My Father Is Dying: How To Grieve The Death Of Your Dad?

Emotions, Relationships

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Lessons learned from James Blunt’s new video about his father dying.

A little over a month ago, musician James Blunt – known for his romantic power ballad “You’re Beautiful” – released a heartbreaking song along with a music video titled “Monsters”. In the video, James opens up about his father’s battle against stage four kidney disease and his inevitable death.

The video and its lyrics are heartbreaking. It’s both difficult and beautiful to watch a man sing to his father about their relationship and his father’s death. At the end of the video, his father Charles shows up and he sings to him.

And for those dealing with their father dying, this video a good reminder of how we can approach the experiences of grieving a loss. In this article, we’ll cover how men experience the loss of their father and useful tools – like men’s groups – that can make the grieving process a lot easier.

How James thinks about his father dying

First I’d like to point out a few key parts of the song that are noteworthy because they are beautiful and also serve as practical lessons in how we can think about our fathers dying:

  1. “I’m not your son, you are not my father, we are just two grown men saying goodbye.” – This is beautiful because it speaks to the truth of the situation. While you may still be a father and son, you are a grown man and so is your father. At the end of the day, it’s just two grown men with a lot of history saying goodbye to each other. Often when people are in the middle of their parents passing away, they see benefit from detaching from the rolls of parents and children and instead, communicate like adults. This idea of separating rolls and the individuals is one of the most common men’s group topics that seems to come up over and over again with relationships.
  2. “I won’t read you your wrongs or your rights. The time is gone.” & “No need to forgive, no need to forget, I know your mistakes and you know mine.” –  Most guys think that when their fathers are dying they have to forgive them for their misgivings and vice versa. But the reality is that people may not forgive each other for their mistakes, and that’s okay. What’s more important is acknowledging that they’re human. They made mistakes and that they were trying the best they could with the resources they had access to. Accepting them for who they were and their unique journey as a man. That is in its own way a mature, accepting forgiveness.
  3. “And while you are sleeping, I’ll try to make you proud.” – Here James wants to honor his father and acknowledge his legacy as his son. He feels a responsibility to make him proud, even after he will be gone. That’s a feeling that a lot of men can relate to and even play out; unconsciously living our lives in such a way that would please our fathers.
  4. “So daddy, won’t you just close your eyes? Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn to chase the monsters away.” & “I folded your clothes on the chair. I hope you sleep well don’t be scared.” – The reality is that if we live long enough to see our parents grow old we will see our parent/child rolls switch. At some point, we become the parent and have to take care of our folks. This is a common men’s group topic that comes up a lot with parents dying. A part of that for James is helping “keep the monsters away”, or in common terms helping ease their fears about dying.
  5. “The time has come. So here it is.” – He says this line a couple of times in the song and although it’s subtle, it’s a deep truth about life and death. The time to die comes for all of us. It’s not a matter of if we die, but when. This can bring comfort because no matter how it happens, it has to happen sometime.

Some beautiful points for you to keep in mind if your dad is dying or if you know someone with a dying father.

The Odd Journey We Share With Our Fathers

Truthfully it’s the same with mothers too, but for the sake of this article, we’ll keep it to boys and their fathers.

So many of us children have a mixed bag of a relationship with our dads. When we grew up they were our heroes. Without them, we would die so we were programmed to follow them around and idolize them. They were so strong and could do anything. Then as we began to entre our teenage years and take on personalities of our own, we began to rebel against and clash with our parents.

Early in adulthood, we were busy exploring the world and starting careers so many of us grew more distant from our parents. Then in our late 20s or early-to-mid 30s, we end up maturing. During this time many of us begin to see our parents in a different light; as humans who are both beautiful and flawed that were just trying their best.

And then they die. Sometimes earlier or sometimes later but they always die. With this comes back a rush of nostalgia, resentments, lovely memories, regrets and a whole lot of emotions. We see this a lot in men’s support groups.

We pretend that they didn’t matter in our early adulthood; after all, we were striking out to build our legacy. But then they get sick and pass away and this facade of a story comes crumbling down. We truly feel how much we feel for them and what a tremendous role they played in our lives, regardless of how your childhood looked with them.

So if you’re feeling all of the feels, know that it’s okay. You should be! Losing your father is a big deal.

What The Research Says About Your Dad Dying

In 2001 author Neil Chethik published a book titled, FatherLoss: How Sons of All Ages Come to Terms with the Deaths of Their Dads. I discovered this book in one of our grief men’s groups. compilation of interviews by hundreds of men of different ages dealing with a father’s death. It details their reactions.

father death dad grieving saying goodbye to dad james blunt monsters

Some of them had good relationships with their fathers while others did not. Some of them were alongside their dads during their last moments, while others had not seen them in many years. Overall the book serves as an essay on how men grieve their fathers on their terms while highlighting the many similarities among them. I highly recommend it.

According to his findings, women can find relief through emotional expressions like crying or talking. However, men don’t have the same outlets because many men refrain from showing these kinds of emotions, even in situations where it is appropriate to express emotions, like having your father pass away.

