If your father died before birth, known as a posthumous birth, you may be feeling empty or alone at times, even though you never met the person who is gone. This is known as grief and it can be experienced even for someone you have not met.
Do what you can to learn about your father. Gaining a sense of your heritage will help you determine who you are and where you are headed.
The stark reality that we will never meet a parent leaves what feels like a gaping hole in our psyche for some of us. But there are ways that you can make peace with the fact.
My best friend’s father died before she was born. Now that she is preparing to get married, she feels particularly lost without a father to give her away, walk her down the aisle, or have that precious first dance with.
I have spent a great deal of energy and time researching and questioning ways to help her make peace, and I want to share what I have found with you.
If you have conflicting feelings about your father passing away before you were born, you are not alone. This phenomenon is not unheard of. There is information out there on how to deal with grief, find your position in the family, understand your heritage and keep the memory of your father alive. Let’s look into a few ways to achieve these things and gain a solid sense of who you are and how to live with peace going forward.
Related Reading: Father-Daughter Dance When Dad is Deceased?
Understanding How Your Father Died
The first part of gaining peace about having a parent pass away is understanding what happened. Ask your mother or other family members who know the details and get the information you need, to understand why or how your father died. Was he deployed as a soldier? Did he suffer from a severe illness? Was he in a fatal accident or killed through crime?
Understanding how he died and what he was doing at the time will allow you to visualize the situation surrounding his death and may give you some peace. We often feel deserted by a parent who has died, but if you understand what happened, you will be able to see that his death was not your fault or meant to leave you behind.
Dealing with Grief
Dealing with the fact that your father passed away would be similar whether you met him or not. Grief feels different for every person and for every loss. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve the fact that your father died before you were born.
Grief occurs in stages. These don’t typically occur in order or just once, but rather come in cycles. Knowing the stages of grief can give insight into what you may be feeling as you process these feelings.
The Stages of Grief
- Denial and isolation
Let’s unpack these to gain more understanding about each one.
Denial and Isolation
This stage involves pretending that the loss didn’t happen rather than dealing with the pain. We may find ourselves pulling away from people or places that remind us of what happened.
This is when you feel like life is unfair. You question why this had to happen to you and feel angry and frustrated. You may have a short temper and lash out.
During this stage, you try to change the circumstance you find yourself in. You try to bargain with God or anyone else you feel could help, no matter how unrealistic the perceived solution may be. This stage is helpful in a way because it gives you a sense of power over the situation.
The full weight and sadness of what has happened hits you during this stage of grief. It is natural to experience deep sadness and even situational depression after a loss, but if you feel your depression is caused by more than this particular situation, it may be necessary to seek help. Clinical depression is viewed and treated differently from grief.
Eventually, you will come to terms with your loss. Accepting what has happened does not mean that you have stopped grieving. In fact, experts agree that grief can continue for a lifetime after a substantial loss. By accepting what has happened, you open yourself up to moving on in a way, having fully understood the situation.
Learn About Your Heritage and Your Father
A good way to make peace with the fact that you will never meet your father is to learn as much about him as you can. Dr. Nikita Ghisleni, Specialist Wellness Counsellor at Willow Worx Health and Wellness Centre, says that “knowing where we came from is an important part of understanding where we can go in our lives and what we are capable of achieving.”
She added that self-discovery is really about finding those missing pieces of our lives and using them to understand ourselves as we are so that we have a vision of what we can become.
There are a few ways you can learn more about your father.
- Make time to visit with relatives who knew him and ask as much as you can. Include serious questions and ask for funny stories, anecdotes, stories from his youth, and anything else you can think of. Each story will give you more insight into his life and the man he was.
- Use an online company to research your family history. This is an interesting exercise for anyone, whether you have met your father or not. The answers can provide you with exciting information about your ancestors.
- Ask for a few photos or pictures of your dad. Make color copies of them and put them in a special place. You may wish to create a framed collage on your wall, have the photos printed on canvas, place them in a scrapbook or make a digital memorial for your father in some way. Use this as an opportunity to express yourself and your love for your father.
- Take note of what you have from your father. You may have inherited physical items, which is wonderful, but what other things did you get from him? Do you have your father’s nose? His build? How about his sense of humor or specific aptitude for something? Take note of these and treasure them. You are your father’s legacy, and he lives in a way through you.
Related Reading: Husband Died Suddenly and Unexpectedly (Grieving Explained)
Going Forward With Peace
If you manage to guide yourself through the grief you are experiencing and find a way to celebrate your father for who he was and what he means to you and your loved ones, you will have found a way to go forward with peace in your heart.
The loss will never go away, but you will learn to live, love, and go on with your new understanding of yourself and your place in your family. An Irish saying goes that when your father dies, you lose your umbrella against bad weather.
You may have lost yours before you were born, but the loss of your father can mean picking up that umbrella and learning to dance in the rain.
After earning his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto, Stuart gained experience working with families in community mental health settings and in the child protection sector. Since becoming a father himself, Stuart now works in private practice offering psychotherapy services. FatherResource is an opportunity for Stuart to share what he learns on his journey as a father with a larger audience.