When a parent dies who was not the parent we needed, we may feel a very complicated grief. If we’ve mourned the loss over the years of his/her life, the grief will be less. If we have continued to hope for a loving, attentive father or mother, grief will be much more difficult and strenuous. A way to help process grief that I often recommended to clients is to write a letter. Something like:
Dear Dad (or Mom or Father or you who adopted me but didn’t nurture me),
What can I say? There’s so much I wish we could have talked about before you died. I wish we could have had a heart-to-heart about that time in third grade when I came home crying because someone teased me at school and you said, “Oh, don’t be such a crybaby.” Or the time in sixth grade when a boy touched my newly developing breasts. I was mortified and humiliated but knew you’d dismiss it as nothing, so I never even mentioned it. I’d sure like to tell you how it felt when you got so drunk at my wedding.
And then there’s what happened in my bedroom at night and how that darkened my heart. I can’t think of those things without hating you. There, I’ve said it. I hated you. I probably still hate you.
How can you just leave me like this? Didn’t you care about me at all? Why raise me if you didn’t love me? There’s so much I don’t understand. Maybe I never will. I’ve got to get past all this pain. Your cruelty does not mean I deserved it.
Your daughter, “Annie”
(And, if you are a Christian) Lord, here’s my torn, messy, sinful heart. I know you love me, even if my parents didn’t. Maybe they thought they were doing the best they could. Maybe they were. Only you know. Please show me what you see here. I need wisdom and grace to grieve. Please. Amen.
Father, may all who grieve be comforted. May those who grieve without you find you in the midst of their pain. And may those who grieve with you feel your arms surrounding them. For your glory and your coming kingdom. Amen.