Before You Know It Something’s Over

My father died when I was 14. My father died when I was 14. My father died when I was 14. Heart attack. While he was running. Training for a marathon. Yes, it was unexpected. Yes, just out of the blue. Yeah, just about the worst thing that could’ve ever happened, just really the absolute worst, nothing worse will ever happen to me! (I will laugh at this part, a little. To make sure you know it’s okay, that I can think about this thing and laugh at the same time.)


He didn’t feel any pain. He died instantly. 

That was how my mother told me that my father was dead.

I was 14. It was Tuesday. After school, I’d gone to McDonald’s with my theater friends and eaten two plain cheeseburgers with french fries and a Coke. When we returned to school for rehersal, our director Phil told me that Michelle was coming to pick me up now ’cause my Dad was in the hospital and therefore couldn’t pick me up after rehearsal, as initially planned. My parents were divorced and Tuesdays were Dad night. Michelle was my Mom’s best friend and they’d met because in elementary school I’d been best friends with Michelle’s oldest daughter, Mandy, who had always been cooler than me and remained so.

He was having chest pains, Michelle explained. That was the whole story, that was all we knew. He’d never been in the hospital before, as far as I could remember. I assumed everything would be fine because this was about two hours before I learned that at any given moment, anything at all could happen, even something so terrible it seems impossible. Like you’re going somewhere and suddenly you are crushed by a falling rock. That’s how life is, it turns out.

Still, I considered the possibilities as we drove back to Michelle’s in her SUV. Surely it’s nothing serious, he’s fine, he’s healthy. I decided, for reasons that escape me now, that the absolute worst case scenario was my Dad going suddenly blind. I imagined him in the hospital, reaching for my hand to know I was there. I imagined holding his hand.

I think Mandy and I tried to talk a little bit when I was sent up to her bedroom to wait for my Mom, but everything was strained: I was an artsy dork going through an especially awkward phase, struggling to fit in at the giant public high school where I’d just begun 9th grade. She was, as she’d always been, popular and beautiful and athletic and wearing J Crew. She played field hockey at her private school and had a boyfriend. She was always kind to me, even now, long past our friendship’s expiration date, but I felt nervous around her, unpretty. I’d never kissed a boy, even, and my hair never got shiny like Mandy’s hair and I wasn’t good at dancing or outfits. I sat on the floor and did my geometry homework and wondered if Mandy painted her own toenails and then my Dad died.


My father died on November 14th, 1995, when I was 14. Every day since the day he died I am one day farther away from him than I was before. This is the truest thing about me. It is the most important and worst thing to ever happen to me. It is me. My father died when I was 14. I will tell people this forever. It is the truest thing about me. I was 14 when he died. My father. I was 14.

I am what I have lost.

I want to talk to you about how it feels to spend your whole life grieving, to feel nobody you know will ever truly know you ’cause they never knew him. How it feels to recycle 14 years of material like the greatest hits album a band puts out just before breaking up. Listening to it one more time, and then another time, until it starts to feel like the only music you’ve ever heard.

I haven’t written specifically about my father all that much since high school. But I write about him, indirectly, all the time. I’ve never given him an essay but I mention him in every essay I’ve ever written, don’t I? This is how I keep him alive. This is how I keep everybody who has left me alive: I write about them.

I was only 14. A heart attack from the deep blue beyond.

He’d been alive for 42 years and me, for just 14.

Things people said a lot, when it happened: He was so young. He was in such good shape. If it could happen to Vic, it could happen to anybody.


Michelle called me downstairs. My mother and 11-year-old brother, Lewis, were already in the high-ceilinged living room, sitting on the couch where I’d seen Grease for the first time.

If it’s any consolation, she said, you should know that he didn’t feel any pain. He died instantly.

I slipped my hand behind my ribcage, removed my heart, and smashed it into the carpet.


My Dad and Me, 1982

I know he’s been dead and I know what it means to be dead and I know how time works but I won’t stop looking for him or talking to him. I never saw the body, you know. My Mom had been in the hospital but I was doing my geometry homework.

In “Grudges,” a poem by Stephen Dunn, which I read for the first time in the tenth year since my father died, he writes:

Before you know it something’s over.
Suddenly someone’s missing at the table.

In The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir by Joan Didion, which I read for the first time in the tenth year since my father died, she writes:

Life changes fast
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

I found him in those places, in those books. I found him in every boy and girl I’ve ever wanted — the ones that play guitar like he did, that read like he did, that edited me and wrote with me like he did, that traveled like he did, that loved the water like he did, that know how the Midwest feels under your feet like he did, that climbed mountains like he did, that make everything a joke how he did.

I found and I find him when I do the things he liked to do, like singing in the morning in my underwear even though I can’t sing. Like canoeing, hiking, making silly faces during serious conversations, watching college basketball, sailing, spending too much money on gifts, laughing with his mother and sisters, obsessively studying American history, obsessively planning travel itineraries, organizing complicated thematic social events, camping, expressing inflexibly ultra-liberal political opinions, making everybody participate in speculative business ideas over dinner, taking long drives.

The only good thing in my life right now is my Dad, I’d written in my diary, four days before he died.

I’ve never felt so connected to someone as I did to him. I think everybody’s got that person, it’s a spot defined by its limited capacity. Maybe it’s your wife, your mom, your brother, your sister, your best friend. When I sense even one faint chord of him in my connection with a new person, I dig my talons right in.


My dad was born in 1952 in Wilmington, Ohio and grew up on a farm with his parents and two sisters. He was nerdy and effortlessly landed at the top of his class and once built a machine to pitch baseballs at him ’cause his sisters didn’t want to. He started undergrad at Miami of Ohio, but transferred to Ohio State “in protest” of Miami’s position on Vietnam. He did his Master’s Degree and his PhD at The University of Illinois-Champaign, and one day in Champaign my mother was standing in a friend’s doorway when she saw a skinny drunk guy in the background who gave her a big Charlie Chaplin wave. They would marry, a Jewish girl from the city and a Quaker boy from the country, and have a daughter, and move to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he had a job teaching at the business school. He was very good at his job, but we can talk about that later. He was sort of a hometown hero, just for leaving and being so successful and then taking his parents on vacation. Everything he did got written up in local paper back home.

Before you know it something’s over.
Suddenly someone’s missing at the table.

My Dad, 1996

My Dad, 1966

I remember the drive home from Michelle’s, wailing, pressing my feet into the mini-van floor like we’d all turn to sand and spill out if I didn’t put down roots. My Mom had just moved into a new house, one my father had only been in twice, which would help later when I tried to forget life had ever been better — I mean different — than this. I’d never walk into my Dad’s recently-built condo again.

I’d been upset when Mom moved out of the house we’d grown up in but now I was relieved because I only had one memory of him in the new house and in the old house I would’ve had billions. So here I was, a new person in a new life in a new house that we walked into, still hot and sad with tears.

I called my two best friends. Are you joking? They both asked. It was, you have to realize, the kind of thing I would’ve been joking about. (Is the kind of thing I still joke about.) My friends came over, dropped off by crying, dumbstruck parents suddenly panicking about their own mortality. He was so young. If it could happen to Vic, it could happen to anybody. My mom made tough phone calls. I can’t remember who had to tell his parents, it must have been my aunt. They loved him more than just about anything, you see.

There’s a part in my favorite television show Six Feet Under when Brenda says:

You know what I find interesting? If you lose a spouse, you’re called a widow, or a widower. If you’re a child and you lose your parents, then you’re an orphan. But what’s the word to describe a parent who loses a child? I guess that’s just too fucking awful to even have a name.

I think about that a lot. He wasn’t supposed to die first.

My grandfather had valium, I think. My Mom made me hot milk with Kahlua. My friends slept on my floor in sleeping bags.

Before you know it something’s over

Life changes in the instant

He died instantly

He didn’t feel any pain

We saved all the pain for you


My Diary, 1995

Then, a Quaker funeral in Ohio, with his family, friends from back home, and far-away friends who flew in for it. We were all too sad to look at each other, or maybe I was too mad, mad at my cousins ’cause their Dads weren’t dead and mine was. At visitation everybody talked to me and Lewis like we were tiny animals in glass cages so eventually we hid in the stairwell. Why wasn’t I crying, I was asked, it’s okay to cry. How could I cry when I was so angry!

See, I’d requested a closed casket but there was his body in a box with its lid ajar for everybody to see, a line out the door of people wanting to see this dead body. I’d been overruled by the rest of the family. So I sat in the back row during the funeral. I wasn’t crying ’cause I’d already learned one thing: anger is the only emotion louder than sadness.

But also, this: they needed to see the body, and I needed to let them.

I guess that’s just too fucking awful to even have a name.


The Regents of the University of Michigan acknowledge with profound sadness the death on November 14, 1995, of Victor L. Bernard, the Price Waterhouse Professor of Accounting and director of the Paton Accounting Center.

Professor Bernard was a model faculty member who was among the most highly regarded researchers in his field as well as an outstanding teacher. His combination of academic excellence, approachability, and an unusual ability to communicate his knowledge effectively placed him in high demand. He was extremely generous in sharing his considerable knowledge and insights and never disappointed the many students, faculty, colleagues, and others from around the world who so frequently called upon him. In one of many acknowledgments of his extraordinary ability and character, Professor Bernard was the first recipient, in 1994, of the business school’s “Leadership in Teaching Award,” which recognized his contributions to students and to the development of junior faculty members.

Professor Bernard’s research was sometimes controversial and always highly respected. His work had significant impact in academia and business and provided his students with leading-edge knowledge. Professor Bernard was considered an expert on the savings and loan industry; he co-authored a book on the subject in 1989 and testified before Congress about the industry several times. A controversial series of publications he researched and wrote with a colleague documented a systematic inefficiency in the stock market; his work continues to generate interest and study on Wall Street and in academia. At the time of his death, Professor Bernard was excited about his work in the area of fundamental analysis, a method for company valuation on which he was breaking new ground. The recently published textbook he co-authored, Business Analysis and Valuation, provided state-of-the-art information on this subject.

