On Seeing Other Women Lose Their Fathers

Recently, a girl that I went to college with, but didn’t know personally, posted a status on her Facebook page. It said that her father had just died. Tears came to my eyes. I left a comment about how sorry I was. I shared that I’d lost my father ten years ago. I said she has the right to grieve. I said she is free to message me anytime if she needs someone to talk to who has been through a similar experience. My words felt inadequate, and they were.

Since her first post about her father’s death, the girl has posted other updates. It’s heartbreaking because I feel as though I am re-living my father’s death through her. When I hear of other women who have lost fathers, I hurt for them. I cry for them. I can’t stop myself from thinking of my own father. I want to take these women in my arms and hold them as I was never held. I want to tell them all the things that I was never told. Above all, I want to bring back our fathers.

The death of my father was such a shattering experience that, a decade later, I’m still reeling from it. I hope these women can survive better than I have. I truly wish that for them. I wish that I could tell these women that it gets better, that time heals, that everything happens for a reason but I can’t speak words that I do not believe. Instead, I say that each loss is personal and individual. I assure them that their feelings are valid and encourage them to grieve. I say nothing about religion because I’m an atheist. I don’t make predictions about the future because I know that nothing is promised and life is unbearable at times. I don’t believe in healing. I think it’s a concept, an abstraction, that has no relation to our lived reality in which things are much messier and more complicated. I believe in moments of peace, but I also know that life can drag you into the deepest, darkest holes that you try to claw your way out of and yet never escape.

When my father died, I didn’t have friends and family who rushed to support and care for me. I had my mother and we held on to each other as the people we once believed loved us chose to abandon, disparage, and personally attack us. Loss can bring out the worst in people, and I’ve seen it firsthand for myself. No one asked how I was. No one offered kind words. No one came to our aid. We were on our own and we still are. I stopped trusting people. I became bitter and angry. These ten years have not been kind to me. They have included the death of other people I cared about, poverty, debilitating depression and anxiety, lack of access to health care, the loss of my home, physical and mental pain, and the list goes on. No, I cannot tell anyone that things get better and that time heals. If anything, it has been the opposite for me. Things get harder as the years pass, and you struggle to make sense of your shattered life. Nothing heals a wound so big and deep that you are lost inside of it.

I am no model of success. I am not an inspirational story, nor should I have to be. I am no example to live by. So, to be honest, I don’t know what to say to women who have lost their fathers. What could I possibly say to comfort them when I cannot comfort or save myself? I have no wisdom to impart. I have no advice to proffer. I have no solace to provide. In the end, we each navigate loss the best we can. Some of us are fortunate to have a support system while some of us are not. Some of us have access to resources and some of us are denied access. There is no one way to grieve, no right way to handle the death of a loved one. There is what others can bear and what you can bear. There is no point in comparing the two or in imposing our ideas of normalcy on to other people or considering our experience universal.

I suppose all we can do as those who witness someone going through loss is to listen, to not judge, to not offer unhelpful clichés, to genuinely try to offer support. For those suffering a loss, reach out if you can and, from one fatherless daughter to another, I say:  I’m sorry your father is dead, I’m sorry you are suffering, I’m sorry for what you have lost. Remember him, talk about him, grieve for as long as you need, feel what you feel and never be ashamed of crying or laughing or struggling or thriving. Know that you are not alone. I am here, my words are here, and they are all that I can give to you. My one hope is that they lessen some of your isolation.