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On the Death of My Father

How one son coped with his father’s illness and death
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The importance of fathers and sons connecting continued...

As a result, the loss of the father can leave a man with overwhelming grief if he never forged a bond with his father, even if his father was difficult, disagreeable, or downright abusive.

“Once dad is dead … well, it’s harder to deal with ghosts than with real people,” says Glover, who recently decided to rekindle a relationship with his own aging father. “Nobody’s dad was either that great or that bad. He was just a wounded human being, and guys who have a chance to work that out before dad dies seem to draw comfort from that.”

How a father lives on in his son

I did not cry when my father died. I probably appeared to be one of those sons Chethik describes who dash through grief. But I had done my grieving in the months before my father’s death, as he gradually evaporated before my eyes. I experienced the “ambiguous loss” that Pauline Boss describes in her book of the same title ― my father was there, right in front of me, and yet he was not there. His death, in a way, provided blessed clarity ― he was finally, unambiguously gone.

I felt like crying a couple of times, but the tears never came. I was “grieved out,” as Boss would describe it. “It’s a common thing ― people shouldn’t look negatively on a family member whose tears have been shed along the way,” she says.

Instead, I threw myself into writing a eulogy that I wanted to deliver at my father’s funeral. I became one of Chethik’s “doers” ― I would grieve by doing something to pay tribute to my father.

But as I read the eulogy in front of the assembled mourners, I realized I was not just paying tribute to my father; I was reciting a credo of sorts, a list of beliefs and goals drawn from his life that I admired and wanted to keep alive in my own way. I commended his deep compassion for other people, his tireless raging against social injustice, his devotion to family and friends ― and to my mother as she languished for years in a nursing home after a devastating stroke.

Like so many sons, I had modeled myself after my father in many ways. And as I delivered his eulogy, I realized that, like it or not, he would live on through me.

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Reviewed on July 01, 2007

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