Dealing with grief – the death of an estranged parent

Almost a year has passed since the death of my estranged parent, my absent father.

Grief is a funny thing. It comes in waves when you least expect it. The most unexpected feelings emerge at the news of a loved-ones death. The news of the death of an estranged parent is something I found very hard to process and grieving the death of an estranged parent is very different to the loss of a present parent.

I didn’t see my father when I was growing up, after the age of about 9. He only lived a few miles away but made a new life with a new family. For the longest time I beat myself up over why he didn’t love me. Surely if he had he would have sent presents at Christmas and birthdays, at least paid maintenance. Anyway, he didn’t and I grew up bitter.

Eventually I met my estranged father again

I had a child of my own and wanted to see if we could have some sort of relationship, he was a grandfather and I thought I owed it to my son to try and give him a relationship with him.

It did not work. I asked for the past to be kept in the past but it was brought up time and time again. Things I knew were not true, things that did not add up. So I decided to walk away. It was a hard decision and one I have regretted on occasion since his death but I made it for the right reasons.

Then I got a text late one night to say my estranged father had passed away

It was totally unexpected. All those thoughts and feeling came rushing back.

Over that time I have felt loss, guilt, sadness, emptiness, but most of all a longing for something that I never had and could never be. I didn’t have a Dad. I had no Father Figure in my life. Although I was lucky enough to have my mum’s brothers, my uncles, it’s not quite the same. I look at Vince, my partner and father to my two children, and I cannot imagine for a second that he would allow their relationship to sour in the way mine did with my father.

My father was adopted, this was used by him as an excuse for many of his failings. He longed for a family of his own yet  abandoned me in the same way he was abandoned. That is a bitter pill to swallow, even though I do appreciate that his adoption would have affected him in ways I can never understand. After meeting him as an adult I realised I wasn’t to blame. It was his failing, not mine. I was a 7 year old child when he left and he was the adult. You cannot force someone to love you, not even your own parent.

The support surrounding the death of an estranged parent is very different 

Prior to the death of my absent father I have to admit I was the same. If someone had said their estranged parent had passed away, well, they didn’t have a relationship with them anyway, so what?

However it’s not like that at all. Grief for an estranged parent is very complicated. As I said you have a lot of feelings and nowhere in particular to direct them. It is almost as if you don’t deserve to grieve.

I have a half sister (by my father) and, although they had also become estranged over recent years, she was offered lots of support from her friends and family as she had grown up with him. I was not, I assume, because I did not.

I also have friends whose parents passed away and were offered lots of support while grieving

People went to the funerals, sent flowers. That wasn’t my experience. As I said I would probably have been the same before experiencing it for myself.

I recently had this discussion with my uncle (my mum’s brother) with whom I have always been quite close. I mentioned to him that our family hadn’t reacted to the loss of my father, his reply was “why should they?”. As if it was a given. I didn’t have a relationship with him anyway, so what?

I explained that it was final. That was it. There was no chance for him to express remorse. There was now no chance for reconciliation. All I’d ever really wanted to hear was “I’m sorry”. 

I am writing about the death of my estranged parent to tell you how I felt and that people in my position DO need that kind of support

I have to admit that friends messaged me who themselves had lost parents, and I dismissed my grief to them “it’s not the same”. I felt guilty for accepting sympathy from someone who was grieving their REAL parent, but I shouldn’t have. And I appreciate them reaching out.

Of course it is very different. I did not lose someone I spoke to every day. Someone I loved with all my heart. NO. I lost someone I SHOULD HAVE had that relationship with but, for one reason or another, was robbed of that. 

I don’t blame my friends and family for the lack of support. That sounds awful, it wasn’t a lack of support as such, more not realising that support was needed. There are no cards for “Sorry your absent parent died”.  What do you even say to someone who loses someone they didn’t actually know?

The death of an estranged parent is still the loss of a parent though and your grief is still real

Despite not actually knowing the person that well your feelings, whatever they are, are still valid. 

I guess what I am trying to say is please treat someone’s loss as you would the loss of any parent. They would still like a card, or flowers, or offers to attend the funeral, or a cry over a bottle of wine.

loss, grief, separation, mourn, death of an estranged parent

74 thoughts on “Dealing with grief – the death of an estranged parent”

  1. I’ve read this with interest, and tears in my eyes. Interest due to the fact I know 1 day I will also face going through this as I am estranged from both my Mother and my Father. Recently I have began to wonder how I will deal with the feelings, so I felt reading this article may prepare me in some way, although I know it wont, it’s strange. But I wanted to thankyou for writing it.

    • Thank you for sharing this, like you I haven’t been “properly” in touch with my father for a long time since I was 6 or so but have known of him and vice versa, but I have found out tonight that he has passed away from Covid 19, and surprisingly it has broken me, I thought I wouldn’t be sad about someone I lost a long time ago but it hurts just a much as if I had seen him yesterday. I appreciate that you shared your story as I feel less of a fraud being so sad for someone I don’t really know.

  2. I’d describe my father as semi estranged and I’ve often wondered how I’ll feel when he dies so this was really interesting to read. I’ve considered stopping contact completely but have always stopped short because I worry I’ll regret it when he’s gone. I totally get what you mean about it being final and I certainly think when he dies it will trigger lots of sadness about how things could have been different.

    • That’s it, walking away was the right thing to do. I am mourning the loss of a relationship I never had, yet everyone deserves x

      • Hi my estranged father passed away in January last year but I only found out the day before New Year’s Day, almost a year later. His wife did not inform me- I thought it was personal but she didn’t inform my fathers brother either. I found out in Facebook- she sent me a friend request from a new account, I had added her a few years earlier and she hadn’t replied to my queries about my dad. I was only 3 when he left so I’m told then my mother stopped him from seeing me when he tried to snatch me from my home a number of times. Then he went in the army and found himself at the other end of the country where he remarried 6 years after leaving me. As far as I know he didn’t contact me or try to- I grew up feeling unwanted and different I suppose as all my friends had dads. I had a step father but that was not the same. I looked for my dad at age 30 when I wanted to build a relationship- I found out then that he was married with step daughters ( I’m still his only child) but he was left brain damaged in an assault so though he knew who I was yet due to his condition I could not say everything I wAnted to say. Years pass with some exchange of celebration cards etc given we lived 8-20 hrs drive apart then at times I lost contact and. I got tired of being the only one who made an effort( all contact was through his wife). 2 years went by and I relented and got in touch with his wife via social media but she did not respond. I regret going in the huff instead of being the grown up and just doing what I had tried to motivate myself to do for a decade- to go and meet him- as two years went by then I found out when scrolling down his wife’s fb wall (on her new account) that her daughter had a stone made with my dads ashes- I scrolled a bit further and found that he died. I am so angry and hurt as I would like to have bed. Informed so I could make that journey to his funeral to say bye. I feel cheated as his wife did not tell me and I now feel I need to process this grief yet it doesn’t seem that I deserve to feel grief as you’re right, people’s opinion is that we didn’t have a relationship anyway. But I wanted one and I tried. I feel that I don’t have a right to refer to him as my dad let alone share how I feel. I’m so glad that I found your story as I realise now that I am not alone. Thank you. Marie.

