him and really enjoying things we did together,I saw him every day and included my husband and daughters. He began to rely on me and always “Have His Back” Old folks need that. We both knew that I was the Best Daughter and protected him to his passing. It is a gift beyond measure to know in your own heart you gave all the love you are to the people who raised you,and especially if it was not the perfect job you expected. In the end it was a perfect job because I turned out to be a really good person! Julie Tannenbaum

    Comment by Julie Tannenbaum — February 2, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  • My dad passed away 9-24-2011 and it was my very first loss. I am 40 and his passing has made me think not only of the shortness and fragility of life but the importance of living it to the fullest. This was such a blessing of a site, because when I read I realized I was not alone with these feelings. These are normal and the he really left me the best. A life full of wonderful memories. He gave all, not only to us a s daughters but he left his loved carved out in the pavement of where ever he went.
    Such a giver. So many stories, So many laughs, so much love could never be taken.

    Papi, I will miss you but I will always have you!

    Comment by Marilyn — September 27, 2011 @ 12:23 am

  • My Dad passed on May 29,2011,the day my life changed forever.He was 87yrs young and I was 49.He became ill very suddenly,he lived by himself,still drove,kept a very active life.Woke up one morning with alot of edema,drove himself to Dr,was put in hospital,but never got to go back to his home.After hospital stay&rehab,we brought him to my home(I worked healthcare whole life)Thought I could get him on his feet quicker and would have private care.He did well here got him to where Dr.’s said with services coming in daily,if took care of self could have yr or so.A.M. of the day they were coming to evaluate him for services,I had to call 911 he was vomiting large amt.blood.He never came back out of rehab&had couple hospital stays.I feel so guilty I could’nt bbring him back here,but he had gone down hill and needed round clock care,and I still have a 12yr old home.He was the best Dad,Grandpa there was.He was my best friend,would give a stranger shirt off his back.Was also a war hero fought in 3wars,got comondations for many things.Been almost a yr and I still feel like I did a couple mo. after,just wonder if I will ever be happy again…Maxine LaChance

    Comment by Maxine LaChance — May 10, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

  • My Dad just passed away one week ago, November 5, 2014. We had just a month and a half with him from the time we learned he may have cancer to the time we lost him. As much as it hurts our hearts to lose them it hurts just as bad to see them suffer. I laid next to him, my brothers held his hand and we told him we were going to be alright, we would take care of each other and he could go now. He took four more breaths and passed. He was in his own home. The last thing to go is hearing. They cannot respond but they hear you. Be there if you can and tell your father you will be okay. Be strong, it helps me to know he did not die alone, he knew he was not alone and for that I will always be grateful.

    Comment by Jessica Barnes — November 13, 2014 @ 10:47 pm

  • My Dad has not gone yet. I am on a train, and have about 7 more hours to make it to his death bed.

    There are so many thoughts, feeling and questions. What will I do now, and he was the one who protected me from everything; from the judgement of others, including my family, from poverty when I was down on my luck, from the harsh realities in the world. How will my children cope as he was as much their hero as my own.

    What if I do not make it to his bed in time, and he passes before i get there? He is surrounded by family, but I am alone.

    I like the “Honor Thy Father” section, and think I will cling to that as I move forward.

    Thank you for having this page.

    Comment by Stephanie Jones — September 13, 2018 @ 2:20 pm

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