Professor Bernard won the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants/American Accounting Association “Notable Contribution to the Accounting Literature Award” twice, a rare achievement. Another reflection of the esteem in which he was held was his selection as research director and executive committee member of the American Accounting Association. He earned his Ph.D. degree from the University of Illinois in 1982 and joined the Michigan faculty the same year. In just six years, he was promoted to tenured full professor.

Despite enviable achievement in his work, Professor Bernard’s life was filled with other pursuits that were profoundly important to him. He valued his work as a scout leader for his son Lewis, 11, and he was proud to serve as a softball coach for neighborhood girls when his daughter Marie, now 14, was younger. And he considered scaling Mount Kilimanjaro to be one of his greatest accomplishments.

Victor Bernard left behind a powerful legacy and set high standards for the School of Business Administration and the University. As we mourn the loss of this great scholar, teacher, advisor, and friend, our condolences go to his companion, Dara Faris; his former wife Maureen; his two children; his sisters, Brenda Custis and Connie Bishop; and his parents, Glenn Lewis and Erma S. Bernard.


I find him in my dreams. It’s always the same dream: my father comes back to life but somebody else is dying or dead.

It’s a cold trade-off, but I’m never sad.


I always thought it would be me, my mother said. Her own mother had died when she was 14 and so she’d been waiting for that fate ever since my birthday.

My mother’s father had left the country before her mother had died, so as a teenager my Mom and her sister lived in an apartment in Chicago with their grandparents. Then they died, too, and then my mom found her father again — he’d moved to Australia, of all places — and within a few years of their reunion, he died of tongue cancer. I was nine. The divorce had been rough on my Mom, too, and just as she was finally healing from that, her now-ex-husband/best friend went and died on her. Although we’d been engaging in twice-daily screaming matches from holy hell for a few years at that point, we called a silent truce for a year or so after Dad died.

She must have been terrified to suddenly become the single mother of two grieving children, but the fact that she made it through, somehow, helped me believe that I could, too.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

I remember the sliver of a view I had of the meeting room from the stairwell at the funeral, seeing my grandmother wailing at the casket, my grandfather helpless to hold her.

We’ve just been moving… slowly,  my grandmother told Lewis and I after my Dad’s girlfriend dropped us off for Christmas five weeks after the funeral. My grandfather had just quit his job as a truck driver because the grief was just so enormous, the drives just so long. We sat in silence in a living room that once contained so much light in a house in the country where everything was so quiet you could hear your own heart break at night, and we did.


I decided early on that I would be the one who stayed strong, who wouldn’t let this be the death of me, too. I’m just going to block it out, I proudly informed anybody interested in listening. I wedged the grief into a tiny bit of space I made in my brain for things I didn’t want to think about anymore. In retrospect I realize it was unwise to move that huge thing into such a small space so early. I didn’t leave room for terrible things that hadn’t happened yet, for other things that I might’ve considered impossible that turned out to be possible after all. So you could say I chose to be strong, but it also made me more fragile. Instead of crying about my Dad, I cried about everything else.

Rosie O’Donnell, who lost her mother at the age of 10, has said this: “Losing a mother is always going to be like losing a limb, but to have that happen in your formative years is life-altering. It breaks and melts your heart, but then you form some kind of steel core as a result.”

That would be me. The steel core.

I’m a depressive, too, and maybe that’s why I was able to go on just the same. Being sad and depressed about everything all the time, in and of itself, wasn’t a new sensation.

On November 15th I wrote in my diary that I needed “closure.” I returned to school on Monday, November 20th. I could take more time, they said. I don’t want to be that far behind in class, I said. It would just be more work later, and who knows how I’ll feel later. I feel okay now, I need to do this now. That’s sort of how I’ve lived my life: when I feel okay, I work, because I can’t ever rely on how I might feel tomorrow.

Everybody told me it’d “hit me” later but I couldn’t think about later. I needed to get through the day.

How do you go on? I’m asked by people who have also lost a parent.

You go on. You just go on because there is no other option besides going on.


Grief in the beginning is specific. It is awkward questions and sad answers, it is rooms you once stood in together, only now it’s just you. Movies you wanted to see together, for example. You gradually remember all the things that won’t look like you’d thought they would: he’d never see Lewis’s Bar Mitzvah, he wouldn’t walk me down the aisle at my wedding. The first Christmas without him. Every Michigan basketball game without him. Every annual event reminds you of that same event one year ago, when he was still there.

There was a ski trip to Boyne already booked, for example. Mom didn’t ski. Who would wrap these two sad children in thick winter coats and noisy ski pants and take them to the mountain? My Mom’s friend Jolene was given the task. But we didn’t want to go skiing for its own sake. We wanted to hang out with our father, and if he wanted to do that on a mountain in a snowsuit with expensive pieces of wood strapped to our boots, then okay that would be fine. Now nothing felt right. It was cold, after all, and we were small and hungry and our hearts were just these icy bundles heaving behind our ribs.

I quit theater. I made some new friends, put glitter on my eyelids, listened to Frente! and The Lemonheads, watched bright-colored movies like Clueless and Empire Records over and over and over. I made music videos on my handycam and played a lot of Sim City. My aunt from Australia — my mother’s father’s daughter, who’d been ten when he died — stayed for a month. That was nice.

We’d been given so much food for sitting shiva that it filled up an entire freezer in the basement. I’d defrost enormous cookies and lie on my floor staring at the ceiling fan, chomping at the bit.

Diary, 1996

My Diary, 1996

He got a lot of phone calls, even though he hadn’t lived under our number since the divorce. Is Victor Bernard here? They would ask. Or if they asked for my Mom and she wasn’t there, they’d say, well, Is Mr. Bernard available?

My Mom told me to tell solicitors that “nobody by that name lives here.” After the divorce, she’d told us to say the same thing to anybody who asked for Mrs. Bernard.

Instead, I told them, “No, he’s dead,” and then I’d hang up so I didn’t have to listen to them say I’m sorry. 


There was a “grief group” at school. I was, apparently, one of ten or so kids who’d lost a parent in the last two years, and so the counseling department decided we needed a group of our own and I went because I got to miss Spanish. There were two faculty advisers who wanted us to know they were there for us, all of us, whenever we needed them. Luckily for me, I didn’t need anybody.

I rarely spoke. Mostly I looked at the other kids and evaluated who in the room was most entitled to their sorrow. Emily and Farrah, blonde sisters so popular they were practically famous, had lost their mother to cancer. It was a slow death, it took years, and therefore my small bitter brain decided to categorize their pain as less than mine because they’d had a warning and a chance to say goodbye.

But Rebecca, who was nerdy and awkward with shocks of frizzy, curly hair so unruly and glasses so large that it was hard to tell what her face looked like — she had it worst, I decided, she had it so bad that I wondered if she even belonged in this group. We’d never understand her pain. Rebecca’s father had jumped off a bridge.


I was sent to a therapist, and then another. This continued for some time. It was all a game to me and the game was: will I get out of this room without crying? I usually won.

I turned 15. My mom came out. Later that year, I left for boarding school, and that was the beginning of a life containing very few memories of my life before November 14th, 1995.

After the first year, which is the hardest, things stay pretty much the same forever. Grief becomes you.


Every day at 11:14 AM and 11:14 PM. Every damn day.

Every November 14th. Every damn year.

At first, we acknowledged the date — I’d get cards from friends, I’d call my grandmother and my mother and all that, even though I didn’t understand yet the point of this anniversary. He’s just as dead today as he was yesterday, I’d say.

I didn’t know yet that when you get older you need to make time to pay tribute, you need an excuse to do the thing Raymond Carver writes about in Another Mysterytoday I reeled this clutter up from the depths… I reached through to the other side.

Every Father’s Day. Every damn year.

Diary: September 16th, 1999

Diary: September 16th, 1999

People just want to know where your dad lives and if he works at the university; they don’t know how loaded those questions are for some people. It’s easier for me just to avoid small talk with strangers altogether. It’s become chronic, honestly.

What do your parents do?

Where do your parents live? 

Are your parents tall, too?

Does it run in the family?

Are both your parents Jewish?

Are your parents married?

No, they’re divorced.

Do they both live in Ann Arbor?

Um, my mom does.

What about your Dad? Are your parents remarried?

My dad lives underground in a cemetery in Ohio and my mom is gay now, so like, legally, she can’t remarry, actually?

Do they wish they’d never asked? I think they do. 

My father died when I was 14. I will tell people this again and again and again for the rest of my life.


In 1999, found him in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Geniuswhen Dave Eggers, who has lost both of his parents in the same year, takes off with his younger brother and writes:

Look at us, goddamit. The two of us, slingshotted from the back side of the moon, greedily cartwheeling toward everything we are owed. Every day we are collecting on what’s coming to us, each day we’re being paid back for what is owed, what we deserve, with interest, with some extra motherfucking consideration — we are owed, goddamit — and so we are expecting everything, everything.

Yes, that’s how I felt. That’s exactly how I felt — I felt owed. But for a long time just afterwards, it felt like even the smallest blessing eluded me, like my early adolescence had already decided to be horrible before any of this happened and refused to divert its course on account of tragedy.

I felt broken, permanently and profoundly so, and like so many who experience trauma so young, I didn’t learn to be a person so much as I learned to cope with having to seem like a person. To find shortcuts, coping mechanisms, dangerous pleasures, things I told myself it was okay to do because I was broken and I had to get through the day. Then you wake up one morning and realize all those temporary fixes have become your permanent personality, that drinking or starving or shopping or running away isn’t what you do, it’s who you are. Do you like her?