        • Thank you for sharing Marie. There really is a common theme among these stories and I think it is important that none of us, the children, are responsible in any way. I am glad I have been able to help, even if in a small way. Erica x

          • Wow, what you have written is word perfect to how I feel. My father was a chronic alcoholic and was a very toxic man. Our family had to cut him out of our lives for our own mental health. He ended up in a care home with dementia. We didn’t visit, initially through anger but this subsided and then became avoidance…. He recently passed away, I have been blown away by the emotions that have surfaced. Guilt, anger, sadness, emptiness and a longing for a father that didn’t exist. Like you no one has really acknowledged his death, no cards, condolences. I have felt not entitled to grieve but I am. Thank you for putting into words something that is probably more common than I realised!

      • Thank you sharing your article. I did not see my dad since he left when I was 3, and we were not particularly bonded and I don’t remember it being loving. I am 33 and sadly I cannot even remember exactly when I was told my father died, it was some time in the last 5 years and it was so painful and triggered long episodes of depression, so I do not really clearly recall when. When I was told it was already a couple years after death and funeral. My uncle reached out to my mu m by letter, to ask if he could send another letter with some news re my dad. When he sent letter a few weeks later it was to explain that several years earlier he had suffered a stroke while cooking, this lead to sever burns and post stroke he was hospitalised in a bed and hoist unable to do things for himself and with some type of Alzheimer’s disease. The letter mentioned his other children and who we should contact for more info. (It seemed to be a copy and pasted letter sent to each child) this made me so angry, I felt insulted, if felt like an absolute blow fr nowhere that serves to knock me down even more as I had enough to deal without more sabotage from the grave. I felt hurt for my mum as well. I also felt pissed that she had not prepared or seen coming that really, as an estranged parent it was only ever going to go this way and eventually someone would die first. I had thought I knew this myself, and spitefully in a way left the ball in his court, so he could hold the shame/ guilt. I didn’t expect him to die at the age he did, I did not consider he would get memory loss. This made me feel like a fool as he had already forgotten I existed, so literally it’s like I never existed and he got away with treating me like that and abandoning me. I also felt warped guilt and sympathy because how he suffered I would not wish on anyone. I did not expect to grieve and be devastated by the death of someone I had never loved, and had never had a relationship with me. Some people do not understand how I feel, namely my ex partner. However I had 2 friends in particular who intuitively understood and showed me so much compassion for which I’m forever great full. Like so many I need it to be validated, I would also warn anyone to try to handle anything they need done while they can, for their own sake as it is only us left holding the pain after trying to be brave/ strong and unemotional towards estranged parent for so long. I pray more people think about consequences of disappearing from each other while we are still alive. I pray for those who it is going to happen too as they will be confused like us when it does. Thank you again and sympathies to everyone grieving a loss. Xx

    • My estranged father passed away two weeks ago. Myself and my sisters and brother buried him with dignity but also were very careful to respect ourselves. It is so hard to process my feelings but I have no guilt about my relationship with him. I know that I tried everything I could, it was him who didn’t want to be in our lives. I too was shocked and extremely hurt by people who I thought were friends and the lack of support i have had over the last couple of weeks. If people take anything from this article it should be please reach out, Make contact, if you can attend the funeral. Not matter how strong the person is they need you now more than ever before. You have no idea how hard it is to process this and just knowing people are at that funeral to support their friend will mean the world to them.

      • I am so sorry for your loss Patricia. How are you feeling now? It was just over a year ago for me and I still feel like there is so much left unsaid and that I wasn’t supported as much as I needed, not through anyone’s fault. It’s an unusual circumstance.

        • I am pretty much in the same boat as all the ladies who have expressed what they have gone through.

          I have not spoken to my father in 18 years. I just found out 3 days ago that he had passed on May 12, 2020. I never thought in a million years that I would feel the way that I do today. I feel guilty for feeling sad. But why? I had a relationship with my father until I was 28. I am now 47. We have many memories together growing up. Both good and unfortunately, bad. My father was only 67 years old. lived in the body of a 90 year old. By his own doing. No one understands how I feel. I don’t even understand. All I know is that I am grieving of the good memories and the reality of “it’s over”. The nursing home won’t release much information to me where he passed other than he died of “Covid-19. Who doesn’t die of Covid-19. That’s every medical facility’s explanation these days as to how a person died. I wish I knew the underlying reason. I spoke to the mortician today to see if he was cremated, which, I assumed he was. The mortician said, I will tell you that he died of covid. My dad had other issues so I know that he was in the nursing home for those and then contracted covid. Since, he never told the nursing home to contact me and never listed me as a KIN i’ll never really know the true reason for his passing. I am hoping in time I will be able to finally feel peace. So yes, I completely understand all of the ladies who have contributed to this page. XO

  3. Wow. This really resonated with me. But strangely enough, I’d never thougt about it from this angle. My Dad left when I was 2. And over the next 16 years he let me down on numerous occasions, lied, manipulated. Basically he was extremely selfish, but had the ability to make you feel sorry for him at the drop of a hat.
    At 18 I decided to cut ties. He had another family now, so I knew he was ok. 8 years later he died. I’ve never felt guilt like it. Like you, I didn’t think I deserved sympathy, or to be at the front during his funeral. I probably needed a lot more support than I thought.
    It took 3 years for me to stop feeling guilty about what happened. Every time I’d reached out previously there was always someone to blame. It was never his fault. He was never going to be the Dad I wanted or needed him to be. I’ve finally accepted that.
    Thanks for being so brave and sharing your experience.

