Grieving for the Father I Never Knew

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The Psychology
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Grieving for the Father I Never Knew

Grieving for the Father I Never Knew
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Words by:

Angelle McNabb

Illustration by:

Ethan Silva

Words by:

Angelle McNabb

Illustrator:

Ethan Silva

Contents

Grief comes in many forms, and many of us will experience more than one type of grieving in our lives. It can be difficult to not feel guilty for our grief when we’re experiencing a kind of grief that isn’t acknowledged much, though.

I joined Eterneva because I really resonated with our mission. I loved that we weren’t afraid to tackle grief, to carry on amazing legacies so they are never forgotten, to talk about the hard stuff that so many shy away from because it’s vital to our wellbeing. Inspired by my colleagues’ amazing blog contributions, our purpose, and so others know they aren’t alone, I would like to share my experience with grief with you all.

A Coming of Age Loss

When I was twenty years old, I lost my biological father to a car accident. Our relationship was complicated – my parents separated before I was born and he wasn’t in my life due to tensions between him and my mother.

Growing up, I saw him a couple of times, and that was it. He was like a stranger to me back then because my mother did not want to help cultivate our relationship, so I wasn’t really given the space to do so.

As a result, I didn’t think about him much until my teenage years. I started to wonder, “What was this other half of me like?” My mother and I had very little in common, even down to our looks.

  • I was curious to know where certain traits came from that were so starkly opposite of her.
  • I was curious to know what had happened between my parents – I wanted to know his side of the story, too.
  • I wanted to get to know my father, even if he wasn’t capable of being a parent to me like my mother had always insisted.

I was nineteen when I decided I’d had enough of the “what ifs” and was going to reach out to him. I was in the middle of my second year of college, working towards a degree in microbiology. Swamped with schoolwork and focused on keeping a solid GPA, I chose to wait until summer break to contact him.

That seemed like the perfect time – either he or I could travel to each other. He lived in another state after all.

And we could finally get to know one another. I could finally get answers to all these questions that had been bubbling up inside of me for years.

My twentieth birthday coincided with midterms and spring break. Stressed, but excited for some down time, I had no idea that my world was about to change forever.

The night of my birthday, my father sustained severe injuries from a car accident. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. Four days later, his family –– my family –– had to make the impossibly difficult choice to take him off of life support.

He was gone.

Grieving a Man I Never Met, a Man Who Was Half of Me

I received the news in an email from my younger half-sister, whom I had only met when I was a child and she was an infant.

I remember that moment clear as day: I returned from class mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. I was happy; it was a beautiful day, the sun shining through a few clouds, the air warm and comforting. I put my backpack down, sat at my desk in my dorm room, and opened my laptop. I was eager to chat with my friends on Facebook and surf the web for a bit to relax before I jumped into studying.

At this point in my life, I had never spoken with my younger sister. I knew of her, of course. I knew she was out there, but that was all I knew. I didn’t even know if our father was still in her life or not.

By now, I was not only curious about my dad, but my sister, too. I saw her name in my university email inbox, right at the top. For a second, I was excited and pondering how she found my email. A second later, it hit me. Without reading past her name, I knew why she was writing to me – I could feel it in my gut.

There was a moment where I could tangibly feel my world permanently shifting as I read her email to me. It was composed so well for someone so young and in so much pain.

It took me a long time to acknowledge my grief. I was grieving for a man I didn’t know, a father-daughter relationship that could’ve been but now could never be. All of those questions would remain unanswered.

For awhile, I even felt like I had lost half of myself.

And yet, I still struggled to accept that I was grieving an immense loss. I’d never really heard of it being OK to be this sad about losing someone you didn’t know at all.

It’s different when celebrities pass. We do get to know them, to an extent. I had nothing to go off of but some old photographs.

My grief came in waves that sometimes repeated without any rhyme or reason. I vacillated between being in denial, being numb, feeling grief and depression, being angry, looking for someone to blame, and more.

I beat myself up for feeling any type of way about it. After all, I didn’t know him. Why should I be upset?

I worried that people would think I was just looking for attention or pity. My little sister knew him, he was an amazing father to her, I’d learned. She deserves to grieve. Not me.

Those themes ran through my head every single time I thought about him. This shame ate me up inside for years. I didn’t talk to anyone about it because I felt like I didn’t deserve to be feeling the way I felt. I was afraid of being judged, of being told I was overreacting or seeking attention.

So I bottled it up and tried my best to pretend that I was fine because I thought that was what the world expected of me, and what I should feel.

After all, I didn’t know him. He hadn’t been in my life. It wasn’t like anything had really changed. But that’s not true. I still experienced a great loss, and it did change me.

Complicated Grief is Grief All the Same

I wish I had known what I know now: that all grief is valid. That all grief is complicated and multi-faceted. That we as humans are too, and that it’s OK to feel our feelings and we should share them with others.

No matter what you’re feeling, there is a whole community out there who understands and will show you love and support while you push through.

It was only after I stopped pushing my grief away like it was taboo that I could begin to process it and heal. I still miss my dad, which still feels weird for me to say.

But he’s gone and I miss him, and that’s OK.

Since his passing, I’ve connected with my sister (and she’s awesome!), my father’s siblings (who are also awesome!), and I am really looking forward to connecting with more of our family and learning more about the remarkable man he was.

I think I’m finally ready now to begin celebrating my father’s wonderful life. And even though I wasn’t in it, I’m told he never forgot about me and loved me very, very much. I love you too Dad, and I hope we will meet again.

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Illustrations by Ethan Silva. Ethan is the founder of Bad Lucky Studio and a freelance graphic designer and illustrator who has been working with Eterneva for more than a year. His work helps bring levity, beauty and understanding to grief through design. Written by Angelle McNabb.

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