Father died, but I'm scared to talk

Originally Published: February 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 24, 2013
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Dear Alice,

My father just died. I'm really depressed. I'm not looking for sympathy, so I haven't told any of my friends. I'm not on good terms with my family and that has made the situation all the more difficult. I feel like I need somebody to talk to, but I'm afraid to approach my friends. I know in situations like this people over-compensate by smothering the person with sympathy and attention. What I need is the exact opposite. I need to work this out on my own. Maybe someone that will be there when I want them to be. I'm not looking for the number of a hotline where I will just end up talking to a stranger. Nor do I want to talk to the counselors or any other strangers. You're the first person that I've said anything to about this. Who can I talk to about this?

Signed,
No where to go

Dear No where to go,

It is normal after someone dies to feel disorientation, despair, bewilderment, and/or frustration. A feeling of "why bother to go on" may take over, where you feel so drained of energy that you can barely make yourself do anything. You may experience physical symptoms, such as insomnia, impotence, midnight sweats, anxiety attacks, and lack of appetite and physical inertia; you may become more accident prone.

Coping with Your Grief
  • Face your grief. Recognize your loss.
  • Take time — grieving is a slow process.
  • Take care of yourself. Alternating between doses of relaxation and busyness is helpful for some.
  • Know that the powerful, overwhelming feelings will lessen with time.
  • Be vulnerable, share your pain, and be humble enough to accept support.
  • Surround yourself with life — plants, animals, and friends.
  • Use memories to help your mourning and not live in the past.
  • Avoid rebound relationships, big decisions, and anything addictive.
  • Recognize that forgiveness (of ourselves and others) is a vital part of the healing process.
  • Know that holidays and anniversaries — sometimes for decades after a loss — can bring up the painful feelings that you thought you had successfully worked through.

Don't shut out your friends. You've already set yourself up — you don't want to talk to a stranger and you think you already know what your friends will say to you. You say that you want to work this out alone, but you also want a mind reader to "be there when I want them to be." There are 'good-time friends' and 'bad-time friends' — those who are around to play and party with and those who are there for support and comfort and, occasionally, those who are around for both. Think about your friends, and choose some to talk to who might be supportive during this crazy time. If they try to smother you, tell them how you feel and give them guidance about what you need right now — there's no way they can know without you telling them. Sometimes, it helps to talk to a friend who's been there — have any of your friends lost a parent, or someone close to them? Think of other people you know on campus who you respect (professors, deans, advisors, clergy, resident advisers (RAs), etc.), and try to think of one with whom you feel comfortable talking. Again, the wisdom and experience of age may help you through this tough time.

For Columbia students on the Morningside campus, there's also a Bereavement Support Group through Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), which is designed exactly for someone like you — to help you cope with the loss of a loved one. Call 212-854-2468 for a schedule and more information. If you are on the CUMC campus, try reaching out to the Mental Health Service by calling 212-305-3400. You may not want to talk to strangers, but you will wither if you hold all this in — Talk to someone, take care of yourself, and begin the process of healing.

Alice

January 17, 2003

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Dear Alice, I felt similar things when my own father died. It's OK not to want to share your feelings with friends (I didn't, at least, not really, and it felt weird doing so). I ended up thinking a...
Dear Alice, I felt similar things when my own father died. It's OK not to want to share your feelings with friends (I didn't, at least, not really, and it felt weird doing so). I ended up thinking a lot about religion, attended a few services, and read some theological books. These helped me "deal," meaning that it helped me to think about what had happened, and to be honest with myself about what it meant.