    • Thanks Karen, there are so many similar stories to ours. I’m glad I wrote this as lots of people have been or are in the same situation and I didn’t realise.
      We know we were better off without them but it doesn’t help that feeling of loss x

  4. I’m so sorry – this is such a difficult situation. My own father cut me off (and the rest of his children/family) 9 years ago. He didn’t see me get married, he’s never met his grandchildren, he changed his number when I tried to reach out and now I believe he has changed his name. He has a new life with a new partner and her children and wants to forget the life he had before. I know that one day I will be in your position, and I already find myself wondering if I could have done more or if I should – but ultimately I don’t think any child should have to ask their parent to want to care about them. I feel like I’m grieving already for someone who isn’t dead, and I find that hard enough so I can’t imagine how you are feeling xx

    • It’s hard to imagine a parent not caring about their children isn’t it? Ultimately I believe we are better off without them but that’s little comfort really.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, it means a lot. It’s a shame I’m not the only one in this position but knowing it’s helping others makes it worthwhile. Xx

    • My mother died when I was 13 and my father started a new relationship within a few months and basically left me to get on with it in a house with my slightly older brother . My sister and oldest brother had left by now. The house was rented so when I left at 18 I couldn’t take much with me as I was going to university and just a room. I therefore have very little from my childhood. I did see my father occasionally up till I was about age 21 but he didn’t really care or wasn’t bothered about anything in my life. His first relationship failed and then he started another and moved to a different part of the country near my sister. After a few years they became estranged as did I from my 2 brothers and sister in the end for various reasons.

      I haven’t seen my father for 30 years now I know he was alive 2 years ago when my brother died but since then I don’t know. I didn’t attend my brothers funeral as it was made clear I was not welcome from messages second hand from my sister. I didn’t have a bad relationship with him it was always me having to do the running about and in the end I couldn’t be bothered as I would make plans and then he would cancel at the last minute . He had a wife and 3 children and I do miss them as I do my sisters 2 children. I am married but no children . My brother was the only one who kept in touch with my father so if he had died I doubt I would find out now anyway. He is old born 1931 so 89 now. I grieved for my brother as we had been close as children and for much of our adult life but if and when I hear my father had died I don’t think I would grieve. He just didn’t care for me as a kid or as an adult so there is no real relationship. He was never violent or abusive he just didn’t care it seems.

      His mother my nana was a very cold person herself and I think treated him badly as a child I found out recently she must have been 6 months pregnant with him when she married in 1931 so perhaps it was an unhappy thing for her. She doted on her 2 nd and 3 born children. My father was evacuated to the lakes in the war and he didn’t want to go back to her after 6 years away and the couple wanted to adopt him. Nana said no even though I think she wouldn’t have cared less. So perhaps my father was a bit damaged by his own childhood I don’t know as I have never really spoke to him about any of this. I only remember bits my mother told me and that near 40 year ago now.

      So I guess one day I will find out he’s dead but how I don’t know I feel like it’s a double whammy you are a child and have no control over what your parents do but then are made by society to feel guilty that you don’t have a relationship. This blood is thicker than water stuff . Well I don’t feel like I will grieve but I know that something has also been lost a connection with my past a connection to my mother who I loved so deeply. I think how can this man my mother loved be like this when she was so kind and good and caring . What did she see in him that made her Marry him? I don’t know perhaps it was always my mother who wanted kids and he just went along with it and his childhood disrupted by war and 6 years away perhaps at 13 he thought I was old enough to basically suck it up. He did give me money for food and stuff but I had to shop cook and clean for myself from that age . At least I’m a good cook and my wife appreciates that I do housework well and without being asked!

      Sorry this was a bit of a rambling post but I think reading a lot of these posts people feel guilty but really we have nothing to feel guilty about we were children when a parent decided to leave us not us leaving them so I won’t bash my self up too much about it. I think the consequences of my mothers death and my fathers actions did lead to the breakup of our family in the end completely but I’m not to blame for that it’s just life. Sometimes you are better away from people even family if they make you sad and are toxic .

  5. This is the first mention I’ve ever seen on this topic, and I read it with interest. Did you attend the funeral? My father estranged himself from almost everyone in our family once he and my mother formally separated a number of years ago after abuses escalated. I reached out a few times, but there was never a response. Although he lives in the same small town as I do, I almost never see him, and although in his 70’s, he remarried. I have to ask myself what I will do when he dies. Would I even be welcome at the funeral, provided he has a traditional funeral? I’ll have to take life as it comes, I guess.

    • It seems that this is more common than I realised when I wrote it. I’ve had several messages along the same lines.
      I did attend the funeral, I went in after everyone and left early. I’m glad I went but it was strange as they described a man I did not know.
      You have to do what you feel is right for yourself at the end of the day.

  6. I’m so sorry for your loss, Dana.
    I hope you are able to work through your grief with the help of friends and family. It seems that this is more common than I realised when I wrote the post. I am glad it has helped a little. Erica x

  7. My mum died almost 12 months ago. We were estranged for five years before she died, and we’d been estranged when I was in my late teens / early twenties. What you say about mourning for the relationship you’d wished you’d had completely resonates with me. I’ve spent many many hours undoing the past and creating a new one that I would have loved to have had. And, whilst I don’t have guilt, the feeling of regret is huge.

    It’s strange because I’m not close to my siblings either, and me and my sister were estranged from our mother. Neither of us went to the funeral. I said good bye to my mum on my own at the Chapel of Rest and didn’t want to mourn in front of people at the funeral that I either didn’t know, or didn’t understand my situation. For me it was a very private affair.

    During the first three to four months after her death I didn’t really sleep that well and to this day have absolutely no idea how I functioned at work. Then I found that things became easier, but grief is a strange beast. It will come from nowhere and hit. I never knew how I’d feel after my mum’s death, but I have been deeply affected by it, and not being close to family is hard because I don’t have anyone to talk to about her. My friends are great, but it’s not the same. There is a charity called Stand Alone in the U.K. for those who want to get in touch with a counsellor or attend a therapeutic workshop. I went along last year and found it helpful just to be in the same room with others who just understood.

    Thanks for your blog post Erica. It’s been helpful and timely as getting very close to the one-year anniversary.

