How a Son Can Cope With His Father’s Death

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My father lived with me and my family during the last two years of his life while he sank ever deeper into Alzheimer’s disease.

His behavior was frequently bizarre. He might emerge from his bedroom with three of my son’s baseball caps piled on top of his head but wearing no pants. When trying to participate in a conversation, he might blurt out passionate pronouncements that made no sense at all. “Ya see, the individualism is something that’s not already formed,” he would bellow. “You gotta fight it!”

At the same time, as the eyes. I experienced the “ambiguous loss” that Pauline Boss describes in her book of the same title ― my father was there, right in front of me, and yet he was not there. His death, in a way, provided blessed clarity ― he was finally, unambiguously gone.

I felt like crying a couple of times, but the tears never came. I was “grieved out,” as Boss would describe it. “It’s a common thing ― people shouldn’t look negatively on a family member whose tears have been shed along the way,” she says.

Instead, I threw myself into writing a eulogy that I wanted to deliver at my father’s funeral. I became one of Chethik’s “doers” ― I would grieve by doing something to pay tribute to my father.

But as I read the eulogy in front of the assembled mourners, I realized I was not just paying tribute to my father; I was reciting a credo of sorts, a list of beliefs and goals drawn from his life that I admired and wanted to keep alive in my own way. I commended his deep compassion for other people, his tireless raging against social injustice, his devotion to family and friends ― and to my mother as she languished for years in a nursing home after a devastating stroke.

Like so many sons, I had modeled myself after my father in many ways. And as I delivered his eulogy, I realized that, like it or not, he would live on through me.