I’m so sorry that your father died ,and I can imagine the depth of your sorrow right now. You’re right that it feels profoundly unfair that one day you had a perfectly healthy father, and two weeks later he was dead. And along with him died your vision of the future, which included not just dancing with him at your sister’s wedding and seeing him experience grandparenthood but also decades of silly jokes and warm hugs and the sound of his voice singing those Beatles tunes—a voice that has felt like home for your entire life.
I have no magic words that can erase your pain, but even if I did, I wouldn’t try. That’s because your pain is the result of deep love. It’s your love for your father that creates the pain, and I can’t—nor would I want to—take away your love.
What I can do instead is help guide you through this profound heartbreak—which is, in essence, what grief is—so that instead of “accepting” your father’s death, you begin to accept your feelings in all their wild glory: the rage, the guilt, the sadness, the despair, the envy of people whose parents survived COVID-19 while yours did not. Because when you accept these feelings, fully and without judgment, you will slowly begin to heal.
Healing doesn’t mean that the pain goes away. It means that the pain becomes a sacred part of you that you carry inside forever. Often grieving people come to me hoping I can help them find “closure,” but I’ve always felt that closure was an illusion. Many people don’t know that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s familiar stages of grieving—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—were conceived in the context of terminally ill patients learning to accept their own death. It’s one thing to “accept” the end of your own life, but for those who keep on living, the idea that they should be getting to acceptance, or what we think of as closure, might make them feel worse (“Why am I not ‘over this’ by now?”).
Besides, how can there be an end point to love and loss? Do we even want there to be? The price of loving so deeply is feeling so deeply—but it’s also a gift, the gift of being alive. If we no longer feel, maybe we should be grieving our own death. The grief psychologist William Worden takes into account this perspective by replacing Kübler-Ross’s stages with tasks of mourning. In his fourth task, the goal is to integrate the loss into your life and create an ongoing connection with the person who died while also finding a way to continue living.
Right now, though, the pain of your father’s death feels unbearable. A patient once told me that her grief made her feel “alternately numb and in excruciating pain.” Yours may feel like that or it may feel different. You might also experience a sense of surreality: How can people go on with their days as if nothing has happened? How can they binge-watch TV shows and share gingerbread-cookie photos on Instagram when the world seems to have stopped? And comparing your loss with others’ is natural, too: Is it worse if the death is sudden or expected? If the person is 62 or 80? If you saw the person regularly or hadn’t seen him in a year? But grieving is not a contest, because there are no winners when it comes to losing someone you love.