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A Child's Experience With the Death of a Parent

I lost my father when I was a small child. That fact has affected my life every day since.


Kids Grieve Too

Having a parent die is an earth-shattering event in a child's life. When this happens, the adults who are taking care of the child are so busy dealing with their own shock, grief and pain, the child's pain is often overlooked.

Many people think that young kids cannot comprehend death. My dad died when I was only six years old. I understood exactly what was happening, and I was every bit as devastated as my mother was.

I Remember My Dad

I remember my dad. He was a smiling man who threw me up in the air and never failed to catch me. I never questioned his love for me. Having him disappear from my life was like having the earth crumble from beneath my feet.

My Understanding of Death as a Child

Only a few months before my dad's death, the family dog had been killed by a car. It was a very upsetting thing for me, but I learned what it means to die. It meant that her little body was still and she was gone, she was never coming back.

My dad drowned in a scuba diving accident. The last time I saw him he was in his scuba gear, waving to me through an underwater window. I was unaware of the events taking place that day, I only knew that I was sent home with family friends, and later my mom came back, but my dad did not.

It was not until a few days later that the minister came to our house and broke the news to us kids. I was the oldest of four. Maybe the others didn't really get it, but I did. The grown ups could talk about heaven, but the cold fact hit me like a brick. My dad's body was lying still somewhere, never to rise. I would never see my dad again. Not in this life anyway.

Kids Suffer Even if They Don't Understand

Just because my siblings may have had less immediate understanding of our father's death, that didn't mean they didn't experience just as much grief. They certainly knew he was gone. It may even have been harder if they didn't fully grasp the fact that he would not be back.

The Five Stages of Grief

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

This is just a very rough basic list. They are common experiences, but not everybody goes through the stages in this order, some may skip a step or even go backwards.

Accepting That He's Never Coming Back

My family were devout Baptists. I was encouraged to pray, which I did. I am not sure that it was really the healthiest thing for me though. In Sunday school we were taught that God can do anything, even raise the dead.

I think in a situation like that a parent should make sure the kid understands, even though they have been taught that God raised Lazarus from the dead, and Christ also rose from his grave, that will not happen to their parent no matter how hard they pray. It's not just unlikely, there is no chance that it will happen.

Kids go through the same stages of grief as adults do. I think that I really fell into the bargaining stage with my prayers. If I prayed hard enough maybe God would change his mind. I did not really think it would happen, but I tried. Of course, eventually I had to accept that this was my new life. My dad was gone, and he was never coming back.

All of this happened in 1963. At that time, I was really in the minority, being a kid with no dad. Even though it has been over fifty-six years since his death, I have missed my father every day of my life. How different my life would have been if not for that fateful day.

Father's Day Without a Dad

In those years, when father's day came, there was no alternative for kids who didn't have a dad. I was the odd girl out. The few other fatherless kids I knew were children of divorce, and that wasn't nearly as common as it is now. Now, most schools are sensitive to the fact that there are fatherless children in the class.

Today, plenty of kids grow up without their dad, most lose them through divorce or estrangement. For many of those kids, their dad was never really around at all. I guarantee you that every one of those kids has some kind of fantasy about their dad. At least I have some memories, and I know that I once had a dad that loved me.


Care-Taking a Child With an Absent Father

If you are a caretaker of a child who's father is absent from the family, do not denigrate their father, and be aware that the kid hears things you say to others. If the father is a person you knew, try to find some positive things to say about him. If you are the child's mother, there must have been something good about the man who fathered your child.

I'm not saying that you should lie, or make up some fantasy figure. Every human has some redeeming qualities. Maybe he loved music, and the child does too. Maybe he was a skilled mechanic, or had a great head for figures. Maybe he just had a magnetic smile, or a certain twinkle in his eye. He gave your child life, and half of their genes. Even if he is unknown to them, you should recognize the fact that a father is an important person in a child's life.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What if my daughter's father is a drug addict?

Answer: Do what is necessary to keep the child safe. Still, it is not a good idea to belabor his faults in front of the child. If she is old enough to understand the situation, you might explain how addiction can change a person.

