How Do I Deal With the Death of My Father?

Learning about grief can help you move through the necessary steps and deal with the death of your father.
Learning about grief can help you move through the necessary steps and deal with the death of your father.

The death of a loved one is one of the most intense experiences in life. Losing a father can be especially difficult. Learning about grief can help you move through the necessary steps and deal with the death of your father.

Your circumstances will shape your grief experience. Was your father's death expected or sudden? Is your other parent still alive? Were you emotionally close to your father? Were you a caregiver for him? Factors like these make your loss unique.

Why losing a father is hard

All loss is hard, but losing a parent can be extra difficult. The death of a father is hard because of the many roles that fathers play:

  • Husbands
  • Care providers
  • Companions
  • Protectors
  • Models for behavior
  • Teachers and moral guides
  • Breadwinners

In one study, researchers found that males take the loss of a father harder than the loss of a mother. Women grieved more over the loss of their mothers. Both daughters and sons who lost parents felt a drop in their sense of purpose. Sons who lost fathers also experienced an increase in depression and a dip in overall psychological health.

Some people deal with grief by drinking more. Researchers report that men often increase their alcohol consumption after the death of a father.

Why it's hard to move on

Losing a parent changes your life in several ways:

  • You've lost a person who saw your uniqueness and gave you unconditional love.  
  • Your position in your family changes, and you may become a member of the older generation.
  • You realize your own mortality because a generation no longer separates you and death.
  • You've lost a person who remembers your childhood and could answer questions about your past.

Are there stages of grief?

Experts agree that grief is a process, but they disagree about the steps or stages. One model describes five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The author of this model, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, emphasized that you may skip stages or go through them in a different order.

A simpler model suggests three steps in the grieving process — numbness, disorganization, and reorganization.

Numbness. During this stage, you are almost in a stage of shock. You may go through the steps required by your father's death, such as arranging services and taking charge of finances. You may feel sorrow, but you don't fully realize what you've lost.

Disorganization. As the numbness goes away, you may feel a mixture of emotions. Besides sorrow, you may feel anger, guilt, or fear. Your throat may be tight. You may catch yourself sighing often. Reaching out to family and friends can help. Don't make any major decisions during this stage.

Reorganization. Soon you will notice that you do not think of your father constantly. You will be able to resume a normal pattern of work and other activities. You will begin to think of the future.


Is grief a normal reaction? See Answer

Ways to deal with the death of a father

These strategies may help you deal with the death of your father:

Share your grief. Talk to friends, colleagues, and family members about what you are feeling. They may not bring up your father's death, but they will listen when you do. It's good to share your feelings with your siblings. Just be aware that their relationship with your father could differ from your own.

Forgive yourself. No one has a perfect relationship with their parents. You and your father may have exchanged harsh words. You may have passed up opportunities to be with him. Forgive yourself, and realize that your father was not perfect, either.

Grow through loss. Take lessons from your relationship with your father. Use them to make your life better. These can be positive — "My father could find humor in anything." They can also be negative — "Dad hated to apologize, even when he knew he was wrong." Both types of lessons can be valuable.

Find ways to remember your father. Some people find solace through visiting gravesites. You may prefer to write down your memories or work with your dad's favorite charity.

How to know if you need more help

Everyone's timetable for grief is different. You may still be sad about losing your father after others have returned to their normal lives. That's okay. But consider getting help if you have any of these symptoms:

  • New and unexplained physical problems
  • Grief that interferes with work or home duties
  • Extreme anger or anger that's easily triggered
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as excessive drinking, suicidal thoughts, or overuse of medications

Human beings are built to bounce back after loss. If this isn't happening for you, you may need to see a psychotherapist. A therapist can help you work through the stages of grief.

American Psychological Association: "Grief: Coping with the loss of your loved one."

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation: "5 Stages of Grief."

griefHaven: "Losing a Parent."

Hospice Foundation of America: "When Do I Seek Professional Help?"

Journal of Family Issues: "Death of Parents and Adult Psychological and Physical Well-Being: A Prospective U.S. National Study."

Journal of Marriage and Family: "Parents' Death and Adult Well-being: Gender, Age, and Adaptation to Filial Bereavement.?

Queensborough Community College: "The Three Stages of Grief."

Rando, T. How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies, Bantam, 1991.