Social Question

KNOWITALL's avatar

Can you grieve for someone you never really knew?

Asked by KNOWITALL (15131 points ) January 7th, 2013

The reason I ask is because a friend of mine, along with myself, have fathers who aren’t in our lives at all. Her father died today and she decided to attend the funeral.

If and when my father passes, I don’t think I can because of my half-siblings, I think it would be intrusive to them, nor do I think I’ll grieve over someone who never wanted to be in my life.

Just curious what you thought, or how you would handle it?

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31 Answers

jca's avatar

I think so. If in the case of a family member, it means that any chance of a reconciliation will never happen.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think you can always grieve. Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by how much grief I feel for people I never knew. The two most recent news stories about women raped (that have now passed) left me grieving for some hours.

tom_g's avatar

Many people lose a parent twice. Once when they realize that their parent has not been a good one, and then again when s/he dies. Emotions around death and loss are tricky and messy – especially when it’s a parent.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@tom_g Yeah, I think I’ll be going through that when mom dies. But I didn’t go through that when dad died – it was more clear cut with him that he abused me.

ucme's avatar

My parents divorced when I was just six, leaving my mum to bring up three boisterous boys.
I’ve maybe seen my dad half a dozen times since, the last being over twenty years ago.
I’ve always considered this to be his loss & as a father myself, can’t comprehend the actions he chose to take in neglecting his family.
You’d imagine then that his eventual passing would leave me cold, but you know what, I think it’ll sting somewhat, regardless of his ineptitude as a dad, but that’s just me I guess.

KNOWITALL's avatar

So then it appears those of you that have answered would grieve. Would you attend the funeral, invited or not?

ucme's avatar

That would be a decision to take at the time, I certainly wouldn’t have any objections if my kids felt they needed to pay respects to a grand-dad they never knew, wouldn’t surprise me, they’re a chip of the old block see.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@KNOWITALL Given the limited details, I would probably still show up. It’s about who you are as a person, it’s not intrusive, I don’t think. Funerals are terrible in terms of drama, so you know better given the players involved.

KNOWITALL's avatar

It gets tricky when you deal with absentee parents though. These strangers share our blood/ dna but chose not to share our lives, so it’s a little complicated.

I can’t pay my respects to a man who wanted me aborted and killed, then when my mom chose to keep me and raise me, this same ‘man’ couldn’t care less if I lived, died, had warm clothes, nothing. The same with my friend and her ‘father’.

For me, I can’t see anything to gain except perhaps some closer on a horrible and hurtful situation.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@KNOWITALL Well, closure is good.

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL: “For me, I can’t see anything to gain except perhaps some closer on a horrible and hurtful situation.”

That may be the case. Only you will know.

But I have seen people who were emotionally devastated by a parent’s death – even though that parent had been a completely neglectful alcoholic who acted as though they were childless. (Ok, I’m speaking about my wife and the death of her father last year.) This emotional pain was worse for her to process, however, because she felt that she feel very little for this man, and was completely caught off-guard at her reaction.

While my father was not that absent, we have had our difficulties (left us when I was 12, and many other things), and I have found that he was never able to give me the support and connection that I had wanted. I’m > 40 years old, and for some reason some part of me still wants him to be proud of me or something. I can’t figure it out, but I think I understand the complicated emotions that arise when it comes to parents. As shitty a father as my wife’s father was, his death brought the realization that he would never “show up” and be a dad. He is gone, and she somehow feels guilty and feels that she has lost (again) someone she never had. Emotions are messed up.

Shippy's avatar

I think we cry for what we didn’t have or wish we did have and perhaps the opportunity lost.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Her father also died alone on NYE of cancer. To me that is the saddest thing because it was unnecessary. She was in tears telling me about it, how it was needless, that he had a large family, that she didn’t even know her uncles and aunts name, but apparently he left her his house so she has to meet with an attorney and all these strangers more than likely.

