The Death of a Hole, Grieving an Absentee Dad

Daddy/Daughter love

My friend’s father died a little over a year ago.  With tears she frequently exclaimed, “He left such a huge hole in my heart.”

I wondered the how I might feel when my dad would die.  Would his death leave a hole in my heart?

Yesterday, my biological dad died.  And my grief is so different than my friend’s grief who had an adoring daddy/daughter relationship.  Mine is an empty grief. Maybe the best way for me to describe it is I am experiencing the death of a hole.

Holes –empty spaces where there once was something.


The Beginning of My Hole

My hole began when my parents separated and eventually divorced.  At the tender developmental age of 4, I can’t remember specific harm this brought into my earliest years, yet I do know enough now to be quite certain I was affected by their dissolving marriage.

The hole that began with the divorce only grew as promises of my father’s letters or phone calls evaporated.  The mirage of an absentee dad was the best I could get as weeks turned into months without seeing or hearing from him.

I could share the details of many specific disappointments and awkward events that involved this man I called “dad.”  The best way of understanding the relationship is this:  It would be absurd to expect, wish or hope for a paralyzed person to lift themselves from their chair, walk over and welcome me into their room.  Likewise it was just as impossible for this emotionally paralyzed man to know how to be the dad I needed.

Weird Grief

And so I lived nearly all my life with an unusual father who only grew more self-absorbed as he aged.  I am coming to know that our grief reflects the relationship. The relationship was odd, and in the truest sense, weird.  Isn’t it strange that a father could not “see” his daughter, could not engage with me as I needed, and never showed interest in my life or my heart’s desires? My guess is that I am not alone in this life experience.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that even though he could not love me as I needed, I could give him kindness as he needed.  It wasn’t always easy.  Maybe I am a good actress.  He remained happy with the relationship.  All the while I began a wonderful relationship with God, my forever-never-abandoning-adoring-perfect Heavenly Father. And my heart began to fill as I came to realize I was completely understood and loved unconditionally by the Best of Dads.

But this I do know, When a hole dies, it’s a weird grief.  I have no sorrow except for the deep sadness of the tragedy of his life and those nearest to him.  He died alone after a 2 month intense struggle, in medicated agitation and anger.  His anger in his later years pushed us back when we wanted to step in with guidance or loving concern as he aged.  But he was completely uncooperative to accept any assistance in his decline.  This is tragic!  It could have been so different.  But it wasn’t.  He lived out his script to the bitter end.

And so it is the “the hole” of everything-that-was-not that I grieve.  How do I grieve this loss well?  I am not sure.  Much of my grief was already processed by accepting him for what he was; living his life in his unique ways, forgiving him for the hole he left in my life.  I believe he didn’t know any differently.  He was emotionally paralyzed, blinded and handicapped.

The Edges of My Hole

Yet with any hole, no matter how large or small, it has its edges.  It’s along these edges that remnants of the genuine contributions of my father’s life clings.

I see a wonderfully creative, problem solving engineer, builder and artist. When my brother and I would spend our annual week visit with him and his family, I recall with a smile going to the beach, pier fishing and body surfing.  For these memories I am grateful. I know he had a dream of taking all his adult children to the Micronesian islands so we could all experience the ecstasy of his love for that part of the ocean.  And at his best moments, he could write or speak of spiritual realities with beauty. These memories cling to the edges of the hole.  And I am grateful.

The Lesson of Grieving a Hole

And so my take away is a deeper desire to live healthy and whole, authentic and honest relationships with my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.  I want to love others, listen to their hearts and stories.  I want them to know they have been seen and heard.  They are loved just because they are, not because of any accomplishment.  I want the death of this hole to be the seed that germinates connection, warmth, emotional and spiritual safety with all who live in my sphere of influence.

I want us to be assured that no matter what, even in our twisted, emotionally handicapped ways, we are more important to each other than we are to one’s self.  And when any of us should die, I long for our absence to leave a hole instead of being the death of a hole.

© Karen Nicola January 2019




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