How to deal with the death of a parent

OPINION: The mourning process never really ends. This is both bad and good.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

My cousin called me the other day and said her father’s heart transplant did not work out. He was gone. She said her father’s death was sitting so heavily on her soul that she wasn’t sure how she could go on. She knew that my father passed about five years ago, and she asked me, Now that her dad is gone, and she’s devastated, what comes next? How does she go on with this pain inside her?

Many people who have lost a parent know that the mourning process never really ends. You get used to the sadness. You get used to their absence. But you never really get over it. This is both bad and good. It’s hard because there’s this cloud of sadness in your spirit all the time and it affects you. Sometimes, I feel the beginning of tears welling up in me as if he passed last week. Sometimes, like at holidays or when my kids do something great, I feel sad that he’s not here to see it. That keeps me from being 100% happy about anything — when I think through it all and remember that I didn’t get to share it with dad, that makes me sad. 

He’s so present in my mind that every once in a while, I’ll see someone who looks like him, and it creates this whole internal conversation. Like, my eyes will land on some man who’s far away, a man who is his color or his shape or wearing the hat he liked or whatever, and my eyes say, “Look there he is.” It’s like a mirage, but instead of water, it’s my dad. My mind reviews the footage and says, “Obviously that’s not him.” My eyes say, “I know, I know, but do you not see what we’re seeing? That’s clearly him.” And it really does look like him. My eyes are registering him. But my heart does not leap. My mind is not fooled. My mind says, “C’mon.” Then I blink, and my eyes refocus and then it’s clear it’s not him. All of this lasts one to two seconds, and it used to happen fairly often but not anymore. I kinda miss it. At first, it was hard emotionally to see him so clearly, but in time, I welcomed these mirages, these little chances to see him again, even though it brought back the familiar sadness. 

But wallowing in the sadness is also good. The endless mourning is good. The endless mourning means he’s still with me, he’s still a part of my life. He’s still present in my mind and in my life in some way. Sometimes I talk to Dad and say, “I’m doing OK,” or “I’m taking care of my kids, or “I’m doing what you would have wanted,” or “Damn, you’ve been gone a long time.” In this way, I’m in conversation with him. I don’t “invent” responses; my mind does not pretend to think of what he would say, but I know what he would have said. If you’ve lost someone important, just know that your enduring sadness about them is your love for them coming out. If you really loved them then the mourning process is forever, and that is a gift that lets them continue to be in your life forever.


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the ’80s.

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