I’m terribly afraid something like that will happen with my father, too, and I cringe inside because the desire to love a father, even if you don’t know them, is so strong. It makes their decision to be without out even harder to bear sometimes, because it’s all one-sided.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

To a certain extent, yes. I grieved for Heath Ledger. Seriously.

diavolobella's avatar

I think it’s definitely possible and perfectly normal to grieve for someone you don’t know well or at all. In a situation like yours, you may grieve for what might have been. In a situation where it’s a perfect stranger you might grieve for the loss to their family, for the way in which they lost their life (which might be a type of death that strikes a particular chord with you) or because of the loss to the world in general. There are certain public figures I was very sad about when they died (Princess Diana, Benjamin Orr and Eva Cassidy come to mind although they are certainly not the only ones) because they seemed like good people, making positive contributions to the world and who were struck down at young ages, by devastating illness and/or a horrible accident.

I am reminded of a line from “To Kill A Mockingbird” when Atticus Finch says it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because all they do is make beautiful music for people to enjoy. Some people are like that. They bring good things into the world and even if you don’t know them personally, you recognize their passing is a loss to us all.

wundayatta's avatar

People attend funerals for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it is so they can express their own grief. Sometimes it is to remember the life of someone they loves. Sometimes it is to support someone who is grieving. Sometimes it is to see a spectacle. Sometimes it is to learn about a person who passed away or to learn about the others who came to the funeral. Sometimes it is to try to gain some kind of closure, or to help someone else gain closure.

You say you want closure. Well, I wonder what kind of closure a funeral will provide? Will it confirm that he is dead and now you can officially never talk to him again, even as it has been in life? Will it confirm that his other children hate you and want nothing to do with you? Will this make you feel unwanted and unknown and unwelcome?

Perhaps going to the funeral will be an in your face to his other kids. Here I am. Yes I exist. Deal with it.

Perhaps they will magically open up their family to you in your shared grief. They will want to know you and feel connected with you after all these years. Perhaps the death will make that happen, now that he no longer stands between you. Or maybe it’s their mother who stands between you. Or maybe they all hate you.

The more I write, the more I think that the funeral represents a kind of magical thinking. I don’t know what you want. I imagine you want to know your father. Meet with him. Have dinner with him a few times before he dies. Maybe you want him to admit he made a mistake when he wanted you to be aborted. That you are, after all, a valuable person he is proud of.

But of all the good things you could want, none seem realistic to me. To hope that the funeral would give you insight on him, or even a chance to say good bye to someone who was never there, I think you’ll be disappointed. Not that you shouldn’t go. It won’t harm you. And if you do it right, it won’t harm the family, either. Do they know what you look like?

I would go, if you want to, but try not to have any expectations about what will happen and what it will mean. Be zen about it. There is just no telling. If you do have expectations, you will almost certainly be disappointed. But there is a part of you that wants to grieve for this relationship you never had. You need to grieve, still, that he could never tell you he was proud of you, and you could never get a chance to forgive him for not wanting you, and for what that has done to you in your life.

The forgiveness, if it has not happened already, won’t happen at the funeral, either. It is something that will happen inside you, one day, and you may not even notice. You’ll just feel a little lighter and may notice weeks or months after it has happened.

I feel a desire to give you something. Something a good father would give you. Something that is not really mine to give. In this case, only you can give yourself what you need. The funeral won’t help. It won’t hurt. You might stir up trouble, but that won’t really matter. It’s your life that you care about, not his other children. If it helps in your process, then do it. If you only think it might help, then do it. If you are already past all that by the time he dies, then there’s no point in going.

This is a spiritual thing. Not religious. Spiritual. It has to do with your own healing. And in this instance, you are the physician. Physician, heal thyself!

KNOWITALL's avatar

Aw wundayatta, you are so special and so articulate, seriously. You are the only man who has ever in my entire life said that to me and it brought tears to my eyes “I feel a desire to give you something. Something a good father would give you. Something that is not really mine to give.” So sweet.