It’s strange, carrying this story with me from person to person like jumping lily pads, just an animal with a ghost on her back. In my office, which is where I am right now, there are six photographs of him within my visual range. At my grandmother’s house there are at least a dozen in the living room, maybe more.


My family, 1984

I’m in college in Michigan and my best friend Becky is crying big fat wet tears because her favorite dog just died, and now she is crying bigger, fatter tears while apologizing to me for crying on my lap about a dog when I’d lost a whole entire father! I get this a lot — people apologizing to me for being sad about a thing, but I try to explain that I know it’s all relative, and that even them mentioning my father at all while they’re going through such pain is so kind. See, every trauma hits you with a force relative to what the rest of your life was like. The worst thing that’s ever happened to you, whatever it is, feels like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.

I had a friend who’d been right there in the trailer when a man shot and killed his father. I had a knack for dating boys who’d never really had fathers — who spent years in foster care or with extended family while their mothers went to rehab (or didn’t) and their fathers ran as far away as they could, usually to states like Texas or Florida. I’ve loved women whose fathers have abused them, whose fathers spent far too much time in jail, whose fathers were drunk the whole time, whose fathers kicked them out for coming out. Rebecca’s father had jumped off a bridge, you see.

It’s all relative. In many ways, I am incredibly lucky.

He didn’t feel any pain.

Are you sure? Don’t we all?


My Dad’s family hadn’t had much money growing up but he eventually wanted to see the whole world so badly that as soon as he started making good money, that’s what he did with it: he took us and his parents everywhere. We tagged along on business trips to Nashville, London, Hawaii, Washington DC, San Francisco. He took a fellowship at Harvard and we lived in Massachusetts for a year, visiting every historical site in New England at least once. We went skiing in Vermont and Utah. The summer before he died, he took Lewis and I to Wyoming to see The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone and we spent a day just driving across Wyoming in a rented Convertible, through mountain ranges on roads that looked like car commercials. I burnt my tiny thighs lobster-red and Dad got a speeding ticket. He got a lot of speeding tickets and had a lot of feelings about how they were all unjust, how the system itself was unjust and illogical, like how this cop was just looking for an out-of-towner who wouldn’t show up for his court date to slap with a large fine.  At the start of the trip, he gave us each $10 in ones, and he’d take back one dollar every time we said “me and [name]” when “[name] and I” was correct. Mid-trip, he declared that he’d also be taking one dollar every time we talked with food in our mouths or chewed with our mouths open. We could earn our dollars back by eating raw pepperoncinis. I think we left in debt.

When he died, there was money — a life insurance policy cashed in decades early, revenue from the textbook he’d just published, other wise investments because that was what he did after all. His money paid for boarding school and college and medical bills. (I’d trade all of it to have him back.) I tried to make the money last longer by working consistently from the age of 15 on, eventually waiting tables all through undergrad, and by my mid-twenties it ran out but we had a good run. It cushioned the fall, you could say.

What I’m telling you is that in many ways, I am incredibly lucky.

Dad, early 90s

dad w/beer on mountain, early 90s

In the hallway of my dormitory at Michigan, we are talking about death. Everybody is scared of dying except me. I wouldn’t kill myself, I’m just not afraid of something else happening. Chelsea wants to know why I’m not afraid to die.

When I die, I get to see my father again. I said. So either way, it’s a win-win.

A year later, I finally start going to therapy willingly. I start opening my mouth and speaking about things. His money pays for that, too.


In 2003 or so, a boy tells me he was googling my father and found a website about him. What can I tell you. I fell in love with the boy right that minute. And then I googled my father.

Sometimes I find things like this

This is what I found when I googled my father in 2011. (“Gerhard G. Mueller: Father of International Accounting Education” by Dale L. Fisher)


You know I almost think it would’ve been easier your way, says a 53-year-old friend who’d just lost her 80-year-old mother. I got so used to her being around, I don’t know how to live in the world without her. How old were you?

14. He was the center of my universe.

See, you didn’t even have time to get used to him being around! I think that would be so much easier.

I never spoke to her again.


It was the shock of it, you see. Ever since that day I’ve been a vigilant monitor of impending doom. I will not be caught off-guard again, nope, not me, if you’re going to hurt me I need to see it coming. The surprise of it, is the thing.

Before you know it something’s over
Suddenly someone’s missing at the table

Life changes fast
Life changes in the instant


On June 15th, 2007, I’m living in New York and I write in my diary: On Father’s Day, I’m going to die so I can be with my father. I don’t remember what it was like to be happy, but I’m pretty sure it was overrated. I don’t want to go anywhere or be anything. All I want is to be alone or fucked. I also don’t want to be fixed. If I was fixed, I’d want to be alive, and if I wanted to be alive, I’d lose myself. The fact that I’m alive right now is an optical illusion: everybody’s buying it.

I am hungry, bruised, exhausted, wildly hopeless. My girlfriend is having a psychotic episode which is when a person you love leaves her body and an unrecognizable monster punches itself into her skin. This monster keeps telling me that they’d seen my father in heaven and that my Dad is disappointed in me for worshipping false idols and not being fiscally responsible. It’s too much. June 17th is Father’s Day. I am reaching some kind of emotional climax, it seems, some ultimate darkness, staring my worst nightmare right in the face. Things keep getting worse and worse, line after line is being crossed. This has been building for some time.

On the 17th I have lunch with her family, and then I spend the rest of the afternoon being yelled at by a monster about things that aren’t real. The monster leaves for a bit and I sit on my stoop smoking cigarettes, drinking vodka from a water bottle. I go to the bodega for a mixer but there’d been a shooting or something and the police are there and a wailing woman and I can’t go to the bodega.

I won’t die. I couldn’t do that to my family I didn’t wanna die when I wrote that, but those have always been the only words I know that describe how this feels.

Maybe I just want a long nap, like a nap that lasts a month or two. Maybe something dead lives inside me and sometimes it starts screaming and I need to just live with that.

I sit on my stoop, drink more vodka.

I feel terrible.

I’m still here.


In 2008, my best friend is a liar, except I don’t know that yet. All I know is that her mother is dying of cancer and she is sad and I know how this feels so I will help. I send her the quotes from Joan Didion and Stephen Dunn. I send her long emails about grief and what happens next. She’s driving me back to my house after one of many hotel parties she threw to maintain the rich fabricated self she’d invented for us when she gets the call that her mother has died. She pulls over. She’s having trouble breathing. I drive her to my apartment, I let her take my favorite stuffed animal for a week for emotional support. I hold her while she cries.

She asks if I can help her write the eulogy and I say I can. She e-mails me stories about her Mom, I turn them into a eulogy. She says it’s really good but it needs to be longer, so I make it longer.

The invitations to the funeral she claimed to have sent us never arrive, and slowly other bits and pieces of the story she’d sold us stop checking out. This is a much longer story, a novel-sized story, this is just a small piece I want to tell you here. We look into everything and start questioning everything that’s ever happened with her. We drive to her billing address, which she says is her Mom’s mansion in Smoke Rise, and find a small apartment building. Where she lives. With her mother. Who does not have cancer, and is still alive.

I can’t get over it, I never will: You chose to fake the phone call about her death in front of me. You chose to do that in front of me, knowing that I’d lost a parent. 

And this, again and again: You made me write a longer eulogy. Why wasn’t one eulogy enough eulogies. Why did you make me write a longer eulogy. 


In 2008, I find the death certificate and I take it. It cites three hours between unconsciousness and death. I have never asked my mother about this.


When you get older, everybody else’s parents start dying, too. For so long, the kids in the grief group and my Mom and her half-sister were the only people I knew who’d lost a parent so at a young age, but now I know quite a few. Still it’s hard to find people who lost their parent as a teenager, and harder still to find anybody who lost a parent suddenly and unexpectedly, like I did. For that I only have television, where it happens all the time, and books.

“The dead mother thing? It’s like a club,” Rosie O’Donnell has said. “You’re initiated. You get a tattoo. It is not going away.”

When I interview Kate McKinnon, the highlight of the interview is when we talk about how nobody but us thinks dark humor about our dead fathers is funny. Or, I mean, that was the highlight for me. Probably everybody else was uncomfortable.


On December 25th, 2008, I write a letter to my father and publish it on my blog. It is the first time I let myself talk to him directly in public, and I am surprised that I have so much to say and I am surprised by how free I felt afterwards. (See, I believe that he read it, is the thing.)

In 2009, I turn 28. This is the midway point — from now forward, I will have been alive longer without him than with him. This means he is no longer a conspicuously absent figure in my life but a person who was just there for the beginning. Those first fourteen years become the beginning of my life, not most of my life. So there is this big life in front of me that I have to figure out what to do with.

In 2009, I decide to live. Deciding to live is the scariest decision I’ve ever made. I didn’t realize how much emotional space I’d freed up by not caring if I was dead or not. But death is not, I realize, a win-win. I have all this time, you see, and I have to use it, I have a legacy to uphold, I have to pass on his genius genes to my children. At my age he had only ten more years to live, I owe him at least double that amount. I have to show him that I was good at writing and even at business, that I started my own and made it work and that I did all the accounting myself, even though literally nobody thinks I should be doing the accounting myself. (I seem to think an MBA might be a genetic condition rather than a learned set of skills and information.)

In 2009 I get free. I become an adult. I have this huge life in front of me now. When I see him again, I want to be proud of who I am and what I’ve done and there’s a lot of things I’ve got left to do.


I hate Father’s Day, I just hate it. I hate Father’s Day, and Father-Daughter events, and Father’s Day gift lists, and radio ads that ask if you’ve thanked your father today. I hate that Lewis’s birthday is often on Father’s Day just like I hate that mine often coincides with Yom Kippur, when we do Yiskor, a special prayer for the departed. I hate dads who get their daughters internships and how Coach Taylor was so tender and forgiving and possessive towards Julie even though Julie was just the absolute worst. I hate the whole Father of the Bride franchise and I hate Frequency. I hated move-in day at college because that tends to be a very Dad-centric occasion and I hated Visitors Day at every camp and school I attended for the same reason. I hate when Stevie Nicks says, “This one’s for you, Daddy,” before the version of “Landslide” I have in my iTunes.