  8. First of all I’m so sorry for your loss. And thank you for mentioning Stand Alone, I hadn’t heard of them before so I will give them a look up.
    I still wish things had been different. I look back at my childhood and wish I had had a Daddy that would look after me, tell me about boys and teach me how to drive. I feel a bit robbed of those things but appreciate the fact that I had an awesome mum who made up for the lack of decent father.
    I hope you are able to find peace x

  9. My father is also absent by choice. He made a new family and actually told us he was given an ultimatum by his new wife – and he chose her. It took about 10 years before I could stop thinking about it, and then my brother died. My father ignored all of his ‘old family’ at the funeral, which was very hard to cope with.
    I often wonder how I’ll feel when he dies, and I have ensured I have ties to his siblings so that I know about it. I have spent so long mourning the fact I don’t have a father, but I know losing that final chance to have one will sting terribly. Maybe they should do cards that say “I’m sorry you lost your father – however it happened”.

    • It’s a loss that just goes on really, isn’t it? I still resent not having that relationship, one that I think we all deserve really. You’re right about the cards. I didn’t receive one at all. Like it didn’t count. I appreciate it’s not the same but it’s still a loss

  10. You just described my past month, my dad died in October 11 and this has been the strangest and more confusing month of my life. He and my mom divorced when I was 5 months old, I chased him though my teen years dreaming with that relationship with him, until one day I went to his job to say hi and somebody told me he moved out of state, just like that, not even a goodbye, like I was nothing in his life. In that moment I grieved him, I was in my last year of art school and I dedicated the whole year to paint emotions, it was my way of saying goodbye, I was 16, I am 35 now. I swear I didn’t feel nothing the last times I saw him, didn’t even felt the word daddy to come out of my mouth, I though I grieved him back then. This time I spend 2 weeks of denial, getting anxious, clingy, needy, kind of crazy and my OCD through the sky, no concentration and my house getting messier every day, until one day in desperation I told my neighbor that I was going nuts and she told me “No, you are grieving”, to what I said it was impossible because he didn’t deserve to intervene in my life to this point, he doesn’t deserve my erratic uncontrollable conduct and that I though I was messing up my future and relationships in my life for him, that he didn’t lost a day of his life for me. I couldn’t tell my siblings how I was feeling, because he was not a good dad with us, but I was the most invisible child of all, they had each other growing up, I met them at 22 when I decided I wanted to meet them because he didn’t even introduced me to my 7 siblings, actually that day I discovered baby No. 8 existed, I didn’t even knew the final total by then. All these years they though I didn’t wanted anything with him because my mom (that is another type of abuse case) told me bad things about him as a kid, I never told them my stories of my chasing phase because I didn’t wanted to hurt them, since they loved him, now is harder because now everybody is hurting and I’m back at being the invisible one, the one that according to them hated him anyway, so or they try to “fix” what I’m feeling sending me angel wings and stuff like that to “represent” him, or they tell me I feel how I feel because I didn’t forgave him, when I was just protecting myself for being abandoned again for the time number 1000. Anyway as you say, he never said I’m sorry, that chase was his to do, I was a teenager, I was a kid, that wasn’t my job to do and he didn’t even care. My sister told me the other day that a year ago he told her he was proud of me, guess what, he never told me, he had 35 years to do it and wasted that precious time. In my therapy this week I learned that I didn’t became needy or clingy, I used to be avoidant and when I talk about my feelings I rationalize them instead of feeling them, what I’m feeling right now is called vulnerability and it hurts because is so uncomfortable. Maybe he just did me a favor, the pain is so intense that forced me to talk and to feel my feelings, to tell people “I need you and I don’t want to lose you”, maybe this will change me and liberate me from years and years of bottled feelings. I can say I have amazing friends, that might not understand, but they say they know is the 15 yrs old girl inside of me who is talking, others have decided to take distance, they couldn’t deal with my intensity in this time or maybe didn’t understand that I had a reason for it, after all we didn’t had a relationship. I don’t judge those friends, because I didn’t knew this is how grieving an estranged parent looks like, it was a surprise for me too and I had to research after my neighbor made me accept my grieving. I don’t judge the cards I haven’t received, I treasure the ones that say “I don’t understand what you are going through, but I’m here for you”, none of them family members, but amazing friends that have loved me in my most unlovable moment. Just please, Erica, tell me these goes away soon, he still doesn’t deserve the privilege to mess with my life.

    • Hi Lorraine
      So sorry I did not reply sooner.
      I cannot answer your question I’m afraid, as we are all different and all cope in different ways.
      What I would say is be kind to yourself, he might not deserve to mess with your life, but you deserve to be able to grieve a relationship you missed out on. Your feelings as a valid as anyone else’s. If you are struggling please reach out for some counselling in your area, or even online. I am glad that you have supportive friends and make sure you lean on them when you need to. They might not understand but you can explain and they can listen. xx

  11. I read this in hopes to understand my son’s point of view. He lost his father at 8 years of age. Dad was around all the time, but his addiction didnt allow for the 2 to have a typical father-son relationship. I would call it estranged relationship. I hear my son ask often “why wasnt dad a typical father? why wasnt dad around more sober?”.
    I hope all that lost a parent find peace and a healthy way to grieve. Everyone has the right to grieve a relationship, no matter the type of relationship.

    • Thanks Heidi, I agree everyone should be able to grieve and I hope your son is able to understand the circumstances of his relationship with his father.

    • Speaking from my own experience. I find it incredibly hard if not impossible to lower my guard emotionally on an outward level re my dad. People do not see through it and I suffer inside. As a mother you can let your son know you feel his pain without waiting for him to tell you. If you can bring up the subject sometimes I imagine that is how people are allowed to grieve when it’s for a celebrated parent. Sometime as children we suffer for the mistakes of the parent, don’t let the issue be taboo or only wait for him to speak to you. Maybe share how you feel so he can grow with you. Again I imagine ideally you would share grief with others but when you are estranged you are just over there on your own and feels like nobody knows or cares.

  12. Adding a very different perspective here. I have worked in fostering and adoption for 15 years. The ramifications for children who are adopted even at a very young age are huge. A child’s attachments are formed within the first year or so with the pivotal period being at nine months. When a child’s relationship with their main care giver is severed and they move to another family there are life long ramifications due to the attachment break. Adopted and fostered children tend not to have secure attachments and this resonates throughout life and impacts all relationships. There are a number of different attachment styles and it baffles me that more is not known about this. I’m sorry to say it but your father being adopted was trivialized as an excuse when in fact it’s the fundamental reason he was not able to attach to you. If you explore some research on this it may change the blame to understanding which could speed up the grieving process hopefully.

