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My Father Died – Now What?

Papi

“To live and love wholly again, you must mourn. You will not heal unless you allow yourself to openly express your grief…

Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. And never forget that the death of a parent changes your life forever.”

~ Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Written by contributor Arianna Carlson of For the Love of Motherhood

The morning of April 16, 2003, the phone ran, I glanced at the caller ID: “parents.”  In the last few weeks, I had grown skittish at the sound of my phone ringing, holding my breath, and releasing a sigh when it was anyone but my “parents.”  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my mother and father, wasn’t close or wanted to hear from them— it was fear.

Fear that every time my phone rang, it would be the moment that would change my life forever.

I took a deep breath and answered, momentarily thinking I should let it go to voicemail, I knew the moment I had been fearing was becoming a reality.

“Hi Arianna, your father is in the hospital and the doctors say he doesn’t have much time left.  They will do what they can to keep him alive until you can all get here, but they recommend you come as quickly as you can to say good-bye…”  The conversation went on for a few more minutes, I’m not really sure what I said or how I left it, but the next several hours felt like a slow-moving nightmare.

A few hours later, I found myself landing at JFK, being picked up by my brother, Fabio, and immediately rushed to NYU Medical Center.  Family and friends filled the waiting room, but there was no sound.  Silence filled the room. Through tears in my eyes, I looked at my mother, and had no words.

I went in to see my father.  (Sigh)  I made it!  I had gotten there in time.  Although he was unconscious and probably unaware of my presence, I was able to see him for the last time, to hold his hand, hug his warm body and say good-bye.

But how do you say good-bye to your own father?   How do you let go of the one man that has been your greatest supporter, most influential role model, and your deepest love?  You just stand there and hold him until… I didn’t want the story to end this way.

Whether it’s a sudden loss, you’ve had months to prepare, or it’s a natural progression of life, it doesn’t even matter whether your relationship was close or distant, nothing prepares you for the death of a parent.

After a death, you go through a range of emotions from one moment to the next, eventually one day turns to another, and before you know it, it’s been ten years.

So much has happened in the last ten years, moments that I couldn’t share with my dad.  Moments that I wished, more than ever, with the greatest pain in my heart, that he could have been there for:  to meet my husband, my wedding day, the purchase of a new home, the birth of my son, and every non-monumental moment in between.

The first year was the toughest, I called it the year of the firsts; first Father’s Day, his birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and finally, the anniversary of his death.  The years that followed seemed to get easier, but there are still those occasions, when I least expect it and am unprepared, that leave me breathless and longing for him.

So often I have reached for the phone to call and ask my dad a question, to toss an idea around, to get his advice, or to share some happy news.  There have been times where I have felt his presence, smelled his cologne, or heard the sound of his voice.  When this happens, I stop, take a deep breath, close my eyes and relish the feeling that he is still with me.

And if I could, this is what I’d say to him today.

Dear Papi, You taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to, to never give up, to be independent and perhaps against your intentions, a little too strong willed.  You wanted me to be loving, compassionate, patient, and giving. You supported my decisions and allowed me to make mistakes. You were my go-to, my advisor, counselor, problem solver, and biggest cheerleader. You were, before I met my husband, the smartest man I knew. You were a role model, hardworking, determined, dedicated, selfless, devoted, respected, and, perhaps against your intentions, a little too strong willed.  I will forever be a part of you, and you, an even bigger part of me.  I love and miss you deeply.  Love, Arianna.

Sketch of my father is by the talented Diana Fogarty Daino, my sister-in-law.

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39 Responses to My Father Died – Now What?

  1. Kathleen April 30, 2013 at 2:35 am #

    This is lovely. I lost my dad in October 2012 to a motorcycle accident. I got that phone call that nobody wants to get. I had to make the decision to take him off life support, and I was there when he left this earth. I was pregnant when he died, so like you I am sad that he will never meet or hold his grandson, I’m grateful for the time he had with his granddaughter, but so sad that he won’t be here to watch them grow. I’ve also been inclined to call him or shoot him a text, but then I remember that he is dead. I’ve been told by several people that the first year is the hardest. His birthday just passed in February. Last years Father’s day was the first Father’s day that we had spent together in years. I bought a t shirt for him and my husband that said “papa bear” on it and a t-shirt for my daughter that said, “I Love Dad”. We went out to breakfast, it was great, couldn’t have been more perfect. My condolences to you for loosing your father. It sucks. And thank you for this, I just popped on this site to see if you had any dinner recipe ideas and stumbled upon this. Probably not a coincidence. Thanks, Kathleen