I’ve spent a lot of Father’s Days with other people’s fathers, throughout which I marvel at my own ability to emotionally detach from anything involving fathers at all. I’ve felt grateful that Father’s Day isn’t as big a deal as Mother’s Day. Losing my father made me acutely aware not only of how often the assumption is made that a child has a male and female parent, but how the idea that everybody has a mom is completely inescapable. If you’ve lost your mother, holy fuck I’m sorry, how do you get through Mother’s Day, it must truly feel like the worst.

An Autostraddle writer e-mailed us last week to ask if we’d planned any content for Father’s Day. Reader: we never plan any content for Father’s Day.

Rachel responded: I don’t think any of us thought about this because our dads are either dead or tea partiers, but if you wanted to write something I think that could be neat!

It occurred to me all at once that I could write a thing about my father for Father’s Day, even though he is dead. It’s an unpleasant topic to wade into but I’m already going through a lot of personal shit this month, how much crazier could I possibly feel? If not now, when?

I’m writing a thing about my dad for Father’s Day, I tell a friend, but I’ll probably decide that it’s stupid and too long and not publish it.

You love your dad a lot. If you’re writing it then maybe it should be written, she said. If Autostraddle is family why can’t you talk about family.I don’t think that’s stupid. 

My father died when I was 14. This is the only story I can ever tell.


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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3211 articles for us.


  1. Riese, I had no idea how much I needed something like this. I’ve been fighting the sads all day and just trying to ignore all those feels that come with being a Daddy’s girl whose Dad is dead on Father’s Day. I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for making me feel safe and real and not crazy. Sometimes I don’t feel like it’s possible for anyone to really get it, but you’ve shown me it is. I keep telling myself it should be easier every year that passes and getting pissed off when it isn’t. It’s technically not even Father’s Day anymore and I’m finally crying and I’ve realized that it is just gonna suck every single year and this is good.

    Thank you.

  2. Riese, this is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s perfect.

  3. My grandpa died in September and he basically raised me and was more of a father to me than my dad ever was. It was weird today not having a big brunch with my whole family and my grandpa and I thought it was fine. I was fine and I went to the opera with my grandma, the opera was my grandpa’s favorite, and it was lovely and fine. And it was fine and then I read this and it wasn’t fine, it wasn’t fine, and I can’t stop crying and I miss him so much. I’m so mad that he’s not here anymore and it’s really not fine at all and I’m so tired of being sad all the time but also I’m glad that this is here because I needed to cry but I didn’t want to deal with the sad. Father’s Day will never not be The Worst.

  4. Thank you, Riese.
    “…to feel that nobody you know will ever truly know you because they never knew him.”
    “Before you know it something’s over.
    Suddenly someone’s missing at the table”
    This hit me hard tonight.

  5. We were driving to Los Angeles on one of those endless stretches of highway 5, playing the dead celebrities alphabet game. You got V.

    “Victor Bernard,” you said, without hesitating.

    There was a pause, not long but not insignificant, and before I said anything you said, “Don’t say he’s not a celebrity.”

    I never would. <3

  6. Wow, Riese, thank you. This is beautiful and so sad and so true. I haven’t let myself cry about my dad for awhile, and this has helped me feel that pain and live more freely, at least for today. I am sorry for your loss, and that any of us goes through that, and at such a young age. I am 33 now and lost my dad shortly after my 17th birthday, after he had been sick with brain cancer for 5 months. My brother was 14 and already emotionally fragile. You are right that losing the center of our worlds so young is shattering in a way that is hard to imagine, and that it is strangely isolating because so few of our peers have experienced this.

    You remind me of a piece I wrote about 6 months after he died. This is an excerpt:

    Remembering loss.

    It is easier for her to remember the sickness than the man himself who was her rock because that is what she now knows—disease and perpetual unease. The moment she attempts to isolate him from what ultimately consumed him, tears glisten in her eyes, but she rapidly remedies that; dams are so much more effortlessly broken down than built back up. For a girl who in grade school let tears spill whenever sorrow struck, this newly-discovered ability to swallow her emotion is a remarkable feat.

    She intellectualizes and analyzes and philosophizes and lies languidly in the soft and lonely moonlight and all of a sudden in full emotional lucidity she realizes he is gone, and she sobs and then is quiet, her blood still streaming, her heart still pulsing in the sleeping air, her wound the reddest raw. She is not remembering her father, however; she is remembering loss. And she who had so defiantly proclaimed is is is is is for weeks after his death now submits, whispering was.

    • It is easier for her to remember the sickness than the man himself who was her rock because that is what she now knows—disease and perpetual unease. The moment she attempts to isolate him from what ultimately consumed him, tears glisten in her eyes, but she rapidly remedies that; dams are so much more effortlessly broken down than built back up. For a girl who in grade school let tears spill whenever sorrow struck, this newly-discovered ability to swallow her emotion is a remarkable feat.

      you have no idea how much this paragraph means to me. thank you.

  7. Powerful piece. Thanks for sharing so exactly some of the emotions labeled as the cumbersome “grief”.

  8. Vale Victor Bernard.

    “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself plainly when you have need of him” – Albus Dumbledore.

  9. Thank you for having the strength to publish this.
    I have a friend whose father passed away when she was 15, just a few days before his birthday. I barely knew the guy…but the reality hit me so hard. I grieved, and grieved more thinking how SHE must have felt. I’m scared for the day I have to deal with that kind of pain. I can barely handle seeing others deal with that.

    Take care of yourself, Riese. Much love to you.

  10. This hit hard. Thank you so much, beautiful words as usual. I loved the part where you said every essay I write is for him, has a little bit of him in it.

  11. Thank you for writing this. My dad died unexpectedly when I was 14, and I can relate to this on so many levels. I rarely ever speak about him. His Birthday just passed and I blocked it out so well I didn’t realize it until the next week. There’s a greys anatomy quote that always sticks in my mind.
    CRISTINA: “There’s a club. The Dead Dads Club. And you can’t be in it until you’re in it. You can try to understand, you can sympathize. But until you feel that loss… My dad died when I was nine. George, I’m really sorry you had to join the club.”
    GEORGE: “I… I don’t know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn’t.”
    CRISTINA: “Yeah, that never really changes.”

    • That quote was the moment I knew Cristina Yang was my character. I quote it every time someone says “I’m sorry” when I tell them my dad is dead.

      • Christina has always been one of my favorite characters ever. I’m glad someone else found that quote impactful.

  12. It took me 4 tries to read this the whole way through but I think it is really important that I did… my mom died last month, 10 minutes before Mothers Day. ’10 minutes before Mothers Day’ is what goes through my head about 900 times a day. She was my best friend. I can’t even wrap my head around what it must have taken for you to write this essay, but the idea that maybe MAYBE someday I will feel ‘OK’ enough to do anything along these lines has brought me peace for the first time in 36 days. It didn’t last long, but for a very brief moment I felt at ease and less afraid and that is everything to me right now. So thank you. Your Dad sounds like he was a wonderful man.

    • I’m so terribly sorry for your loss. In the first few weeks after my brother died, I thought there was no way I could ever find peace or comfort or enjoyment in life again. And it is still hard, all the time, and everything happy is tinged with grief. I don’t think that will ever go away. But it will get easier to cope as time goes on. You will be able to find peace and joy in life again. <3

  13. I was born on Father’s Day, 1985. Nothing can prepare me for the day I’ll lose him. I sobbed the whole time I read this because I know it will be the most difficult thing I’ll ever have to go through.

  14. This is a stunningly beautiful piece and one of the most heartrending things I have ever read. I may not have lost anyone as close to me as this, but blocking it out is still the beginning and end of how I’ve dealt with any loss I have experienced.

    I appreciate your words. Your truth. You are amazing; and thank you so so much for sharing this.

  15. I was born in 1982, and lost my father in 1994, nearly on the same schedule as you. So it’s remarkable to me that I seem to have had a much different–perhaps more merciful–experience. But certainly the grief has been a lifelong project, and is likely to remain a feature of my existence for the rest of my days. I wrote a reflection here a few months ago, on the twentieth anniversary of his passing.

  16. This is a beautiful, important piece of writing. My mother lost her father young and very unexpectedly and she doesn’t talk about it that much; it’s something I could hardly begin to comprehend – but reading this was gut-wrenching and insightful and makes me feel like I can maybe understand my mum a tiny little bit more now. Thank you for sharing it. Your dad sounds like he was a really awesome guy.

    • Thank you for this Riese. My mother also lost her parents while still very young. Mum is not a person who talks about things. She doesn’t give away much. She rarely ever speaks of her mother; I can’t remember hearing her speak of her father. I don’t think I or my siblings know how to respond on the rare occasions when she does. We don’t ask. Their names are almost all that I know about them. I can count the stories on one hand.

      Your piece helped me realise that I haven’t thought very much about my Mum’s grief. How is has shaped her and stays with her. I don’t know that we’ll ever talk about it, whether she will ever tell me or whether I could even listen, but perhaps your piece has helped me understand a little. Thank you.

  17. I think it hurts you that you only had 14 years with him because he was a loving father. I still have my father but he’s never really there for me. We never do dad and daughter stuff together. I never went canoeing or hiking with him. I even had to be the one to call him on my birthday because i knew he wasn’t gonna make that initiative.
    I’m only speaking for me but it’s rare to have an unbreakable tight bond with a father. You had that bond with yours and i deeply envy daughters who has and had a thoughtful loving dad.
    Simply because not every girl has one.

