Father died, grief grows — how to cope?

Originally Published: March 3, 2000 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: October 17, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I am seventeen and about to turn eighteen tomorrow. My father died recently. When he died, I was his only contact. I saw him for the first time a week before Christmas and on every Christmas day since my ninth birthday. We were extremely close when I was young and the reason I did not see him was because of a court order because he was an alcoholic. When he died, I was the only one who knew. I had to tell everyone and luckily his brother paid for the funeral. I've been finding out some really bad things that have been going on with him the last few years. When he died, he had already stopped drinking, but it was too late. My question is, what to do? I feel so alone and empty inside, and my little brother took it really hard. I miss him so much and the pain is getting worse. What can I do?

Dear Reader,

Condolences to you and your family. While unsettling and upsetting, it's normal to feel all kinds of emotions in response to your father's recent death — anger, sadness, loneliness, shock, and emptiness are among just some of the feelings people commonly experience with the loss of a parent or loved one. Although these feelings are appropriate and can continue for quite a while, many people find that they lessen as time passes. Because your father died recently, one strategy to start processing and healing from the loss may be seeking the support of others, whether through family, friends, or professionals.

It's an honor but also a tremendous responsibility that you were your dad's only contact at the time of his death. It might be a huge relief to talk with others about what you're experiencing. You may want to talk with a counselor, a social worker, or an instructor you trust. You could also ask your health care provider for a referral to see a therapist. Seeking support in this way could help you to work through some of your raw emotions, and to gain greater insight and understanding about your father and your relationship with him.

If you're a Columbia student, you can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS); call x4-2878. CPS also offers a bereavement support group, which teaches techniques to deal with grief in an understanding environment. The website GriefNet, which links to a variety of resources related to death, dying, bereavement, and other considerable emotional losses, may also be useful for you.

Regarding your little brother, it must be hard to see him suffer. Perhaps talking with him about how you're feeling and asking what he's going through could be therapeutic for you both. For additional support, there are probably counselors at his school, through a religious affiliation, or a professional counselor who could help him as well.

Your father's alcoholism and the huge impact it had on him, you, and your family could understandably make his passing even more difficult to handle. Sometimes children of alcoholics experience guilt, anxiety, anger, depression, or embarrassment about a parent's drinking. You can check out the Center on Addiction and the Family and the National Association for Children of Alcoholics to learn more about the role of alcoholism in your family and your father's life.

Finally, you may find it helpful to read archived questions from people who have also lost a loved one in the related Q&As below.

Again, it's completely natural to be in pain after the death of a loved one and to miss that person terribly. See if you can allow yourself to experience the grief, while still taking care of yourself by getting the help and support you need.

The best to you during this very tough time,


April 7, 2000

When I was about your age, I lost my father and thirteen months later, my brother died, both from walking pneumonia. It came as a total shock to my family. My advice is to deal with the pain. Allow...
When I was about your age, I lost my father and thirteen months later, my brother died, both from walking pneumonia. It came as a total shock to my family. My advice is to deal with the pain. Allow yourself to feel the pain. It gets better, but it doesn't go away. At least, though, you can say that you were there for him. If no one else was, you were there. And that's all that you could do -- and all you needed to do. Be content on that level. Something that helps me is to think of the wonderful times I had with my dad and be thankful that I had those years with him. Even though I cannot have my father back, I try and live a life that takes all of the positives of what made him special and express it in my own life. That is my way of remembering him. There are so many different ways to grieve; no one really knows which is right or wrong. But keeping in touch with your feelings will help you deal with this pain. Please take good care of yourself and treat yourself with kindness and love... you deserve it, especially now. chandra