Many men instead turn to unhealthy behaviors and a variety of vices as coping mechanisms including overworking, sex addictions, overexercising, pornography, get angry at everyone, overeating or not eating at all.

It truly is in trying moments like this where you see someone’s emotional resilience and emotional intelligence. How do they handle such a monumental loss? Do they bottle it up and explode on everyone around them? Do they slip into denial, pretending like everything is fine? Do they run away and go missing in action? Or do they show up fully, let themselves feel it all and say what they need to say to their dying father?

The Four Different Ways Men Handle The Loss Of Their Father

Everyone knows the many stages of grieve, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, but Neil Chetnik further categorizes grieving men who lost their fathers into four different groups. In his book, he states that he concluded after extensive research that not all of them stay in just one group, but instead move from one or the other as they deal with their grief.

The four categories of grievers are dashers, delayers, displayers, and doers. Knowing the difference between the types and being able to identify them could help you or someone you love grieve more healthily:

Dashers

They deal with the loss of a father from an intellectual standpoint. These are men who were raised to remain stoic and keep their emotions in check during situations like death. Generally speaking, dashers quickly rationalize an event like their father dying, shrug off the experience and get back to work. This can blow up on them later when the emotions from the death finally land and overwhelm their headiness.

Delayers

The darker of all four groups, these are the ones who use alcohol, drugs, and several other vices to forgo having to deal with the passing of their fathers. And while these escape activities feel like they are solving the problem for the man grieving his father, the reality is that they are just delaying the inevitable emotional experience that anybody is bound to have when a loved one passes away. One of the challenges with delaying is that keeping all of these emotions – the reality of the situation – compartmentalized is a lot of work. It requires a lot of energy. When delayers delay, over the long term they often end up getting ill or having mental breakdowns as a result of all of the energy expended trying to keep these emotions at bay.

Displayers

They are immediately overwhelmed. They don’t know how to control their emotions, they feel like they didn’t get enough time to say goodbye, that they could do something more, and lose control of their lives. It is positive that they let themselves feel the experience because they are a lot less likely to be haunted by emotional baggage from this death in the future. From 30,000 feet feeling is better than not feeling. Taking time to process the loss of a father is healthy, but if the emotions continue to hold you back from leading a normal life months or years after, this can be detrimental to your wellbeing. But people can also take the emotions too far and create emotionally-fueled narratives about themselves that they have a hard time moving on from. They become paralyzed; stuck in a loop. They put on hold their work, relationships, health and a lot more.

Doers

They feel the need to do something, to engage in an activity that would take their mind off of things. More often than not this “thing” they feel they have to do is related to their fathers, such as building something in their father’s workshop, and putting it in a place they shared. It could even be just going back to overworking in the office because that is what their father used to do.

Statistically speaking, when dealing with a father dying, 20% of men fall into the first three groups, while 40% are in the last one.

The big takeaway from all of this? Most men would rather avoid or take action than feel. Be aware of this moving forward as you lose a loved one.

What Men Feel When Their Father Is Dying

Back in 2003, Bruce Barton published what soon became the guideline for how to grieve a father’s death. The book is titled “When Your Father Dies: How Men Deals with the Loss of His Father,” like Neil Chetnik in 2001, Barton interviewed sixty men all from different backgrounds and ages who had experienced intense grieving after losing their fathers.

saying goodbye to dad father dying james blunt monsters father

In the end, the author concluded that even though every subject had a unique experience, there were some common feelings all men share when losing their dad.

Men feel vulnerable

The loss of a father means so much more than a person dying. For most of the men, it meant losing a quintessential pillar.  Their fathers represented a “shield,” someone they could count on no matter what. Even in those cases where the father wasn’t winning dad of the year, the sons still felt the same vulnerability.

Men feel like the world is going to end

In men’s circles, we’ve seen a lot of men describing the experience as though the world is stopping. What used to matter temporarily no longer matters. Priorities felt scrambled. The world as they knew it stopped and felt as though it would never be the same.

As Jocko says about emotions, they can feel overwhelming, but they usually are not.

Men feel isolated and lonely

It was reported that an odd sense of loneliness settled upon the modern as their father died. It was a peculiar isolation that came along with the vulnerability of no longer having your protecting father there. Researches suggested that this is common for people who find themselves at the top of the family tree.

Men feel like they have to stay strong

While they are feeling all the feels from losing their dad, men also feel required to keep it together for other members of the family. This dynamic is challenging for most men to manage. Balancing being supportive of grieving loved ones while also making time and space to feel it themselves. Often men will get caught up in the caretaking of others and swallow their feelings.

Men feel apathetic

A common experience for a lot of men facing their father dying was apathy. All of a sudden it felt like nothing mattered anymore. Things they usually get excited about lack that spark. Food lacks taste. The world looks gray.

Men feel powerless

Most of us men try hard to control everything. We like to think that we can bend life to our will and create our desired outcomes in every area of life. Yet against death we are powerless. It doesn’t matter if it was a fast or a slow death, all men wish they could have done something to have extended the life of their dad.