For my friend it will be hard but she doesn’t have any half-sibs or a step parent to deal with, but her dad left her his house even though she wasn’t in his life, that is something at least.

In my case, I would NOT be invited. They know what I look like, we’ve talked and met, but one of my sisters told me that we would never be a ‘family’ and for me not to even think that was a possiblity, when I stated that was what I wanted via facebook. My father won’t even meet me for coffee or take a phone call.

I forgave my father almost 10 years ago and I wrote him a letter to tell him that I hope he was happy and peaceful. For me, for now, it’s okay, although it’s like an open wound that doesn’t heal, but I’ll deal with that when it happens I suppose. I don’t see how I could feel emptier about my father than I do now really.

harple's avatar

You absolutely can grieve for someone you never really knew, particularly when they are a parent. Like them or not, they are part of the reason you are on this planet, and something in you will have come from them. So when they die, a part of your creation is gone, and the opportunity to learn about that part of you is most likely gone with it. Whilst they are alive, there is always the option to ask (I appreciate that doesn’t mean they’ll respond) but when they’re gone they’re gone. Finality.

lightsourcetrickster's avatar

I’m not without compassion. 9/11 just really made me bawl my eyes out. I flat out simply refuse to watch anything to do with it, because the memory of seeing that on the news is very firmly scarred into my memory. I can’t watch documentaries about it, I can’t even watch movies about it because it will just trigger the whole thing for me. Avoidance is better than confrontation on that one.
As for on a more personal scale rather than a grander one. My father is pretty much the same, hasn’t had a great deal to do with me, but I’m not sure if I could grieve for him when he dies (which being human, is going to happen). Not least because he’s had not a lot to do with me, but mostly because he’s lived his dream. He was a soldier for 22 years, it’s what he wanted to do, he’s worked in a long term civilian job since then for 13 years, and he goes home and puts his feet up remembering the good old days surrounded by military odds and sods. Pictures of when he was an officer with all the other officers he worked with, military shields of the regiments he served with, a couple of personalized things that were given to him when he was honorably discharged. He’s had a cozy dream of an existence (because that was his idea of what he wanted) and pretty much left my Mother and myself swept under a rug to a large extent. Am I going to be upset? I doubt it. He’s broken many hearts in his life. Including that of my brothers (half-brothers but I don’t buy into all that half crap, they either are or are not) – however I think they would be more upset being considerably younger and also having been something of a major factor in his life.

harple's avatar

Edit – removed by me as it responded to something which has now been removed.

KNOWITALL's avatar

They are not really my brothers and sisters except half our blood and half our dna. To me family are those we love and that love us so I have friends I consider to be family more than my blood brothers and sisters.

I’m sorry your dad was like that, I guess we’re not in a unique position in that aspect. Mine was ex-Air Force and was a Deputy Sheriff as well. Maybe it’s a military thing, where they get used to leaving family behind during deployment? Just a thought.

Stand up member of the community and a fine Christian man. Although part of me will probably always be hurt by the circumstances, I do feel something for my father though, I won’t deny that. It may be my own wishful thinking, but since most people love me, I tend to think he couldn’t resist my charms if he actually allowed himself contact.

He told me when I was 21 yrs old it was invevitable, but I’m almost 40 now and we still live in the same town ten minutes apart, so how inevitable is it really?

Bellatrix's avatar

There isn’t a definitive yes or no answer here to whether you should go to the funeral. You have to make that decision yourself and it may be you won’t really know what you want to do until he dies. You might be surprised by your emotions or you may react exactly as you expect you will.

Grief is a weird thing. While you would think having been so estranged you would not feel grief, in fact it may cause an upsurge in all the feelings you have perhaps been suppressing.

Play it by ear when the time comes. Do what you need to do. While it’s admirable you are concerned about his second family – he was your father too. You have the right to be there if you need to be there. You could always sit at the back and leave quietly at the end.