  18. My father passed away last year on November 25th. It was almost a month before my 25th birthday.

    When I as a child, I would think that losing father at that age wouldn’t hurt as much as losing a father as a little child. But there I was, on Friday afternoon, waiting for my meal in a Cafe when I received a phone called from my mother. The hospital informed her that my father had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). He couldn’t breathe and was in need of breathing aid. I left everything behind and took a cab to the hospital.

    There was my father, with tubes in his nostrils and plasters and sensors in his cold chest. I held his hand and whispered in his ear that I was there, standing next to him. I had so many hope as I held his dry motionless fingers. I thought were going get through this and I was going to quit my job and take care of him. I was going to bring him the alternatives medical treatments if all the modern medicals were not working. I was going to take care of him. I really wanted to. The doctor told me that they need to punch a hole on both sides of the little space between his collarbones and his neck because his kidneys were severely damaged and they had to perform the hemodialysis through other vessels. My mother wanted me to make the decision because “I was the only one who went to college” in the family. I agreed only because I thought that this could save him. Before the procedure, they didn’t give him the anaesthesia because he was unconscious. But I knew he was in pain because he was still breathing. If only I’d he would be gone forever. I would have said no. I would not put him through torture. I would just take him home so he could leave this world in peace his childhood home.

    My mother was with him when he took the final breath. My mother, too claimed that he didn’t feel any pain. I hope she was right. It’s been seven months and I still think of him. I dream about him too. I sometimes dream that he is doing mundane chores as if everything was normal. I miss him so much.

    To me a closure with him being gone is too able to talk about him only with happy memories we shared together. I still haven’t had my closure with him. I’m not sure when will the day come, but when it arrives, I would cherish the happiness and the love he left behind.

    • I am so sorry that you were pressured into making a decision like that on your own.

      It sounds like you feel a lot of guilt for allowing the doctors to pursue that course of treatment but you made the best decision you could in that moment. And you should give yourself a break.

    • HH, omg, I really feel for you. My elderly mother (died dec 2013) made me her power of attorney, but I had a retired nurse friend to bounce stuff off of every step of the way. Even with that, I still second-guess decisions I made. There aren’t always clear answers, that’s for sure. And you did all this at 25. I’m 46. I can’t imagine making those decisions at 25. Two years ago, I could not imagine how I’d survive without my mother being in the world. Now, I am surviving, but still startled each day when I realize she’s gone.

  19. My father had an heart attack when I was 14. Fortunately his fate was different and he survived. I try not to think much about his possible death, because every time I start weeping profusely.
    He has had 2 other heart attacks after that one. He still won’t quit smoking. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me think he doesn’t even value his life enough to want to live to see me graduate, get married, have kids. And yet I know he loves me. And I love him.

    <3 to you Riese. thanks for writing about your father.

  20. Riese, I don’t really know what to say, but thank you for writing this moving and beautiful piece. Your father sounds like an absolutely wonderful human being who passed on his qualities to you. You’re amazing.

    I know this isn’t the same as losing a parent, but the worst thing that ever happened to me was losing my Grandmother in 2009. She was the only person in my entire family who also devoured books like I do, was introverted like I am, full of wanderlust like I am, and whose knowledge and stories of the past knew no bounds. I don’t relate to my family, but I did relate to her.

    I had been studying abroad in London all semester while she was dying of cancer and no one told me because they “didn’t want to ruin my trip.” No one told me until the day before I was flying back to America that she was even in the hospital and anything was wrong at all. I had been happy in London and going to my first lesbian bar, drunkenly telling all my friends I was gay, and falling for a girl and feeling like maybe it was okay but also holy shit horrifying lighting, and I was becoming myself, while my grandmother was dying, and I had no idea. I emailed her once from London. She emailed me every week, until she didn’t, but I didn’t know why.

    I got off the plane and we went straight to the hospital. We stayed there all night with her hooked up to the machine, they turned off. My chest felt like it was caving into my body and also like I’d been hit by a truck. When I woke up the next morning she was gone and it still doesn’t make any sense that’s she’s not here anymore. I miss her laugh. She had the loudest laugh for such a quiet woman. …I feel like I could write more about this, but I never have before. Maybe I will.

    Thanks for writing this, Riese. <3 <3 <3 <3

  21. I can totally relate to this, although in my case it’s my Mom who died when I was 13, every word you wrote Riese made an impact and I think somebody is slicing onions near me because my eyes are watery. Thank you for always being the amazing writer that you are, Riese. Thank you for being brave, for sharing this. Here’s a hug from me :)

  22. This made me cry, so very hard, but I think I needed to. My mum died when I was 15. Very suddenly too. One moment I was having a lazy start to my school summer holidays, and the next I was on the phone to the ambulance people and my life fell apart.

    Fathers day makes me feel twitchy, edgy, sad, because my Dad is the only one i’ve got left. Mothers day, shit, it tears me into tiny pieces.

    So many internet *hugs* for you. And *cwtches* and all that.

  23. When I moved to AZ, I’d been “somebody else’s kid” for so long it didn’t even occur to me that anyone would ask what my parents thought about it.

  24. it feels so jarring to read something this true and infinitely relatable about loss and grieving. it never ends, does it? never ever. i see myself and my own story so clearly in your words, and i will probably have to read it many times to feel the full impact. even though the kind of loss i have had in my own life is very different from yours in many ways, this is still very much my experience of losing my own singularly important “one person” as you describe. ever since my little brother’s suicide,i feel a visceral sinking every time the phone rings. every phone call (even now six years later) holds the potential for leveling me all over again. i hate the phone. people wonder why i never answer and give me a hard time about it, but it is really hard to explain to someone who doesnt get it that i dont answer because sometimes i physically cant. the dread can be so overwhelming, i feel like i might pass out just thinking about that day and that moment that i heard he was gone forever. the way you describe how losing your father is a part of everything you see and everything you do and will be forever makes me feel a little less alone in my own ongoing grief. it makes me feel like its ok that sometimes i still cant answer the phone or that every moment of happiness i will ever have in my life will be tainted with the knowledge that his inability to feel that killed him on that sunny day in july almost six years ago. i hope writing this has helped you the way reading it has helped me. thank you so much,riese. your dad seemed very special and i am so sorry you lost him.

  25. Thank you. I loved reading you, Riese, but for selfish reasons, I guess. Because a part of me wants this very badly. I want to fear loosing the most important man of my life, I want to cherish my memories with him when he is gone, and I want to hurt like you have been hurting. I love reading you because I hope I can absorb your words and feel them too.

    Sometimes, I think of my father’s death, and I end up wondering what I would write for his funeral oration. I end up wondering if I should mention his drinking problem, just so all of his sports and business friends who call him “The King” finally learn that this man they adored as a companion made his closest family suffer on the daily.

    I end up wondering why everyone loves my dad like he is a hero, that is, except for my sister, my mom and I. We love him like he’s a weak man. Because we know his secret Kryptonite, and our house is full of bottles of it.

    I also hope I will cry when my father dies, because I would feel like a terrible human if I did not.

    Father’s day, yesterday, was a one hour pit stop at my parents place. I ate my slice of cake fast, and I left. My dad starts drinking his third round of brandy at 6 PM, that’s why.

    Stories like yours help me find the tiniest spark of love and admiration for my own father. But such sparks shine bright but sadly, only last for a few seconds. Photos like yours, of kids playing with their dads, remind me that such photos of my dad and I do exist. I might have to find one and look at it long and hard.

    Riese, keep writing about your father. Keep searching for him in you, and around you. Keep telling your only true story, for girls like me to hear. When my father is gone, the hurting for me probably won’t begin but stop, and it is infinitely scary to realise it. And I know I’ll be searching for the pain I’m supposed to feel my whole life.

  26. Thank you so much for sharing this Riese. Thank you for writing about your dad. Thank you.

  27. It’s always sad to think we have such a small amount of time on this earth with the people we love. It’s even sadder to think that we don’t ever realize a lot of things and feelings until they’re gone. Hugs Riese.

    Before you know it something’s over.
    Suddenly someone’s missing at the table.

    PS your hugs are the BEST. Love you.

  28. Riese, thank you so much for writing this article. My dad died when I was 11 and I can relate to so much of your piece. Every Father’s Day is hard, even though he died almost 10 years ago, so it was very healing to read an article from someone else who understands this. Thank you.

  29. I never wanted to be someone who understands what this is like, and I wish nobody else ever had to either. But I’m grateful that you are able to share these words that express so well what it is like to live with loss. Thank you, Riese.

  30. “I want to talk to you about how it feels to spend your whole life grieving”


  31. I know exactly how you feel, Riese. My father died of lymphoma when I was 10. 18 years ago. The hole in your heart really never goes away. I still miss my dad, and wonder what he would think about how I ended up or what he would say, etc. I saw a little girl playing with her dad in the pool last weekend, just goofing around with her dad the way that my dad and I used to, and I felt so empty.
    I remember a childhood of reading books in the hospital. My dad was ALWAYS there. Watching TV with him, helping him choose his menu. One night I slept in the hospital bed next to him in the ER. It just felt normal. And he was my favorite parent. I loved my dad, our daddy-daughter days, going fishing with him and playing pranks on my mom together.
    Then, that summer, my mom made me go to YMCA camp. I was a weird kid and had no friends, loved reading. I didn’t WANT to go to camp. I wanted to be around my dad. And one day, my mom’s friend picked me up from school. My mom was at the house crying and saying that Daddy was going to heaven today. I laughed and said ‘No he isn’t.’ He was supposed to die since I was 5 and there were so many close calls, that I thought it was never going to happen at that point.
    A nurse called from the cancer center and said they couldn’t get his vitals. He died. We floored it to the hospital, but couldn’t get there until 20 minutes later.
    I’ve hated Father’s Day ever since. I remember our last Father’s Day together, when I saved up my allowance and bought him a chintzy Timex watch for $20. He was buried in it. I remember crying in the hallway with my uncle at the Daddy Daughter Dance that I did with Girl Scouts after my father died. I hated that kids I didn’t know would say sorry to me or feel awkward around me. I felt weird, like everyone felt sorry for me. Sometimes I still feel that way when I tell people that my father died.