    • destiny February 21, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

      I lost my father four years ago I was nine it was Christmas when he got beat to death.mom never let me say goodbye ever since then shes been with different men,she’s even dune drugs ,she lost her leg,and know everything is my fault somebody Cry’s I made them cry I’m just so confused and lonely what do I do.I’m invisible to everybody I get bullied every other day about how I look and what happen my brother trys to forgett me and my mom they want me to chose a side I just hate it here.

      • Patti June 10, 2015 at 4:45 am #

        Destiny my heart goes out to you. Please understand that you are not responsible for your family’s situation. I pray that you can find an adult like a teacher or neighbor that you can talk to. Try a also a church nearby for help. Hugs and prayers to you. Remember that you are very special. Learn to love yourself.

      • Tonya M Brock September 9, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

        Remember you are not the one that caused your fathers death.
        Fuck them all.

  2. Arianna April 30, 2013 at 5:15 am #

    Kathleen,

    I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your Dad. Especially so suddenly. I’m assuming you’ve had your baby, or it’s just around the corner. I’m sure your son will bring you joy, at a time when you need it most.

    Be gentle with yourself. Allow time to heal. It’s not easy. It gets better, but it’ll never be quite the same.

    Thank you for sharing and I’m glad you can to look for a recipe and stumbled upon the article.

    Be well- xx
    Arianna

  3. Kyli December 6, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    Thank you so much for this. This is pretty much exactly my story except I’m about 2 weeks from the year anniversary and my baby has occupied so much of the past year that I don’t feel like I really fully mourned…tears flooding now! Sometimes it just helps to know that you’re not alone…that I’m not the only one who’s father won’t… walk down the aisle (more tears)…won’t get to wrestle with my kids like he did with us…teach my son how to catch and hit a baseball…save all of the cardboard boxes from work so we could build forts everywhere…build another play house from scratch for my future daughter to enjoy 😉

    • Arianna June 11, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

      Kyli,

      Thanks for sharing. I hope you’ve been able to find some peace in your lost and you were able to find a special way to honor his anniversary.

      xx
      Arianna

  4. Cathy January 22, 2014 at 4:46 am #

    I know these posts are old but feel the need to respond to them anyway. My eighty five year old Dad has lived with me for the past 6 years; during that time his Parkinson’s has progressed. He is currently in the hospital with aspiration pneumonia and sepsis. His swallowing reflex is gone. Even though I thought I had been preparing for his eventual death ( I am a R.N. and understand the disease and it’s consequences) I find I am not prepared at all. On some level I want my father to live forever and I can’t imagine life without him. He has always been there for me and I am having such trouble letting go. My heart is breaking and I don’t know how I can live without him. I keep hoping he will pull through this, but then I feel that is selfish to do. Over the years I have watched many friends and family members lose their parents and they all seem to grieve then get on with their lives. Going through it now, I marvel at this….I am hurting so bad I don’t think I will ever get over it….Sorry to be rambling but just wanted to reach out to others who have lost their Dad…

    • Madhumita May 18, 2014 at 11:59 am #

      I saw the date of ur post … This ws the day iost my dearest papa… The center of my life… My world… My everything….he too passed away due to sepsis… After a heart attack… At 70 yrs… I miss him every single day… Pains me to think i will never see him again … Hear his voice… Wish he could last forever…

    • Arianna June 11, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

      Cathy,

      I am so sorry to hear about your dad! How is he doing? How are you doing? My thoughts are with you and your dad!