    • Thank you for your comment and it is very interesting and has always been something I wondered about. I am not a Dr and did not mean to dismiss my father’s adoption at all, I am merely putting forward my feelings about his death. Indeed not only was I without a father but also grandparents.
      What I do often wonder, though, is how he left me and subsequently started another family that he was able to attach to?

  13. My dad passed away in August 2019, 12 days after diagnosis w/ Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. We had been estranged for 3 years. His wife contacted my brother & I to tell us of his diagnosis. We visited a few times over his last days, but in the end I still don’t feel like I got the resolution I longed for. I’ve felt guilty to mourn him; he was already gone from my life so I felt I had been through that already. And as one to set those feelings aside, I’m regretting that. I know I need to mourn. I’ve put up a wall with other family members and acted like I’m a-ok, but I’m not. Your article hits the nail on the head and I’m grateful you’ve put my feelings into words. I’m getting help with the hope that I can move forward.

  14. Hi Erica. I wanted to say thank you for writing this. My estranged father died in Dec 2019. We hadn’t spoken in about 15 years and the only reason I found out he died was because I had a strange dream about him which prompted me to do a fb search into some of his relatives pages. Sure enough, he had died on the same day of my dream. The difference between our stories is that I actually had memories of my father and myself being close. When I was 12 he remarried for the 7th time and became a completely different person who wanted nothing to do with me and cared nothing about my well being. It happened almost overnight. Anyway, for the longest time I would say that I looked forward to the day he died. Then, I grew up quite a bit and started to feel empathy for him. I still had no interest in a relationship with him but I somehow gained some perspective. I never excused his behavior. He was an adult who decided his 12 year old daughters existence was more of a liability than it was worth. But I truly believe he was suffering from a mental illness. It was a startling discovery to find that I had never forgotten that I had loved him at one time very very much. When I found out for sure that my father died I told my husband who decided that we really needed to go to the funeral. I adamantly resisted at first. I really had nothing to say about him and wasn’t sure that I was even welcome. After my husband convinced me to go, we ended up arriving at the funeral home about 10 minutes late but my uncle made everyone wait. I was greeted by about half my family and completely ignored by the other. The next day, we all went back to the grave site. My kids and I decorated his fresh mound of dirt with flowers and then my husband took them to the car while I sat and talked with him. I did cry, minimally, but appreciated the opportunity for our last talk. Since then, I have had several surprise moments of this crazy mixture of sadness, anger and disappointment. The grieving process has been so strange for me. I really thought I would be relieved when I found out he died. I was actually startled by the news. I was startled that no one thought to tell me. No one thought I would care. I was startled by the dream I had about him that happened on the eve of his death.

    As I continue to work through this grief, I am finding it increasingly difficult to find someone who understands my perspective. But, reading your thoughts on the matter has given me comfort in knowing that someone out there understands that losing a parent is still tragic, even if the relationship and even the love, died a long time ago.

    • Hi Amanda
      Thanks very much for taking the time to leave a message. I really appreciate hearing from everyone as it makes me feel less alone too. When I wrote the post I had no idea how many people would read it, or how many people had been through a similar experience.
      I hope you are able to find peace xx

  15. This article has actually made me cry. My father had an affair and left when I was 5yrs old. He went on to marry and have two further children. We have been estranged for many years as I felt so angry with him for never being there or paying child maintenance. When I had children I did let him meet them but felt he didn’t deserve them as I didn’t want him making promises he couldn’t keep as he did when I was a child.
    My father passed away last week of Covid 19 and I was sent a link by my stepmother to watch the funeral. It was upsetting but I’m so upset that his younger children were mentioned in his eulogy but not me. It’s upset me so much as if I didn’t count. I’m so angry and upset that I didn’t get that father my step siblings had!

    • Kerry your story really resonates with me. Whilst my father is still alive, the resentment that I’ve felt over the years about his ‘other family’ getting the father that I never had has destroyed me, even though I am 48 now and thought that one day I’d get over it. It’s like these men think, hey I messed up first time around so I’m going to be really nice to my new kids and pretend the first one(s) never happened. I’m so sorry for what happened to you, you are not alone.

    • I am so sorry for your loss. That must have been particularly hurtful to watch a distanced/ online funeral and here yourself be overlooked again. Death is so final and painful with an estranged parent. We are left holding the bag and it feels no one was accountable. I hope you are able to manage your pain. Xx

  16. It’s so serendipitous that this randomly popped up as I was scrolling through my news feed. It was a suggested page for me and the link brought me to this specific entry. Today is the 2year mark since my estranged biological father died. I hadn’t seen or heard from him or anyone in his family as my mom forbid it, since I was 10 and I’m now 36. He wasn’t a good person, did a lot of drugs, drank, didn’t pay support and just took off. His family (it was to be assumed) were the same. But I never gave him a thought because my mom remarried and I have the most amazing father I could have ever imagined could exist on this earth. I thank God for him everyday. But when my bio dad died I was an emotional mess and had no clue why and felt so incredibly guilty. Because, I have an amazing father and here I was/am mourning a horrible person who never did any better for himself and died a death no one should. Guilty because, maybe I should have looked for him and that maybe it could have saved him from that fate. Guilty that I was disrespecting my dad and how dare i? Today has been really emotional and I have no idea why. But I am so appreciative that this came to me today. I am appreciative that you shared it, I’ve spent 2years not feelings validated while being confused. I appreciate you.

    • I can relate to feeling guilt and responsible for not doing more, not caring more and it’s unfair as we cannot do anything once they have gone.

