What Happens When Your Dad Dies Unexpectedly


When your father dies suddenly, you’ll spend days wondering if it was just a mistake.

Not my dad, no, it can’t be him. He was active. He mowed lawns for three neighbors. He shoveled for them. He gardened. He was healthy; he stopped eating junk food and drinking soda.

You’ll think of all the ways he was healthy, and all the reasons why he shouldn’t have died so young. You’ll be angry at him for leaving your family, and sad he won’t be there to participate in your life anymore. You’ll be sad, because you were just starting to build a better relationship with him. You’ll be angry because he didn’t listen to you four days ago when he complained of “indigestion” and you knew something was wrong. But you didn’t expect this.

You will sob uncontrollably when you get the phone call. Your significant other will drive you home, and you’ll be too distracted to remind them of which way to go. You’ll end up driving around town for twenty minutes before you get there.

You’ll start crying again when you see your father’s coffee cup, still sitting in its normal corner of the kitchen table. You’ll go into your room and search for the hat he gave you when you were in second grade, and place it next to your bed. You’ll be staying with your mom for a while. She’s going to need you. The first morning after he’s gone, you’ll find her staring out the window. It’ll be snowing. She’ll start to cry and all you can do is put your arms around her. She’ll look at you and say, “I really love your father.” And you’ll say, “I know. He really loves you too.” You’ll keep referring to him in present tense, and then kick yourself afterwards like it only reminded everyone that he is gone.

A few more days will go by, and you’ll start to get yourself together.  You won’t cry every morning, noon and night. You’ll start to accept that he won’t be there when you graduate college in the spring, or walk you down the aisle next summer. It’s okay, you think to yourself. He knew I was going to be okay, and that’s what really matters.

Then the wake comes. Your mom will cry, and you and your brother will try your best to be strong for her. You’ll stay outside for long intervals of time. Being inside a funeral home will be agonizing. It’ll be February in New England, and about twenty degrees outside. You won’t care. It will be raining, hailing and sleeting. You still won’t care. You won’t want to go back inside until you’re asked for.  You’ll jokingly say, “I’m my father’s daughter. If he had his way, he’d be sitting outside too.” And you’ll be completely right. Everyone will tell you how well you’re taking his passing as they laugh.  You’ll die a little inside every time someone says those words. Just because you don’t want to put your grief on display, doesn’t mean you won’t hurt.  You will. But still, your dad would be proud of you for being strong.

Every time you go back inside the funeral home, you’re going to want to run away again. You’ll ache for the service to be over, for the people to leave.  You’ll look at your father’s casket and wish he’d just sit up and say, “It’s okay. I’m here.“ You’ll look at his body and think that this can’t possibly be real. But it will be.

By the time people do finally start to leave, you’ll be tired and cranky. You won’t really care to receive any more condolences, or to have forced conversations with distant relatives you barely recognize.

You’ll just want to say goodbye to your father. Alone.

Your mom will place a rose in his hands. She’ll kneel next to him and begin to weep. And you will know to kneel next to her and put an arm around her. You will cry together, and your brother will stand behind you holding your mom’s shoulders.  He’ll be trying not to cry, but you’ll see tears welling in his eyes.

Kneeling there in front of him, you’ll realize this will be the last time you ever see your father.

After what seems to be only a moment, your mother will abruptly announce its time to go.  You’ll want to stay longer, though you don’t really know why. Perhaps a part of you foolishly hopes he might wake up, even though you know his heart stopped beating just five days ago.

You’ll go home with some of the flowers you brought for him. You’ll reminisce. You’ll cry alone in your room with the door closed, because you don’t want anyone to see you. You’ll worry about your mom because she’s not eating much, about the exam you have to make up, and about the house your boyfriend wants to look at.  And you’ll worry about nothing, because suddenly everything seems so unimportant.

All that seems to matter is that he’s gone, and one day you will be too.