Still Mourning the Loss of My Father: How My Daddy Issues Have Turned Into Complicated Grief
Grief after the loss of a loved one is normal. Mourning is different for everyone. It is a unique experience that can last for months. As normal grief begins to change and subside with time, you should adjust to a new normal and begin to feel less sad or depressed. When grief persists, however, or symptoms worsen, you may be diagnosed with complicated grief. This mental health condition is difficult but also treatable. It is essential to get professional help if grief does not lessen or fade.
I lost my father suddenly and unexpectedly. He was healthy, or so we thought. He died quickly after a stroke. It shocked me and my family. But while everyone else grieved normally, feeling devastated at first and eventually adapting, I couldn’t get over it.
Thankfully, my mom pushed me to get counseling. I ended up going to a rehab to get help with what they called “complicated grief,” something I had never heard of before. It was a relief to find out there was a name for this sense of complete devastation and hopelessness, and that I could get treatment. Two years later, I still miss my dad, but I’m coping and learning to live well without him.
My Grief Started Out Normal
It feels strange to say normal, because no one in their 20s should have to lose their dad. He was only 55 and had so much more living to do. And yet, it happens, and I grieved, as did my mother, siblings, and others. At first, the reactions I had seemed normal. I mean I lost my dad, after all.
I couldn’t sleep most nights. I stayed up late thinking about what life would be without him. I thought of potential signs he could have a stroke that we had missed. I dwelled on the fact that my mother didn’t push him hard enough to eat well or go to the doctor more often. I resented her.
My other so-called normal signs of grief included depression and loss of appetite. I didn’t want to eat much and lost a lot of weight. I stopped running, which had been one of my favorite things to do. I had a really hard time at work too, but of course my boss and coworkers understood and gave me leeway.
When My Grief Got Complicated
What I have since learned in therapy is that overcoming grief is all about adapting. I didn’t need to get over my father’s death or forget about him, but I needed to adapt to living without him in the world. This is what I failed to do as my grief turned into complicated grief.
I didn’t really notice it, but my family did. While they started to accept that he was gone and adjust to living in this new world, I was stuck. A year later, and I still couldn’t focus at work. I lost my job. I stopped hanging out with any friends. I didn’t even want to be around my family. It only made me think about my dad.
I felt so depressed and even felt like life just wasn’t worth living anymore. Eventually I started drinking more because it helped me forget about what happened. I could get numb while drunk and pretend life was normal.
How I Got Help for Complicated Grief
My family had been worried about me for months, but I didn’t realize it. I was completely absorbed in my own grief and sadness. One day, my mom came over to try to get me to leave the house. She found all the empty wine and vodka bottles, saw that my house was a complete disaster, and noticed the bills piled up on the counter.
I think, in a way, I wanted her help. I could have ignored her and not let her in. I could have tried harder to hide the chaos in my house. I felt desperate and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to face the issues, but at the same time I knew I couldn’t keep going this same way.
She sat me down for a serious talk about what was happening to me. She didn’t know about complicated grief, either, but she knew something wasn’t right. She had lost her husband of 30 years, and yet she was moving on and coping. I wasn’t.
It took a few more tries, but she, along with my brother and sister, convinced me to see a therapist. He diagnosed complicated grief and suggested I would benefit from more intensive treatment. I had nothing to lose, so I agreed.
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How I Started to Get Better
I tried therapy for a few weeks, but it didn’t seem to be helping. I decided that going to a facility to work on my depression and get help for the pain and deep grief I couldn’t seem to get out of was the best possible option. Life couldn’t go on this way—I had to do something. To be honest, I wasn’t that motivated to change. It really took a push from my mom to get me there.
The facility I went to specialized in complex mental illness. I got a personalized treatment plan, which included therapy and antidepressants along with alternative therapies and things like yoga, exercise, and healthy eating.
The most intense work was done in my therapy sessions. Because I was in a residential center, I could work on therapy every day. We talked about adjusting to life without my dad. My therapist also led me through imagined conversations with him.
This was really hard to do. I talked to him about how he died, imagined what it must have felt like, and told him how his loss impacted me. I discovered some things I didn’t realize were going on in my head, like the fact that I felt angry with him. Letting go of that anger really helped, but I never would have found it without the grief therapy.
My therapist also helped me learn and practice coping skills and use them in place of drinking to manage bad moods and negative thoughts. I took up meditation as a useful way to focus on the present and stop ruminating on grief.
And the support of other residents was also immensely helpful. I met other people going through similarly difficult situations. Helping each other helped me.
Moving on From My Deep Depression and Mourning
I will never stop grieving my father. This is something I have come to accept. It was good to hear my therapist validate this, too. I expected to be told that I had to get over it completely, to forget him and move on. What I learned was more powerful: how to live, and thrive, in a new world.
My life without my dad in it is never going to be the same, but thanks to treatment I have accepted that fact. I began opening up to my family again. We talked about him more and grieved together. I got a new job and managed to keep it. My friends were so happy to have me back, too. I didn’t realize how worried they had been.
I can tell anyone going through this that there is hope. If your grief isn’t fading— if it doesn’t get better, at least a little bit—get help. Treatment works, and it doesn’t mean forgetting about your loved one. It means adapting, learning, and creating a new, different, but still good life.