HNW:  The father’s death really disrupts the situation because, whether it is a girl or a boy, most children are not taught how to grieve.  In fact, they are called the forgotten grievers … because the mother gets all the attention. 

The younger you are, the less ability you have to grieve. You don’t have the capability intellectually to process everything, so you grieve again the death of your father in different developmental stages. Every time there is something significant, [she] thinks, Gee, I wish Dad was here.  So, one of the things that we try to do is to teach parents how to help their children go through that grieving process.   

The ambiguous loss is a difficult one no matter who it is because there are two different types. One is where dad is gone from the home physically.  He is out there somewhere. [But] they don’t know where dad is. One of the students in my graduate class was telling me that her father left, I think … she was probably about 12 or 14 at that time.  He left and became a homeless person.  Even today, she will drive into the worst sections of the city every now and then just looking for a glimpse of her father. They could be off to war.  They could be missing in action, but they are still alive within you emotionally and psychologically, and you still can’t really grieve over that loss.   

Another ambiguous loss is when a father is still in the house, but he is gone emotionally and physically.  He could have had an injury, and it’s just his body that is there, or he could be into drug use or alcohol use. We have a lot of “father bodies” in the home, but there is no emotional connection. He brings home the paycheck. He doesn’t connect, and it’s like, yeah, he’s there, but he’s not.   

Not all fathers [disconnect]. I remember my daughter’s best friend got married. She is a daughter of divorce. So, you know how when they play the wedding march, everybody turns around and looks?  Well everybody glances [at each other, thinking] what?  Lauren was coming down the aisle with her natural father on one arm and her stepfather on the other.  She had a good relationship with both, and they had a good relationship together. I thought that was really neat for something like that to occur.   

CW:  It sounds like there is a lot of healing there.  So how do women who suffer a father loss heal? 

HNW:  Well, one of the things you have to do is identify the losses. The book is full of suggestions -- what to do and how to make the list. You look at each loss, and when you put it down on paper in black and white, [you think], “Oh my gosh!  Good grief!  No wonder that’s going on!” So, then you take each loss, and … grieve over it, and you talk about how it impacted you. This is what you wish could have occurred, but it didn’t occur.  Then you learn to say goodbye to that part of your life.   

The other thing you have to deal with is the anger you feel toward what your father did, because sometimes people say, “Well, you just have to forgive them.” There can be no forgiveness unless you have dealt with your anger.  So, I encourage women to write basically un-mailed angry letters and then sit in a room and read it out loud with all the feeling. When you write the letter, you don’t edit it. We carry things in our minds and those images, those thoughts, just run around in a circular tape, and the only way to get rid of them is writing them out longhand. 

Once the anger is gone, then you need to deal with the forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the same as restoration or reconciliation because there are going to be some situations where the woman might not want any contact with her father because what he did was so bad.  One of the things that we have people do is have them write out, “I forgive you for such and such, but…” There might be 20 [objections], but once you get to the place where there are no more objections, you have moved into the process of healing.