  32. I’ve been reading Autostraddle’s articles for over a year now, but this article finally made me make an account so I could say this:
    Thank you for writing this. I lost my mom when I was fifteen (2 years ago) and it’s hell. Everyday. People say it gets better, that “you’ll always miss them but it gets easier”, I think that’s bullshit and I’m grateful for your honesty. I relate to this on nearly every level, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone, that there is some sort of small hope for the future.
    Much love to you and your family.

  33. The love you feel for your Dad is so evident. I am glad that you are courageous in showing your Dad the love you feel for him and that everything you do acknowledges who he was and your appreciation for his good influence on your life, his inspiration and his love for you. I really hope that we meet up with our loved ones in our dreams Riese. It was incredibly beautiful to read this. Keep talking. you have a gift for showing lots of love and shedding light where there isn’t any.

  34. “I slipped my hand behind my ribcage, removed my heart, and smashed it into the carpet.”

    H-O-L-Y SHIT.

    That line slayed me. I haven’t ever even experienced a loss like this (and I know I am so lucky), but, wow. Reading this article really made me miss your Autowin blog. Half the time I had no idea what I was reading, but it didn’t matter, it was just so engaging. You have an amazing way of being able to bring me into whatever story you are telling.

    I am so so sorry you had to experience such an awful, life-altering event like that, but I grinned a little when I read “In 2009, I decided to live.” For many different reasons, that resonated with me. I am 33 and am still waiting on making that decision, but I am glad someone could get there.

    Awesome, awesome stuff. I am so so happy you wrote this and decided to publish it. I hope there aren’t any regrets, and maybe a little cathartic.

  35. my father died when i was almost 13. it was such a shock. and i’m tearing up just trying to write this comment because i feel like you put into words things i didn’t even know i felt about it. i identified with so much of this, especially about father’s day and this part: “People just want to know where your dad lives and if he works at the university; they don’t know how loaded those questions are for some people. It’s easier for me just to avoid small talk with strangers altogether.” this happens to me at every new job. the worst is when people ask how he died–he committed suicide. that pretty much stops them in their tracks. i don’t think people should ever ask someone how her/his loved one died.

    thank you for this.

  36. This tugged at my heart so hard. My grandfather was taken to the hospital with breathing problems yesterday on father’s day. Our family shuffled nervously into the ER when we should have been having a party at his house. My mom had bought him a peach pie, his favorite.

    I was terrified because he’s in his 90s, and that side of the family with five kids. He’s my last living grandparent. ‘fortunately’ it’s just a serious case of pneumonia. He’ll get better. But this article made me remember how fragile life is.

    My grandma, his wife, and my great grandma died when I was 11 within a few months of each other–the latter out of grief. At the time, I was too young to visit her in her room at the hospital.

    My other grandma, who lived with us my entire life, passed away a few years back. It was the first time I was old enough to remember attending a Jewish funeral.

    We covered the mirrors with newspaper and the rabbi visited us. We suddenly had more food than we could ever eat–especially since I didn’t feel hungry for days.

    The funeral was difficult. Children have their clothing torn to display grief for a week. I wanted the same torn black ribbon, but the rabbi refused. I was angry because my grief felt like I was torn, too.

    I wanted to be a pallbearer and fortunately the rabbi obliged. Alongside my male cousins, I carried the wooden box to the grave.

    My pain is not yours, Riese, but my sympathy is. I know that feeling of laying on the floor eating refrigerated cookies because Jews deal with grief by making enough food to feed a small army, and the three of us could never finish it all.

    I’d been in Columbus chasing after a girl who had been leading me on and got the news when I came home. I never forgave myself for that either. I just sat and hugged my dog and cried.

    My grief isn’t your grief, but I was accustomed to Christian funerals at that point. I was comfortable at the churches. But Jewish ones were new to me. Customs were new. I didn’t understand.

    I think the same things every time someone dies. ‘I hope no one else dies soon’. Because with depression, I always think I can never go on.

    Every year we light three yahrzeit candles –for the father my mom lost when she was in her thirties, the brother she lost in 1995, and my grandmother, the wife, mother, and grandmother who survived the deaths of her own mother, her husband, and her son.

    My grief isn’t the same as your grief, but we’re all family here. Thank you for your story, Riese.

  37. anger is the only emotion louder than sadness.
    I know this all too well. I don’t know what to say. I know the feeling of losing someone you love very dearly, and not having had the opportunity to say goodbye.

    Much strength to you, Riese.

  38. I just lost my mentor at the beginning of the summer. It was a relationship that I had spent three years working on, and it just tore me up to no end- because there isn’t anything I can do about it. It’s not that she is dead- it is that I had lost my connection with her in a way that was not of my own terms. She goes on living, and my little world has just stopped.

  39. “My father died when I was 14. I will tell people this again and again and again for the rest of my life.”
    God this hit me so hard. My dad died when I was 13 and honestly this is the hardest thing for me because usually its people asking me ‘oh what do your parents do, where do your parents live’ and they notice when I only talk about my mom and ask. Or the worst is, STILL sometimes I say parents automatically instead of mom and I have to correct myself. And either way after ten years it hasn’t gotten one bit easier. Not so much because its awkward, although it is, but because you fall into this new routine and you get so used to it, then every time you meet someone new you have to remember that you used to be able to say parents and now you can’t and that hurts just as bad every time.
    Thank you for writing this.

  40. I’ve read this twice today. My grandmother died of a slow brain bleed in October; my mother, already disabled for over ten years, has been in the hospital twice since September (she comes out tomorrow), and each time comes out a little weaker. My situation has not been as immediate as yours, but I have felt the kind of grief that goes to the marrow, and changes you permanently, determining your life’s outlook, even your entire set of behaviors.

    I wish I could do something so positive, to keep the good alive. He would be really proud of you right now.

  41. I learned on Saturday that the man who killed my best friend (he ran her over, it was not premeditated, does that matter? I still don’t know how to talk about this) was sentenced and the Grief has been so loud ever since. This piece says everything I’m feeling.

    This Grief is at the very core of me, I cannot be the person I was when she was here because she is not here. I am still learning how to be me without her.

    Is the second loss easier than the first? Because you already know Grief so well?

  42. Thank you so much for this Riese. A lot of feelings/crying.

    Thank you also for sharing so much of yourself more generally. Your honesty often feels like a punch in the feels, and I have a lot of admiration for you on that basis.

  43. Riese, this was powerful and heartbreaking and life-altering. I’ve been reading Autostraddle for about four years and have never joined, but had to for this.

    (Sidenote: the first article I read that hooked me to this site was another longform of yours from summer 2010 which was also extremely powerful:

    Thank you so much for doing what you do. You are strong and brave and…thank you.

  44. “My father died when I was 14. I will tell people this forever. It is the truest thing about me.”

    My lost-her-mom-at-16 heart broke all over again. How many times have I thought this same thing.

    Thank you for this, Riese. <3

  45. My dad died when I was 10. Cancer. So it was slow and expected, except no one actually told me he was going to die until it happened.

    I have never written about him, not like this. I realize now that I must do that one day, and also that it’s ok that I haven’t yet.

    Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. For reminding me of the humanity of my own grief, and the vitality of my own life. I am crying for you, and for me, and for everyone, and for all our dads.

  46. oof.

    every once in a while i try to read/watch something that will incite tears. if i learned one important lesson from losing my dad at 19, it’s that if you try to be strong by neglecting to cry, your body WILL give you shingles. fact. anyway, thanks for this.

    my sister was due to give birth last june 22nd, a safe distance from the dreaded 10-year anniversary of our father’s death. but of course the baby waited until the 30th to arrive. almost on the dot to the time he died.

    despite my original worry that my niece’s birthday would be weighed down by its history, there is something poetic about the timing of her arrival. i’m gutted that our dad will never know her, nor she him, but there is beauty in this stupid world. or at least a twisted sense of humour, which is nearly just as good.

    closure doesn’t exist, but i did reach a sort of milestone of acceptance peace. best of luck to everyone else trucking along on this road. DON’T get shingles. it sucks.

  47. When my dad died I searched and searched and searched for anyone who understood what was happening to me. I looked for books, for blogs, for movies and for new friends. I compared my loss to anyone else’s loss and almost always deemed it an unworthy comparison – mine was always so much worse. It took years to realize that ‘the worst thing you’ve ever been through is the worst thing you’ve ever been through,’ and it’s not really worth comparing.

    After coming up short in finding a book that accurately describes what it was like to suddenly lose the most important person in my life, I decided to write my own. I’ve only ever gotten as far as, “On July 19th, 2007 my life changed forever.”

    Thank you for writing this, maybe now I don’t need to write my own.

  48. I lost my dad 6 months ago to what was supposed to be a very curable diagnosis of bladder cancer. After an unsuccessful run of chemo, he died within 6 months of his diagnosis. Between the anniversaries of his diagnosis and treatment milestones and father’s day and the anniversary of his helping me move from college 5 years ago and every other fucking day, I’m still struggling so hard to make sense of it all. This whole thing resonated with me unlike most things I’ve been reading about grief lately. Especially thinking ahead and imagining all of the life events that he won’t be there for. Also about all the future people who will be in my life never having known him (aka never really knowing me).

    Anyways, I caught this piece at work and had to run out of my office to sob for 40 minutes in my car.

    Thank you for writing this, Riese. <3s to you.