Blondesjon's avatar

I grieved for Rita when Trinity killed her in season 4 of Dexter.

lookingglassx3's avatar

My brother grieved for his father when he died, even though he hadn’t seen him since he was around three years old.

Likewise, when my maternal grandfather died (whom I was very close to), I also found myself sad about my paternal grandfather, who died eight years before I was born. I don’t know why, but I just felt upset that I’d known and loved my maternal grandad so dearly, and didn’t have the opportunity to get to know my other grandad.

creative1's avatar

Funerals are one of those things you don’t get a second chance to go back and say good bye, I would attend the funeral even if it were me I would attend the funeral. They are your half siblings and like it or not they are your relatives so they would have to accept you going to the funeral.

But here is the difference I think I would as an adult try to reach out to him even though you think he didn’t want to spend time with you while you were growing up. You don’t know the whole picture until you sit and talk with him and find out his side of the story. This is something I wouldn’t wait until a funeral to do, why wait until he’s gone to find out there may have been a chance you could have had a relationship. But I lost my father at a young age and I feel like I missed out on something which was getting to know him as an adult and given the opportunity I would love the chance to get to know him that way. So if I question if I should get in contact with someone I just do it rather than wait to be sad I didn’t when they are gone. We will all die someday and don’t know when it will happen so I don’t want that sort of regret out there.

hearkat's avatar

Sometimes we grieve for what we didn’t have with that person, and their death means that there can be no reconciliation. When my father died suddenly about 3 years ago, I felt nothing. He was in my life, and I can’t say that I ever hated him, but he was not meant to be a father, or even a friend. I was a little concerned that I might experience some guilt for having stopped communication with him, or some sorrow that we hadn’t had a healthy father-daughter relationship, but none of that ever came. I had processed those feelings and mourned the normal childhood I’d never have long before.

rojo's avatar

Honestly? No. I seem to have trouble grieving for those I do know.

Perhaps it is that I seem to maintain an emotional distance between myself from others.

One of my mothers’ favorite quotes is “If you have none to make you cry, you’ll have none to make you laugh”.

I guess I took it to heart; but diametrically opposite to the way in which it was intended.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@creative1 I have reached out many times as an adult, I’m almost 40 now and it hasn’t worked, so I’m done asking and moving on to getting over it. There’s only so much rejection a person can take and still be okay, I reached my limit about 3 years ago when my half-sister told me he had regrets but wasn’t willing to change anything at this point, you know, like getting to know his eldest child before he dies. Acceptance is not always easy to attain and now that I’m at that point, it leaves only his death to end this saga unfortunately.

wundayatta's avatar

It must be harder that he lives so close to you. If you lived in Calif and could never see him, then it seems like you could accept not seeing him more easily. Hell. You might even be Facebook friends. You might have more contact than you do now. Distance does that sometimes.

But since you are close, and you can see each other, but don’t, it seems like he is constantly rejecting you, and that must make it worse. I don’t mean to rub it in. I have sympathy. But I just think it is a situation where it is very difficult for you to manage your feelings. To let him go—as if he was already dead.

creative1's avatar

@KNOWITALL I am sorry you have gone through this, at least you know you’ve tried and that is all you can do. You can’t force it and I am happy you have accepted it. Its nice to hear you have some communication with your half sibling and if your both open to it have a relationship of your own without him.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Yes, him living close has tempted me, infuriated me, but then I realized that even if I can’t get to know him, I’m still the closest of his children to him in his old age (two live in other states). I’ve also told him in my last letter that I’m here for him if he ever needs me and he is forgiven.

Currently I don’t speak to any of my half-sibs. It was just too hard on us since we didn’t grow up together. The oldest girl and my brother look like me though, and we all share dna, so for someone who grew up an only child, it would be nice to be able to know them. Maybe someday.

It’s complicated. Thanks for the comments.

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