      Blessings.
      Arianna

    • han December 25, 2014 at 2:37 am #

      I lost my dad this year on Jan 11 to metastatic colon cancer. When he was first diagnosed the cancer was already in the final stage. Just 2 weeks later it spread into his spine and right arm and he could no longer walk nor use his arm. I watched him suffer, lying in bed, incapable of doing anything except watch tv, wait for people to serve him. His will was strong and never once did he complain about the hateful chemo sessions that he had to endure. It was heartbreaking to see a man struggling like this, especially when he is your dad. Unfortunately, he lost his fight after 21 mths. They say cancer is a kind illness that allows you to truly appreciate what might be lost, and gives you time to say goodbye. But nothing.. nothing could ever prepare you for when the time to let go finally comes. The firsts.. it’s true they are the hardest to get by. I totally lost it on my birthday and his and every major holiday in between. I just wish now that it will get better with time. I miss him so much it hurts to even think about him. Just wish I could hear his voice and feel his touch again. </3

    • Betty Soper March 1, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

      I just lost my Dad Friday. He had demenchia and began aspirating. I have had him with me for 3 1/2 years. Don’t know what I am going to do without him here. No we are not prepared to loose a parent. It’s been 3 1/2 years since my mom passed and I still miss her terribly.

  5. Leah January 30, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    Cathy,

    I’m so sorry that you are going through this. No matter how long you get to spend with your dad, it will never feel like enough time. It feels like a part of you dies when your parent dies. It’s not that people grieve and then move on, but rather they try to suppress the pain so that they can get through each day. At first it will be crippling, but slowly you will learn to push through, because you know that’s what any loving parent would want their child to do. Many people describe the pain of losing a loved one as waves that are intense and frequent at first, but then they become less intense and less frequent over time. I hope this helps you and I wish you solace.

    • Arianna June 11, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

      Leah,

      Thanks for your kind words to Cathy. I completely agree.

      Best-
      Arianna

  6. Wendy February 4, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Very touching. Although I am late in posting, I am so sorry for your loss. My father passed at 67, in 2003, in my home. I didn’t get home in time, but I used to watch him wave to me while at work, as I watched him on a camera I set up. I’d watch him get his therapy, and sleep, little did I know one day while watching him sleep from the past day of tiring kidney dialysis, he wouldn’t be waking. I am grateful for the time I had with him, but selfishly wanted more. Even now, it breaks my heart to think of him not here. It’s hard, no matter the years gone by. I hope you are holding happy memories with happy tears as you think of your dad.
    Hugs, Wendy

    • Arianna June 11, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

      Wendy,

      Thank you. Yes! Many, many fond memories. Even in the midst of tears.

      Best-
      Arianna

  7. Andrew February 22, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    My father died today. I don’t know why but if this helps me as I don’t have a very supportive family after an 18 year family feud that wasn’t my parents doing.

    My lovely man your spirit is free, I left you with no doubt you meant so much to me. You’ve left me proud of what I’ve done and did it for love not just a son.
    You didn’t have to say how much you cared, as I feel it now through so much we shared. R I P dad.

    • Arianna June 11, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

      Andrew,

      I do hope this helped and thank you for sharing.

      Blessings,
      Arianna

  8. Voula March 31, 2014 at 12:13 am #

    Hi- my dad passed away on February 12th, 2014. He was battling sarcoma cancer for almost 5 years. On top of that, for the last 20 years he was also battling bipolar disease. I was 20 when he was first diagnosed with that, so life at home was tough, to say the least. At 27 I left home to get married- maybe I was trying to escape my father, but my husband is a great guy and we have 4 beautiful Children- 2 boys and two girls. I was always a part of family life- I’d go home with the kids, and my parents would visit- when my dad was taking his meds that went well. Other times it was pretty awful. My mom and brother tried very hard to cope all those years. My mom is a saint. After he was diagnosed with the cancer I flew out a number of times to help my mom with the hospitals- operations, chemotherapies. Last year it metastasized, and I travelled even more frequently. I’d stay for a month, leave, then do it all again. I got to tell him that I had totally forgiven him for going off his meds and being mean. I got it all out- I told him I loved him. I think God gave me that opportunity. Some dumb aunt of mine was thoughtless enough to say that he got sick because I had left home. For me, I did everything in my power to be there and make Peace with everything that had happened. I wasn’t there when he passed, but flew out for the funeral. My husband and kids supported me the whole time. They never complained about my absences. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that if we do have something to say, we should, before it’s too late. Also that those great kids of mine are angels who have blessed my life, and are the continuation of my father. I hope everyone out there who is going through this finds Peace. It hurts, but it is something all of us will have to deal with, sooner or later. Thanks so much for listening. V.