  49. I don’t know what I want to tell you, except thank you for writing this. I really like how you write.

  50. I don’t know how to feel about the fact that, when someone talks about their grief, many times the only way we know how to respond is to respond with our grief. To compare, to say “I know how you feel,” even though we can’t ever really know, can we? But I guess, because you said you know so few people who lost their dad suddenly while they were growing up, I want to add to the visibility of that group of people. And to thank you for writing this and say that it gives me hope. My dad died suddenly when I was 17. On mother’s day 6 years ago. So I’m not a big fan of mother’s day, or father’s day, or my dad’s birthday. Like you, I hate father/daughter dances and commercials for father’s day events, but have a deep appreciation for dead-dad humor.

    It feels kind of surreal even writing this here because I never talk about it. I always refer to my “parents,” even though only one of them is alive. I never feel like there is a right time to tell someone my dad is dead. And when I do tell someone, I feel like I have to take care of them, make sure they’re comfortable with the fact.

    I’m glad you wrote this. I am also a writer, and I feel like all I want to write about is my dad, but I’m horrible at it and everything comes out stupid and wrong and weak. I can’t capture him, can’t do justice to him. As his oldest surviving child at the time, I wrote his obituary, and ever since then, I haven’t felt like I could write a single word about him. But maybe, in 6 more years, or 16, or however long it takes, I’ll finally be able to do what you did this year on father’s day. Until then, this essay is a great comfort to me, so thank you.

  51. Thank you so much for writing this. Your words spoke to my own grief in a way I really needed.

  52. Oof. My heart.

    This was beautiful and heartbreaking and especially resonant with me because my dad almost died twice this past year, and I’ve been living in mild fear of it happening at any moment. I’m 35 and losing him now would be awful. I can’t imagine having lost him at 14.

  53. Just so you know, if I were ever playing the celebrity game and I got “R,” I would say “Riese Bernard.” <3

    Your dad sounds like a wonderful person. This was beautifully written, and thank you for sharing this part of yourself. Sending lots of love your way!

  54. Thank you for your story. You help with remembering those we lost.
    There is a wonderful poem that helped me a bit when my mother died.
    Its german so i will post a translation with it.
    I did not find one so i had translate it myself, sorry for any mistakes i might have made.

    Its not my own death I do fear,
    Its just the death of those I care for,
    How shall i live, when they are not?
    In haze I feel my way along death,
    let drift myself willing into dark,
    Walking doesnt hurt half as much as staying.
    those who befell the same will know;
    and those who bear it may forgive me
    Bear in mind: one only dies ones own death,
    but has to live through death of others.
    Mascha Kaleko

    Vor meinem eignen Tod ist mir nicht bang,
    Nur vor dem Tode derer, die mir nah sind.
    Wie soll ich leben, wenn sie nicht mehr da sind? 
    Allein im Nebel tast ich todentlang
    Und laß mich willig in das Dunkel treiben.
    Das Gehen schmerzt nicht halb so wie das Bleiben. 
    Der weiß es wohl, dem gleiches widerfuhr;
    — Und die es trugen, mögen mir vergeben.
    Bedenkt: den eignen Tod, den stirbt man nur,
    Doch mit dem Tod der andern muß man leben.

  55. See, every trauma hits you with a force relative to what the rest of your life was like. The worst thing that’s ever happened to you, whatever it is, feels like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.

    This is one of the most profound and poignant statements I have ever read about grief. Thank you for this, I’ll be carrying it with me.

  56. Marie, I hope you remember me. Our family lived across the street from you on Elder lo those many years ago. I was struck by your experience, which I remember almost as crisply as you do, as I lost my mother. I also was 14 and can empathize with the voyage Vic’s death set you on. He was a sensitive soul in a hard body that fooled no one. There’s no way to reconcile the death of a mother to a son or a father to a daughter at the age you and I both were. My brother was Lewis’s age, so there are yet other parallels to delve into in quiet moments.

    There were many telling comments you made in your post that I felt very echoed my own thoughts and feelings. One was that I could not cry at my mother’s funeral or for years after. The “internal” space to which I relegated my grief was far too small to contain it or admit of other harsh thoughts. It took great effort to keep from dissolving in those emotions. Anger is a powerful weapon that I used to defend against the attack of real feelings for many years after. I’m much older than you, of course, but the dialogue (not monologue) with my mother continues as yours with Vic does. Her spirit and wisdom informs and corrects me to this day. It is the way of things, that the love learned as a child becomes the conscience and advisor to the adult, as the child truly is the father/mother to the man/woman. More than anything else I appreciate your ability to see through the fog to spot your emerging feelings amid what seems the wreckage of a childhood. It’s not a light load or and easy task, but I will say that no one’s lineage of loss and compensating emotions outweighs what others have endured. Carry on and be well with our whole family’s best wishes.


  57. I can’t read this right now, but/because my father died when I was fourteen, too. It was long and slow and expected, but nothing prepares you for when your father stops breathing and you’re only fourteen. Thank you for sharing this.

  58. it’s a little weird for me to identify with everything you wrote here. my mom died when I was 15 and it was sudden. I’m 24 now. For a long time I didn’t care if I lived or died. I thought it was a win-win also. I didn’t cry at the funeral either, or ever. I got insurance money that I never wanted to touch either. I didn’t want to believe I needed money more than I wanted her back. I had dreams where she hadn’t died but had returned from a really long vacation. I still don’t like Mother’s Day. School counseling was pointless I didn’t think they even knew how to help me if I actually needed it.

    It’s been such a strange thing to live with so far. People don’t really get it so I stopped saying it. Grief has become me, also. But I realized I don’t want it to define me. When people know you’re ‘the kid whose parent died’ it’s all they see. I decided to live also.

    “It was the shock of it, you see. Ever since that day I’ve been a vigilant monitor of impending doom. I will not be caught off-guard again, nope, not me, if you’re going to hurt me I need to see it coming. The surprise of it, is the thing.”

    ^^But that feeling never leaves. I am forever holding out for something bad to happen, to me or to anyone. It can be paralyzing sometimes.

    This site is full of articles that I can’t find anywhere else. But this one is so close to home. I’m glad you wrote it, I know it wasn’t easy.

  59. thank you for writing this, Riese. I’m hoping you feel at least a little better releasing this into the world. I lost my mother at 14. I think grief is like coming out – it’s a complicated, continual process but no less awkward most times. If I could I’d make a toast to everyone grieving, we’ve just gotta keep our heads up, no matter how difficult it gets.

    • Also, thank you for being brutally honest that as a scared kid, we didn’t always make the best choices in terms of grieving at 14. i know i wanted the grief to end immediately and i think i still make a lot of stupid, rash decisions because i got used to split-second pushing away of dealing with anything i didn’t want to deal with. stupid grief choices.

  60. Thank you for writing this. You expressed so much of what I feel as someone who lost their father at 4. That was 25 years ago, and only this year do I feel like I am starting to have any kind of closure. I don’t know why 25 years feels different from 15 or 20, but it does.

  61. What an incredibly powerful, moving, and well-written story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  62. I was ten, and he was 39, and it was a heart attack and I wish I didn’t have this in common with you. And the not believing, and the dark humor and the punishing mathematics of how long anyone has been alive.

    I’ve been recently pondering how there’s a whole brigade of motherless daughter work, and much less fatherless daughter writing out there. Thanks for changing that a bit. I’m doing my part, too.

    Many thanks.

  63. I was 12. He didn’t live with us–had separated from my mom when I was 6 (the tremor before the full quake that split my world in half) and I remember my mom told me after I came home from a sleepover. I was eating a pixi stick. When she told me, I asked her if she was joking. I remember saying “That’s not funny”. When it slowly dawned on me that she wasn’t joking, I threw the pixie stick in the pool.

    Thank you for writing this essay. My whole life I’ve been made to feel weak and less than for not ‘getting over’ a trauma that happened, now, sixteen years ago. It doesn’t feel like sixteen years ago. I don’t believe grief keeps time.

    So much of this resonated, but most particularly the idea that you have to keep telling it, over and over. Innocuous conversations become minefields where you try and ease other people’s awkwardness by lying, or by joking, or both. You are okay, but you are really, really not okay at the same time. When I am drunk, I am /never/ okay. Every loss or setback in my life is complicated and impacted by that one, first, acutely painful loss.

    I don’t know. Just thank you. You’re right, you don’t meet many people who have been there, and who fully understand it.

    (Mine was a heart attack, too. Out of the blue, out of nowhere, and with the news delivered through telephone wires in a way that made the whole thing seem impossibly unreal. I have recurring dreams where he is alive, but I have to watch him die again. And I cannot save him. And there’s nothing I can do).

    • Ugh, the dreams. I had a particularly bad one about 7 years ago that still sticks with me, where I lock him in a room with a tiger and have to listen to him screaming as it turns him into a monster. My friends have all these healing dreams about their deceased loved ones. I’m just like, where can I trade in this asshole brain for one that’s good to me? I guess I’m glad we get to continue interacting, even if it keeps traumatizing me.

      • That sounds truly awful–I’m sorry. I hear you on the asshole brain front. I also have dreams where he comes back and is like “Dead? Oh no. I was never dead. That’s just what everyone told you. I’ve been living happily with another family for 16 years”.

        Brains are the worst.

        • Yes! Although that one is more of a waking dream, like when I think I see him or my step-mom at Costco or on a crowded bus. I’m pretty sure I’ve weirded out quite a few strangers with my teary-eyed staring routine, where I space out as I look into their eyes soulfully and wonder why they ever left me.

  64. My father died when I was 14, also of a heart attack.

    My mother survived for another 25 years or so, and she was abusive.

    These aren’t the only two stories I tell, but, man, I do tell them a lot. I understand so much of what you’ve written here, quite intimately.

  65. My Dad died when I was 13.
    Thanks for sharing your story.
    There was SO much of it that I could relate to.
    Now even after 25 years of healing and dealing, there are still tears to be cried.