We might still love an addict, but need to distance ourselves from him because of his behavior. I have had to do that with my own brother, but I am sure to let my niece know that I still love him and wish him the best, even though I can't be around him right now.

Question: What if the doting father simply stopped calling and moved to another state?

Answer: If he's moved away and cut off all contact, there's not much you can do. Of course you should reassure the child that she's done nothing wrong. It's OK to say that her father has problems, and some people are just not cut out to be parents. Still, avoid ranting about him in earshot of the children, no matter how much you think he deserves it.

Question: What do we do when this doting father simply left, married another and gave up his parental rights because he could not pay the child support?

Answer: That's a sad situation, but it is still best to try to avoid voicing anger about money or infidelity in front of the kids. He may not be a good father, but he is still their father. If they ask why he doesn't see them, tell them you don't understand how he could do it either. As they grow up, they will have to make their peace with what he did.

© 2015 Sherry Hewins


Mayrapatricia on June 18, 2017:

Thank you for responding Sherry. It definitely hurts not knowing who my father was. In front of me people have asked my mother "Where is her father?" And "does she have brothers and sisters?". My mom doesn't get bothered and responds with a smile *he's in El Salvador and *yes she does from his side.. mean while inside I feel like dying. I have chosen to live a very different life which I am very proud of. I hope to give my daughter her life that I always wanted. A mom and dad, a house in the suburbs & a little dog yorkie.

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on June 18, 2017:

Hi, Sherry,

Loved this hub--very moving; touching. Any hub that is this intense and warm, always gets to me.

Please keep up your tremendous hubbing.


Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on June 18, 2017:

Mayrapatricia - A lot of us have pain that comes to visit us on Father's Day. I guess your mom thought she was protecting you, but there are two sides to every story. Sorry you can't know the truth.

I have a niece in a similar situation. Her mom has never told her the truth about her dad, and I can see how it hurts her.

Mayrapatricia on June 18, 2017:

You are so blessed that you did have a father even if it was for a short time. I never knew mine and when I asked my mom she would not tell me. I became an RN and once I saw a father caressing his mentally incapacitated son. I asked my mother how come I am smart, healthy and my father was completely absent from my life? I questioned her behavior if she slept around and she didn't know who my father was, or if she was raped and was too embarrassed. Finally, she confessed that he was married and didn't want anything to do with me or breakup his marriage. I still don't know if he lied to her about being married or if he promised to leave his wife.. I don't know any details. Recently, I found an ID card of my alleged father my mom had saved for years... why wouldn't she show me? I became a woman and always wanted to be the complete opposite of my mom. I am married to the father of my child. I have a stable home & my husband... I picked him non-latino (I am latina), his parents married for 50 years. I love my mom for her sacrifices, but I wish she answered my questions when I asked where I came from. My daughter asks me who her abuelo is, and I said baby he died in a terrible car crash in El Salvador and his family was never close to my mom.

Kelly A Burnett from Southern Wisconsin on April 26, 2016:

I don't have many regrets in my life - thankfully but not sharing how much my father meant to me is a regret. He left me decades too soon - not as soon as yours so I am thankful but oh, if I could go back and share with him. Sometimes, I find it comforting to "talk" to him in heaven and hope he can hear the words I left out when he was here on earth with me.

Sharlee on April 16, 2016:

Thank you for sharing ... It touched my heart

teegee on December 27, 2015:

I am so sorry for your loss Sherry. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I cried through the whole article. This is such helpful information for anyone that has a child in their life with a deceased parent. I lost my dad as a young adult and it has been so excruciatingly painful since he's gone. I didn't have a wedding because I couldn't walk down the aisle without my dad. I know your dad is so proud of the woman you are. Maybe our dads are friends in heaven

Suzie from Carson City on October 08, 2015:

Sherry....My 47 and 45 year old sons lost their Dad at (nearly) 3yrs & 6mos.of age...Yes, making me a 23 year old widow. I've been to that pain station, honey. I felt deeply for your Mom too. We ALL share in these dark times and cruel moments. How else can we lean on one another?

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on October 08, 2015:

Thank you for pushing through it Paula I shed a few tears writing it too. Losing my dad as as a young child was a pivotal event in my life.