  9. ilia April 6, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    Hi im ilia and im 11~ my dad died on March12, 2014 00:16 he had a un curable cancer named leukemia white blood cell count cancer :'( So he went to his country to say goodbye to his mom because he knew time was running out when he left i was at school so didn’t say bye but i did text him and i didn’t say bye either but he did say i love you a couple of days before he died :'( he had a lot of pain in his adom he wanted to come back because prices were high in el Salvador and he barley could walk so he was on wheel chair he got the plane ticket to come to Tennessee he acted okay to get on the plane until the stop on Atlanta Georgia he had a heart attack they took him to the hospital emergency room they did the electrical thing i dont know the name of it so he didn’t make it i just wish i say goodbye while he was alive or at least hug him :'( :'( :'( :'( :'( but i understand why god took him no pain he is in peace but he came in my dreams and said in Spanish ” sweetie I love you but i am now in peace and i am happy don’t cry no more be happy while you still have time” then he hugged me tears on his face with a smile :’) he kissed me on my forehead and said bye i wish i had more time with him :'(

    • marina April 24, 2016 at 9:48 am #

      ilia, my name is marina , from argentina, my father died at the same age you had when your dad passed away, hope you fight and me aswell. Today is the aniversary of his deth and though i m feeling bad, God won t forget us, pray for u, i found real good help in books of catholic father Mateo Bautista, maybe you are interested, share your pain, and think you can make it, time soon pass and we rencounter our beloved persons who , as i m catholic, believe is with God, just trying to say is lovely what u share, fuerza!!!!! que Dios nos acompañe. Amen.

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    • Arianna June 11, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

      Hosea,

      Thank you. What’s the name of your website? I don’t mind if you share as long as you give credit/site source.

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      Sincerely,
      Arianna

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  14. Laurie January 23, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    I just lost my dad January 18th, 2016. He was 94 yrs old. Your story is like mine. He was my hero,u everything you said and a bit stubborn. I was with him 24/7 waiting for him to pass. It 5 days. I knew he was going on day 5 put my chest

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    on his and watched gim take his last breath to telling him go to to mom. It was so intense it was like giving birth to death.

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  24. Rachel April 1, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    My father passed away a week ago. My parents have been staying with me for the past 2 years. I wake up each morning with such intense heart ache! I long for him to knock on my bedroom door to have a quick chat. To get a good morning hug or a quick I love you. I feel guilty that I couldn’t do anything to save his life and that he had to die in a really bad state hospital. I know God spared him suffering by taking him quickly and that he was not healthy for quite some time but I still wish we had more time. I am the one that had to make all arrangements and I’m the one who had to get his death certificate, closing accounts and getting things in order. It’s really getting to me. I keep rehearsing the night he went to hospital in my head…its to much. But now I need to look after my mom.

  25. Cara August 17, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    I lost my father 4 years ago…I miss him everyday. .he was the only one in my family that understood me. I grew up with a naracasstic mother and I was the scapegoat of the family. I believe bc my old brother molested me for years..my mom blamed me for it..when he tried again around 16..I took an overdose an was put in a phyciatric ward. My dad didn’t know abt any of it..my mom hid it from him. When my dad was in hospice..my mom made it difficult for anyone to care for him. It’s like she hated him bc he loved me? I was there for him when my siblings didn’t want to be bc the did whatever my mom wanted. I remember him holding my had so tight..as if he was speaking to me with his heart. I knew I would never have that connection ever again in this family or in this lifetime. I did get married, and I believe God sent someone to care for me like my dad did.

  26. DESIREE October 6, 2016 at 9:10 pm #

    When someone closes to you dies, you might experience numbness, sadness, anger or loneliness, including shock and disbelief of God. I forgot all the goodness of God even if I was just 11 years old at that time. I cried so much and took my anger to god. “Crazy God is you! How come you let my father die?” For I have no idea how to eliminate the pain. After his death, there are so many things to do. Who do I call? Where do I start? What will I do? It’s like that I feel isolated and alone in my grief.
    Because of my father’s death, I change. I was sort of bitter about not having a father. I grow up with lack of confidence and longing for a father’s love. I never really thought this would somehow affect me in life. I found myself wishing that my father’s death was just a nightmare.
    But then time goes fast and I am use to have no father. For I know that father will no longer be with us. Though many times I tried to think what if father is still here. But I like the fact that I had to struggle to get where I am now.

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