  17. Thank you for writing this article. It has really helped me to understand the complex emotions i am experiencing. xxx

  18. Reading this blog and reading the post on this post has helped so much! I just wanted to thank each of you! My estranged father passed away March of this year and I’m still having a difficult time processing it. I haven’t spoken to him in years. I had received a message on Facebook stating that he had had a massive stroke and was in ICU and that it didn’t look good for him. So of course, I decided that I was going to go to the hospital and show my respect. As I was driving there all I could think about was how he messaged me the night before and told me that he loved me and wanted me to go to church with him one Sunday. Upon arrival, the doctor pulled me to the side and stated that I was over all of his medical decisions. That was a total game changer for me. How do I make decisions for a man that I never really knew. I walk in and see him on the ventilator and see the family that I haven’t seen since I was probably 10 years old. So we kept hope, kept him on the ventilator and I went everyday after work to visit him and there was absolutely no sign of improvement. Spoke with the doctors and his quality of life would have been absolutely horrible at only 48 years old. So after speaking to his family and his two younger daughters about the prognosis, we decided to take him off the ventilator. I went early that morning and just sat with him. His oxygen levels and blood pressure looked great and he made it until the next day and then he was transported to a hospice facility, while he was there I told him how much I loved him and that I was sorry and he passed away the next day at 5:02pm. I have never felt so numb in my life. I didn’t know how to feel and still some days, I still don’t. Planning a funeral and getting hugs from people saying “ you did the right thing” and I sometimes still question it. Should I have given him a bit longer? Would he have been able to meet his grandson? He wouldn’t have…grieving a relationship that you wish you would’ve had is probably the hardest thing I’ll ever encounter.

  19. Thank you for writing this. My father died on April 14, 2020. We had been estranged for 18 years. Without going into all the details, my story is very similar to the other posts I have read on this site. I am still trying to process and deal with the finality of his passing. I did feel like people around me just expected me to get over it and move on and that is not possible. Its been a difficult path to walk and I felt like not many people could understand why I was so upset.

  20. Hi Erica,
    Reading you blog is something I can finally resonate with as I’ve found it extremely hard to put my feelings into writing.

    Thank you so much.

  21. Thank you so much for this post Erica. It is such a relief that all the many emotions that I have experienced from the death of my estranged father 2 years ago ‘is a thing’. I have been struggling that my sadness and confusion has not been valid and that my anger is down to resentfulness towards other relatives re: his Will. I have recognised that this Will resentment is not the case but it is purely a vehicle for the loss of my father over 35 years of on/off estrangement, the last one being only 18 months up to his death. Many thanks for the Stand Alone info which I have registered for. I now feel far more equipped to not only work through what I am experiencing but to also use it for the future for my own daughter and her semi estranged father. Best wishes to all x

  22. Reading your story brought tears to my eyes. My estranged father died January 22, 2017. He left when I was 16, we could not support his drug addiction and belligerent outbursts any longer and he stormed out never to return. There were times he would call my mom around the holidays and say he was sorry for what he had done and the pain he had caused. Unfortunately this was a story we had heard hundreds of times over the course of their marriage and my childhood. After a few years he stopped reaching out, and we learned he was living in a trailer on a family member’s piece of land. He had no job, no car, nothing to his name when he died. He had been feeling bad but didn’t have health insurance or a way to get to the doctor. He died all alone and no one went to check on him for days. When I learned all this I was mortified. Anytime I think about my dad, my head goes back to this. I know it’s not my fault but I feel so much guilt. And I feel pain that his life ended with no one around him. He pushed all of us away because he couldn’t stop using drugs. My child never knew her grandfather. I don’t even know if he knew she existed. It’s such a strange mix of pain, guilt, and grief. I honestly thought when the day would come that we heard of his passing I would feel relief. I burst into tears. It’s so permanent. I don’t know if I could have changed anything, but now I definitely can’t. It’s hard to mull over. Three and a half years later and I still have issues with it (mostly when my temper flares, the temper I inherited from him). You are right though, the offers of comfort and support were surprisingly lacking. So in a way I think I did not grieve how I needed to at the time. I put on a brave face and acted like it didn’t bother me. My estranged uncle paid for his funeral but my sister and I had to sign the paperwork for his cremation since we were next of kin. We went together and then afterwards we just processed what we had just done. And we cried. And it felt good to cry and have someone understand how I was feeling. We haven’t talked about it since. We didn’t attend the funeral. That’s probably another thing I will wish I did differently. I pray you get your closure.

  23. Thank you Erica. I just learned that my estranged father has died, I am not doing ok. I hated the man. He was a drunk and beat my mom. He had 5 children with her and when my mom finally stood up for herself and left him, he moved to the other side of the country, I was 7. He barely kept in contact over the years, it has been 25 years since we all separated. I was so influenced by my parents that I entered into a marriage that took the exact same spin. My husband also was abusive, and I blamed my father for not making me stronger, for me to actually think that anger and abuse was ok in a marriage, (I have since left my husband)I hated my father and yet I am so distraught by his death.
    I have so much blame and anger in me, i don’t know how i will ever let it go.
    Your article made me realize i am not alone in the same thoughts but also it has made me realize that I can hopefully move on and let go.
    I don’t want to be angry anymore and I don’t want to be sad either

  24. I learned last night that my estranged father had died. It was my choice to cut our ties. Not because I didn’t want a father, who doesn’t want a father? I came to that difficult decision, that I simply couldn’t heal and have half a chance at being happy, with him in my life.

    Although I have some good memories and some things that I appreciate because of him, I had deep hurt and betrayal. I did confront him and did try to have him in my life but I simply couldn’t.

    I have a sibling who did have a close relationship with him and so it’s difficult right now to navigate… my sibling’s grief is so different and also much more “normal”. It is grief over the loss of a loved parent. Mine is grief over not having that kind of grief… and grief over being on the outside of it all but still with so many feelings to relive. Although I made the decision I needed to, Ive had many moments since where I just felt incredible sadness that I had lost out on having a healthy dad who didn’t betray me. And now I feel I will miss out on the healing that can come with a funeral.

    My dad’s sister has been cruel over my decision and would be cruel If I attended the funeral.
    I’ve decided it’s for the people whose lives he was part of and I will fine my own way forward… again.

    Thank you for this place to share, and to read other stories. Maybe I need to get some cards into production for people like us!

  25. Thank you so much for this post Erica! I just learned of my estranged Father’s death yesterday. Like most of the ppl in this comment section I hadn’t had a relationship with my dad since he left when I was 6. Although my father was an addict as an adult I wanted a relationship with him but it never worked out. I am now 36 and find myself bursting out in tears over a man I didn’t know. My brother and I will be handling all of his arrangements even though we never had the chance to build a relationship with him as adults. In a weird way I’m happy to finally have my Dad home. 😢

  26. Thank you for this. Truly. The loss of what could of been is breaking my heart as much as my fathers passing. Are there any books you have come across on this topic? Or any other literature that you may guide me towards. Thank you again.