Suzie from Carson City on October 08, 2015:

It took me some time to get through this, dear Sherry. I had to keep blinking away the tears. My heart feels so heavy, reading of this terrible loss you experienced at such a tender age. There's a merciless lump in my throat.

Yet I see the light that you hold tightly for your loving father and know that you feel such warmth, remembering him.

Your Dad is so very proud of you, Sherry. Bless you & your family.

Peace, Paula

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on July 12, 2015:

teaches12345 - I always felt odd as a kid, but now I am thankful that it makes me take time to stop and reflect.

peachpurple - I guess it made quite an impression, because the memory is clear as day.

Rachel - Thanks for caring enough about my posts to search for them! I'm so sorry for the loss of your dad. I too have felt sad that my kids missed having my dad as a grandpa, and he missed that experience of being the grandpa.

Rachel on July 11, 2015:

Hi there! Stumbled across your page while googling something else you have posted about and found this article instead. Interestingly enough, today marks three years of my dad passing at the age of 52. You are right on. It does not matter how much, or how little time we have with them, they are irreplaceable. I still can hear his voice ear as day in my mind and see him in my little guy who will never get to know him or have the a amazing gifts and wisdom he did passed down to my son. I think that hurts more, for me anyway. At least I learned and experienced those things. My little guy looks like his grandoa so it is a daily reminder. Thank you for sharing:)

peachy from Home Sweet Home on July 07, 2015:

very sad indeed, at that age, I doubt anyone could have clear memory of anything but you did

Dianna Mendez on July 04, 2015:

Thank you for sharing from your personal experience. I can't imagine how it was for you celebrating Father's Day over the years. I pray you continue to heal as you write and move forward.

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on June 26, 2015:

Buildreps, That must have been a very difficult experience. At least with a death, there is that finality. Now that you are an adult, I hope you are able to appreciate whatever positive attributes your father has, and forgive those weaknesses that made him unable to be the father you needed.

Buildreps from Europe on June 25, 2015:

Beautiful written article. My father disappeared gradually from my life when I was about six years old. After ten years this contact was restored, but it appeared he was more or less a narcissist. Thanks for the beautiful Hub, and sharing the beautiful picture of your dad.

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on June 22, 2015:

MsDora - My little sister was only 2 when our dad died. She is frustrated because she can't remember him. She still misses him just as much as I do. Thanks for responding to my hub, I know there are lots of us walking around with this wound in our hearts.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 22, 2015:

Sherry, I can relate having lost my dad when I was 2 years old. I really do not remember him, but I've written several articles about him based on what family members have told me. I still love him with all my heart, and I know that the insights you have shared here are very helpful. Best to you going forward!

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on June 21, 2015:

Jodah - Even though Father's Day is painful when your father is gone, it does make you stop and think about him. So, I think that is good.

bravewarrior - That's a double whammy for your son. I think that, like me, your son is lucky to have had that connection. Sure it hurt to lose it, but as they say, it's better to have loved and lost...

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 21, 2015:

Sherry, I can relate to this post. When my son was 14 he lost his dad to cancer. We were divorced at the time, but they had a close relationship. In fact, his dad only lived a few blocks from us, so they saw each other all the time. I know today will be hard for my son, as is his dad's birthday and the anniversary of his death.

My heart goes out to all children who have lost a parent. The love never dies but the pain of loss is brought back to the surface on commemorative days such as Father's Day.

Hang on to those memories until you are once again reunited.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 20, 2015:

Father's Day must be especially hard for fatherless children. This was a great hub Sherry and thank you for sharing these very personal memories and advice. It is sad that you lost your dad so early. Voted up.

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on June 20, 2015:

Thanks RTalloni - I do treasure those memories, and Father's Day seems to make me stop and reflect on them.

RTalloni on June 20, 2015:

Thank you for sharing some of what you've learned through your journey. Parents may be so grief-stricken over such a loss that they cannot comprehend their children's' needs and what you offer here could be very helpful. Though I am sorry you lost your father so young, I am glad that you have good memories of him being a loving dad.