Men feel angry

Because men feel powerless and they resist what is happening – their father is dying and they don’t want it to happen – a lot of guys then default to anger. Sometimes this turns into rage. A lot of men are angry at their fathers and themselves for things that were left unsaid. Don’t let this be you!

Men face their mortality

Many men struggle with their father dying because they also have to face their impending death. Even men who were distant from their fathers still can’t believe that their dad is gone from this earth. This too makes them emotionally experience the fundamental truth that they too one day will die.

Men feel scared

As a result of the feelings above, one of the things men feel the most is fear. Men are scared to go it alone. They will actually say “my dad is dying and I am scared”.  Men are scared to lose control of life. Men are scared of their death.

And it will change

Throughout the grieving process, men will experience a wide range of the emotions listed above and more. This is okay. It’s healthy. Go with it. You can’t fight against it. Those feelings will be there whether you like it or not.

Things That Can Help A Man Process The Death Of His Father

Men have a lot on their shoulders when a loved one. They are grieving, they are “staying strong” for the family and they still have to go to work and pay the bills.

No man can bear this stuff alone and getting support can help a man move through the grieving process so much quicker. There are several helpful tips we recommend for a man who is losing or has said goodbye to his father:

  • Counseling/therapy: When a man loses his father it can feel heavy and a lot of past stuff can come up. It can be exhausting. Counselors and therapists exist for this exact reason. Although pricey, it can be highly beneficial and help you learn a lot from the experience.
  • Feeling is healing: Because most of us men were discouraged from feeling since birth, we can be uncomfortable with feeling our intense emotions. Many of us fear that we are going crazy or that if we fully let ourselves feel all of the feelings we’ll go crazy and will never get back to being happy. The truth is that our emotions are like a pressure cooker. If we leave the lid on, the pressure builds and then it eventually blows up. Or we can regularly let steam out over time and eventually there will be no more pressure inside. The more you can feel it, the more you can heal it. You may think “why am I crying?”, “Why am I still sad?”, “why do I feel so apathetic?” or “I’m still so angry!”. Good! Feeling it is healing it. So let yourself feel it big and small.
  • Use “Crying Porn”: This isn’t what it sounds like and we don’t recommend that you google “crying porn”! When I can feel that I need a cry or to get some emotions out but my body won’t let me – often my throat choaks the emotion to stop it from coming up and out – I will go and watch or listen to something that I know will make me feel what I need to cry. Beautiful piano music, youtube videos of soldiers coming home, movies about the life of a dog or a man saying goodbye to his father:
  • Journalling: You have your thoughts out somewhere or else you’ll implode or explode at loved ones. Journalling is a great way to get everything out of your head and to sort through it. I love mind mapping in particular, where you draw little bubbles around thoughts because it helps me separate thoughts, topics, and themes. You can see some examples of mind map journalling here.
  • Create an inventory list: It can be extremely beneficial to write down everything you learned from your father, the gifts that he gave you, ways that you resemble him, things you’re proud of, your favorite moments, the ways he could have been better, the mistakes you made with him and lot more. While you do it let yourself laugh and cry. Don’t rush this process. This will help you move forward from the loss in a positive way and will help bring your closure.
  • Regular exercise: Emotions are energy. Technically it’s just energy in your nervous system. To avoid having this energy turn into jittery anxiety and eventually explosive anger, you have to burn off some of the energy. Exercise is the best way I’ve found to do this. Even just a 20 min jog every day can make an incredible difference.
  • Put aside time for you: It can be easy to go back to everyday life and get busy again, but your grieving process isn’t even close to being done yet. You must continue to make time for yourself to feel. Go for long walks alone in nature. Listen to music by yourself. Look at pictures of your father. Watch movies about fathers dying or anything else that could bring out the emotions that are waiting to come out.
  • Physical touch: Loving touch can be so restorative. Genuine hugs from friends, cuddles from loved ones and sex with someone you care about. Touch is a human necessity and it will help keep you away from feeling disconnected from others and yourself throughout the grieving process.
  • Men’s groups: Being in a room – in person or virtually online – with other people going through the same thing can be so cathartic. The isolation you feel will disappear. You won’t feel as empty. For brief periods you will likely feel positive emotions as you listen to and help other men’s situations. Furthermore, other men have tried other things and can offer guidance on what worked for them.  This will save you time and energy from figuring it all out on your own. There are likely grief support men’s groups in your area or at the very least a general men’s group full of supportive guys keen to listen and share their similar experiences. You can also check out an online men’s group if you can’t find a men’s group in your town from organizations like ours. We also have a guide on how to start a men’s group that you may find useful.

Even if a man tried out one or two of the suggestions above I feel that he would see some benefit and manage the experience better.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, having a parent pass away is bound to rock you and put you on a wild emotional rollercoaster. It happens to the best of us!

There is no one way to handle the experience of your father dying, but you can move forward in a positive way using some of the suggestions above.

We hope that you found this post helpful and we wish you a speedy recovery from your emotional time. Please leave any questions or feedback you may have in the comments below.

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