  27. Thanks for sharing this. When I heard about my estranged father’s passing, feelings were complex. He moved to an another state when I was 4. I reconnected with him at 18; on-off, and then again connected at the age of 40. I cut ties with him last year because it was very difficult emotionally. It brought back feeling of anger and betrayal, and longing for what could’ve been. I felt I couldn’t move on as long as he was in my life, however intermittent.

    There is sadness and confused feeling of why am I sad; and also a stark reminder that one day, we all have to go. I wanted to attend his funeral but logistics didn’t allow it (timing, different state, COVID,etc). At the same time, I also didn’t want to see my father’s side of the family because I know that I will be on the receiving end of verbal taunts and the guilt thrown at me for cutting ties. As a guy, it adds another layer of complexity because men showing signs of grief and sadness is considered “weak”. One day when I have money, I will be seeing a therapist. For now, pieces like yours are extremely helpful. Thanks

  28. It’s been just over two weeks since my father passed away. The day before Xmas Eve. I didn’t know till he had gone. My brother his wife, my nephew my two half sisters their partners and his brothers and sisters where all there at his passing. No one thought to tell me. My father and I had a difficult relationship. He was a very difficult man, controlling, a bully. Cheated on my mum. Left us as a family and the story goes on and on. Sporadically he was in my life but he never really got me and I didn’t get him. I craved his love my whole life. Tried everything for his approval and seven years ago he hurt me beyond my wildest dreams and I closed the door on him forever. Fast forward to two weeks ago and he passed away and I have never felt sodding pain like this in all my life. My stomach feels hollow, my mind is numb and I cry none stop. I was used to this man walking out in me. Never being there for me and I really thought I had dealt with the grief of losing him a very long time ago. Yet here I am utterly devastated and beyond heartbroken… I feel like a fraud and I’m losing my mind. He didn’t love me so why am I taking his passing so badly?

  29. I read this post with interest, as I was estranged from my mother when she died, and have been estranged from my father for decades. It’s complicated, we become estranged because their behaviour is so hurtful, but we still hold onto a tiny little hope that one day they will contact us and say Sorry, and when they die that little bit of hope is extinguished. In my case I feel I was not grieving for the dead parent, but for that little bit of hope that died with them. Part of me wants to confront my father before he dies, but I know it is futile, he will never apologise. I have to satisfy myself with the thought that he has missed out on getting to know my wonderful children and now my granddaughter.

  30. Thank you for this! I am living this situation right now and trying to figure what to do next! My father just passed less than an hour ago. I was 2 when my parents divorced, was kept from him, then I sought him out when I was 18. We met one day and then not again until 18 yrs later when he was hospitalized and diagnosed with Lymphoma. I was contacted, as the only next of kin, and tried to have a relationship with him for the next 2.5 yrs. When things weren’t going well, I made the decision to walk away. I wrote him a very long letter and put my feelings all out there. Fast forward 10 yrs. I just got a call 3 days ago, again he was hospitalized and not expected to live beyond a few days. I went to go see him. He knew who I was and held my hand. I sat with him for several hours. He was at peace! When I went to leave, I told him that I loved him and he was free to let go. I truly believe he waited for me. I knew it just a matter of time. So many emotions!! So, thank you. I don’t feel like I am alone now! ❤️

  31. My father died 3 days ago. We’ve been estranged for nearly 40 years. I think most people think of it as by my choice but the reality is he had made no effort to reconnect since i was sent a present by him on my 21st birthday, nearly 30 years ago. I wasn’t much more than a child then and unprepared to reconcile with him. I grieved the loss of “what could have been or should have been” many years ago and for the last about 20 years I’ve been at peace with the estrangement.

    In thinking about the possibility of his death, I knew that it could possibly bring up some old feelings, there was a risk of regret though i didn’t believe that would be the case for me. But I was completely unprepared for the complexity of what i’m feeling now the time has actually arrived, the extent to which grief is messing with my head space. I don’t really know what to do with it all. So I turned to Google to see if there would be any information on how to make sense of it all or at least validate what the heck is going on in my head. And I found this article, which perfectly expresses what is happening for me too. So thank you for sharing, for confirming I’m not going crazy feeling like this. And i’ll try and be more accepting of people offering their condolences, instead of keeping on minimising the occasion because i don’t feel that i deserve condolences.

  32. I’ve recently had the very same experience. My biological dad left me and my mum when I was 6. He was young and selfish, unreliable and unstable. He caused my mum a lot of grief before they divorced and she ended up having a nervous break down. So subsequently I had lost both my parents. My dad barely made an effort to see me and then once he met his new wife and had a new family I was forgotten.

    I tried to reassemble some kind of relationship with him when I had my first son, however how can you rekindle something that was nonexistent? How can I build a relationship with a man who abandoned me as a little child?? Where is the trust and the love? Where did it do?

    For years I blamed myself. I have to say that what he did ruined my life. My mother tried to take her life twice when I was young. I struggled and had many failed relationships.

    I am contesting his will. I feel angry and entitled to something . . I never had anything from him in life so why not try to obtain something in death? Call me mercinary or whatever you like but I have had a dad size hole in me my whole life and it has had a profound impact. I was bullied when I was in school for not having a father, which seem ridiculous by today’s standards, but I am 50 now so back then it wasn’t so prevalent.

    Anyway, I am sad. I tried to reach out to him about 2 years ago and I had no reply. He made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with me. He has two girls which are my half sisters. Their mother died a year before him. At least they all got to have both loving parents in a stable home.

    Thanks for this opportunity to share my story..


  33. I am so thankful I found this article and all of these comments to validate all my jumbled emotions. I found out this week that my father died from covid last October. Not sure why my siblings or I were not notified of next of kin, but these covid times are strange. I hadn’t spoken to my father in almost 15 years. I have a lot of good memories of him. He was not a bad person. He just had zero parenting skills and was stuck in his own brokenness, shame and guilt and was not a healthy person to have a relationship with. I often wondered how I would feel when he died. If I would feel guilty for not continuing the relationship, if I would feel anything at all. I was a little taken aback by how sad I was when I found out. And I know the comment has already been made about feeling conflicted about whether or not I even deserved to feel that sadness. What I wasn’t expecting was how this would rip open the wounds I thought had healed, and bring back so much of the anger I thought I had made peace with. It’s not grieving losing a father from now on, it’s grieving a father I never had, grieving a father I will never had. But oddly there is also an element of relief like this is the last time he will leave me. This is the last time he can abandon me. This is the last time he can hurt me… it’s over. So many more feelings than I ever expected.