  66. Dear Riese,
    Your eloquence is as stunning as your story. I would love to read more about the statement “in 2009 I got free.”
    With great respect,

  67. My dad took his own life when I was 12 years old. On Halloween. I fucking hate Halloween. I hate that all I want to do on October 31st is go get drunk out of my mind at a bar, but I can’t because it’s fucking Halloween. Last year was the 10th anniversary. I had a breakdown, I got drunk, the Red Sox won the World Series (my family is from Boston), then my Grampy called me and we laughed about it, then we cried.

    I got married a little over a month ago. My mom walked me down the aisle, but next to my wife and her dad, it was sort of a glaring reminder. We put a picture of my dad next to my mom’s seat. The second the ceremony ended, a huge gust of wind came by and knocked down the frame. “Dad says hi,” my mom joked.

    This past weekend, I went out downtown with my friends. Everything was fantastic, until the ride home when I started feeling sick. I started crying because of how awful I felt, threw up, and hysterically cried the whole way home. My wife didn’t understand what was so horribly wrong with me, and I don’t think I did either, until she finally said, “That’s it, I’m taking you to a hospital.” And I screamed through my tears, “No! I don’t want to go to the hospital!” And she asked me what I did want. “I want my dad,” I sobbed. I screamed and cried and kicked anything I could reach until I finally passed out.

    The scariest stage of a new relationship of any kind is getting to the point when they ask about your parents. Sometimes that can take months to reach. But, inevitably, it happens. It’s especially awful when they realize you may have mentioned your dad in passing, but never any details about his life. They know where you’re from, the know how to got to wherever you live now, they know where your mom and step-father live and maybe even what they do for a living, but what about your real father? How come you never talk about him? You know when you’re talking to a stranger and it comes to the point when you have to disclose that you’re gay? It’s not a very dissimilar feeling. Except that when disclosing you, a young person, have a dead parent, you know exactly what the response is going to be. And you don’t want to hear it every again.

    I live in a world now of people who never met my father. Sure, there’s my family and a few childhood friends I speak to maybe two or three times a year, but I actively spend my life surrounded by people who don’t know this man. I’m married to a woman who takes care of me when I have mental breakdowns and/or depressive episodes brought on by the absence of someone who is a stranger to her. A stranger who’s last name she now carries as her own.

    Living with this is hard. I walk around with the fear that my mother is going to die. My wife goes out on field work in a region without cell reception and I spend three days thinking she’s dead. Hell, my wife is out in town and doesn’t pick up and I think she’s dead. But aside from those fears, living is hard in general. Like you said, actively making the choice to live, even a decade later, is fucking hard. Considering the mental state I was in just four days ago, I could not have found this essay at a better time. I needed this today. Thank you, so, so, so much for sharing this. I know it wasn’t easy.

  68. Thank you thank you thank you for this. I happened upon it, coincidentally, on the ten year anniversary of my dad’s death. He died when I was 19, unexpectedly – he had a heart attack while rowing out on the Charles River in Boston. After spending the afternoon trying unsuccessfully not to cry at work while I read this, I wrote this in the spirit of your piece and as a small tribute to him:

    I found and I find him when I do the things he liked to do, like running and sailing and rowing, crossword puzzles, reading Sherlock Holmes and listening to Pirates of Penzance. Like always subconsciously cheering for the Buffalo Bills (even if I don’t watch football), buying Christmas gifts at the last possible minute. Like eating the burnt cookies (OK I don’t really like to do that, that’s why we gave them to him) and jelly beans and drinking Guinness. Like expressing his distaste of a certain Republican president, napping at odd times, remembering how not to yell, coming up with clever fixes and repairs around the house, and knowing the importance of a glass of orange juice after a long run. Like using puns and telling “dad” jokes – how do you catch a polar bear? Dig a hole in the ice and put some peas around it. When the polar bear comes up to take a pea, you kick him in the ice hole.

  69. Just found this from the retweet. Not sure how I missed it when it was published.

    I was 13 when my mother died. Or rather, it happened the day before my 13th birthday; my dad and stepmom told me the day after. She overdosed on pills, but she had a long battle with manic depression so it was both completely unexpected and yet there was some level of… closure? Like I knew she had held on as long as she possibly could for my sake, and I couldn’t fault her a second for the life she lived to see me make it to adulthood, if you can call 13 adulthood.

    My mother killed herself on my 13th birthday. That’s who I am.

    I hate mother’s day more than any other day. Her birthday is harder for me than the anniversary, if anything because the day she died falls smack between Valentine’s and my birthday, and I think it’s for that reason I make such a big deal of my birthday, and am so disappointed by people who don’t understand why birthdays are a big deal. I was born on Ash Wednesday, as if being Wednesday’s child wasn’t symbolic enough in its own right.

    This article is perfect and beautiful. Thank you for writing it. I think I automatically categorize people I know as either people who get it (dead parents club) and those who don’t have a concept of what it is like to suffer loss. And you can’t really explain it to them, and it will always separate them from us. It’s just a fact. I’ll never really understand what it’s like to not understand what this is like.

    Thank you so much for sharing your (his) story.

  70. My husband committed suicide August 26, 2013. I feel so many of your emotions. I’ve had to start just saying I’m a widow. If I tell people what really happened they just leave with no response. I’m alone now. No one comforts me. I have to lie and say I’m ok, when I’m not. I have a 19 year old daughter by another marriage and she doesn’t care. They’re all mad at him. I love him. I miss him. My life…

  71. This is amazing, Riese (first thing I’ve read on autostraddle, here via Ann Friedman.) Gripping and precise and emotional. I am privileged enough to have both my parents alive; I lost someone very close to me to suicide at 20. This could be the centerpiece of a book of your essays–not to be mercenary, but I hope you consider putting together a proposal. This deserves an even wider audience.

  72. I’m only just finding this piece now but thank you thank you thank you for sharing your story. I lost my mother suddenly when I was a teen, and every word about the heartache is true. I’m so happy you’re finding a way through. I’m working on that myself.

  73. I left everything behind, and went to America to search a soul after my father died when I was 16. I was very close to him, and I was his treasure to him ( my parents lost 4 daughters -it’s true, and I was the only surviving daughter). I knew he was leaving us (mum, my brother and me) he was ill for couple of years. I couldn’t grief when he’s gone, I was rather angry with him, thinking that he left us. Today I was just browsing the web, and happened to find your article. I’m glad I read your story. I really know what it’s like growing up without father who was core and backbone to you…. I was in Urbana-Champaign from 89 to 91, attending school. I’m sure I came across to your father back then …… Best wishes!!! Tomoko

  74. Oh Reise, this post, this essay, this tribute to your father- tears, joys, laughter, sadness, but mostly just a profound empathy and a deep, deep desire to just pat your knee and say, “thank you”. Me: too privileged to be at 28 and never lost a parent, but this year has tested my understanding of loss, death and how to go on. I drove my best friend to the hospital where her father had lay dead on an ordinary Friday evening, and sat by her at his funeral, helped her write the speech, picked her up from the funeral home after she’d watched his body be cremated. But mostly I just sat and lay by her and drank too many whiskeys knowing I could not even begin to understand. I could not. Your beautiful writing helped me understand just a fraction of the well that is that loss.

    And as the year closes and I am set to bury the second uncle in 2 months, from a distance that makes me wish I could leap oceans and hug my cousins, all of them and tell them it’ll be OK, your piece brings me so much peace. Sincerely, all the comments on here are a testament to just what you have done with this. And your dad? What a bad-ass.

  75. Impressive and beautiful… A friend of my passed on this link. I just finished reading it. I lost my father too, totally unexpected on a Monday night at 6 o’clock whilst drinking coffee on the sofa at home. He had a stroke. 19 years later, 2014, I first lose my brother and 6 months later my mother. Like you, I do know what grief is. The reminders of people that we’ve lost, they become less over time but they never leave you. I will be alone at Christmas this year, for the very first time without family, that is going to be weird, but eventually it will fade as well.

  76. wow. I’m crying at work after reading this, thank you for sharing something this personal, I love autostraddle and I admire you a lot Riese.

  77. Riese,

    I was 20 when my mother died of a heart attack while getting for work on a random day in January. My brother was 14. Her birthday was New Year’s Eve- so this time of year is especially strange, almost worse than Mother’s Day.

    Thank you for writing this. I needed it today.

  78. I re-read this piece every few months. It’s so beautifully written and mirrors so much of my own experience losing my dad. I’m so glad you published it.

  79. I read this because of the Valentines Day 2015 article… I somehow missed it last year, but I am glad I did.

    This article made me tear up and I don’t cry. Ever. Until this past December I had never lost anyone close to me. My grandmother died a week before Christmas. I miss her every day. I cried on December 16th when I was called and told to pack a bag as my Granny was placed in ICU unexpectedly – the next day she was in a medical induced coma – but I haven’t cried since. Not even while I stood in her hospital room, holding her hand as her pulse stopped. The tears just wouldn’t come before.

    This post brought out my Granny. I needed that. Thank you.

  80. Thank you so much for writing this Riese, I’m so sorry you lost your father so young, he sounded like an extraordinary man. As someone who also lost their parent at around the same age it’s really special to read something that actually reflects the experience of losing a parent and what a cluster bomb that can set off in your life. Thank you

  81. Thank you for this. My dad had a heart attack and died when I was 14 too. I can relate to every word in this text.

  82. Thank you for this. These words, especially, hit sharp:

    “I could take more time, they said. I don’t want to be that far behind in class, I said. It would just be more work later, and who knows how I’ll feel later. I feel okay now, I need to do this now. That’s sort of how I’ve lived my life: when I feel okay, I work, because I can’t ever rely on how I might feel tomorrow.

    Everybody told me it’d “hit me” later but I couldn’t think about later. I needed to get through the day.”

    This felt. I felt this. You have to portion out yourself when you have enough to dollop.

    Here are some words for you, this November 14th.

    “Love and grief attend each other in every action, every step, like two completely different people having to help each other through danger – across some great expanse of ice.”

    — LeGuin

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