  34. Hi Erica,

    Thanks for sharing this and everyone’s stories have been so helpful and validating for me. My dad passed 5 months ago, he was in ill health for a long time and he was a very toxic and bitter man. I distanced myself from him as he wasn’t someone you could have a relationship with. The responsibility fell upon me to arrange everything and it was just such a strange experience, I didn’t feel like I was worthy of people’s sympathies because I didn’t feel that devastating sense of loss. I was constantly being told how to feel and how to react by family members when I wasn’t even sure how I felt about everything as I was so focused on planning the funerals I haven’t really been able to talk properly with others about it because I don’t feel they would understand. It would be good to know if there are any support groups out there for people going through this. Sending Love to everyone.

  35. I need this today! I saw my father whom I know is dying. I haven’t had a relationship with him since I was 5, I’m now 41. I do t love my father and I never have but I was confused about how I felt when I saw him. He’s aged so much and he looks so frail, the thing is, as callous as this sounds, I have never cared if he was alive or dead. After seeing him I came home and got really upset and couldn’t understand why. After reading this it makes sense, it’s about the relationship I SHOULD have had, I feel much better about my feelings after reading this so thank you

  36. Thankyou so much for writing this. My estranged father died in February and today is his birthday. At times my heart is broken and others I feel nothing .You sum up so well all those feelings I have been having . My mother and step father are incensed that I am mourning someone who treated me so poorly . I will let them read this as you explain it so well.
    Thankyou x

  37. Today is the first anniversary since my Dad passed away and I’ve been trying to think how best to express my grief… grief that I feel is undeserved.
    Reading this has helped me immensely. It’s as if you’ve been inside my head, taken notes and verbalised all of the thoughts.
    YOU are incredible. Thank you. X

  38. Thank for you posting this. My dad passed away recently but for the past 10 plus years or so, we’ve not had a very good relationship and hadn’t spoken on the phone for nearly 6 months when I received a call to say he had passed.
    Lots of sympathy has come in, and I feel almost like a fraud for accepting their sympathy.
    But it is exactly like you said, the guilt and feeling of never getting an apology or getting the relationship you want or hoped of in the future.
    Thank you for posting this.

  39. Thank you. I needed this tonight. I learned of my fathers passing late last night, funeral this morning. I had no time to gather my thoughts or process my feelings. I showed up not for him but for myself. I thought surely no one could possibly understand what I’m feeling until I stumbled upon this tonight. I can only describe it as grieving for what never was and what now will never be.

  40. Thank you so much for writing this. My father passed away just yesterday. We have had a very complicated and tense relationship and haven’t spoke in a long time. I know putting the space between us was the right choice for me. It never meant I loved him any less but needed to stop the pain that came with our relationship. Now with his loss putting my feelings into words is very hard and deeply complicated. Your words helped me more then you know. Thank you.

  41. My father recently lost his father whom he had a very horrible relationship with and is having a heard time grieving. I can’t find any books to help him navigate this difficult time. Would Tupi recommend any?

  42. My biological father abandoned my mom, myself, and my older brother when I was 3 years old. My mother was not skilled and needed help raising two young boys. My mother met who would become our stepfather a few years later. They married and we were a family of 4 again this time with a good man who wanted to be there. My stepfather was the greatest man I’ve ever known. He took on the selfless and thankless act of taking on 2 bastard sons. He coached my pop warner football team and showed me how to be a man as best he could with what little he had to work with, me.

    After 12 years of family bliss, my mother decides to divorce my stepdad. I was already moved out of the house chasing my dreams in Los Angeles. My stepdad hung on to my stuff for me until I returned a few years later. He was living alone going his own way after the divorce and we lost touch. Correction, I let go of my end of the rope. I did not call him for 8 years. He passed before I decided to find his whereabouts. It’s now been 8 years since his passing and I am having problems with this still. I do believe it is because I am kicking myself for not cultivating a relationship with the man who saved me and gave me a blessed childhood. I feel an overwhelming amount of guilt. The man deserved the utmost respect. He got the complete opposite and died alone. He did not deserve it. I know karma is here for me, though I will face this head-on as he would want for me too.

    If your estranged parent is still alive, I would suggest you just reach out and just say to them. Look, If you need anything please call me and tell them no matter what that you have love for them.

  43. Thank you for sharing this, I needed to read it. My father passed away earlier this year, he had been completely absent for most of my life. I didn’t feel grief when I heard the news but I think I feel robbed of ever having closure. I will never know why he behaved the way he did. I am struggling a little at the moment with the complete lack of acknowledgment from my extended family and in someways my spouse. They literally have not spoken to me about it at all.
    Growing up I felt awkward talking about my father, like he wasn’t really my dad. Now it’s like another version of that, I’ve mentioned him a couple of times to my husband who seems very disinterested and generally changes the subject. I just feel sad and I’m not sure why. I can’t tell if it’s from the lack of closure or my family’s response.
    Best regards x

  44. It’s a real comfort reading these words. I keep telling people before telling them my dad died that we were estranged, letting them know in advance I don’t deserve sympathy: so weird.

    My dad got ill when was a small child and then left the family home to seek a better life, eventually moving overseas. We maintained contact but he never acknowledged a birthday or Christmas for me or any of my siblings, or paid maintenance.

    But I maintained a friendly relationship with him, he was funny and clever and we were mates. But he was mentally ill and told me to sod off in no uncertain terms one day, meaning I cried for three days straight. He had a habit of fire bombing all his relationships by sending nasty letters, but I never got over my own.

    18 years has passed and I knew he was ill, but finding out he’d died alone (also from covid) and been cremated without ceremony 7 weeks earlier cut much more deeply than I’d have imagined. Family members questioning your grief as attention seeking only makes it worse. I am surprised at the gut wrenching feelings. It’s better with time, but as relieved as I am that I’ll never receive another letter, I’m sad for the loss of the dad I had for a spell and the dad he was and could’ve continued to be. I always loved him, much as his capacity to hurt me scared me.

  45. Thanks for your post. I found it by specifically googling this topic. He has been gone for 12 years, but each time I see my non- involved dad’s sister, I gain morsels of information about his uninvolvement, his life and his death that open this unresolved grief right back open. I do not want to read a memoir of grieving a father that the author knew, as that just feels offensive! So, thanks for being transparent about your experience


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