Ask The Therapist: “I lost my dad before I was born…it has left this void which can never be filled…”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

I can’t believe I’m talking about this, but it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know. I lost my dad exactly 6 months before I was born. For the first couple of years, I never really knew what a father was. I had never faced financial issues or the usual issues one faces after their father passes away. But as time passed on, I got to know what a father was. I used to see fathers coming to pick up their children from school, and that’s when I asked my mum where my father is. She said he was traveling and that he’s gone to get toys for me and my siblings. Time passed by and I stopped buying this story. That’s when I started to get upset about not having a father.

My Baba’s death has left this void which can never be filled. I don’t talk about it much because I don’t want my mother to think she did something wrong or made me feel my dad’s absence. I don’t express it as I don’t want to let her down or make her feel weak. I have elder brothers as my father figures, but not having an actual father deeply affects me. I am always thinking about ‘what if’ he was here. What would he be doing? Would he take me out on drives? I have seen a lot of his pictures and I’ve heard a lot about him, but I still feel like I don’t know him. I also never really know what happened to him and how or why he died – no one ever told me. And then I feel like it’s weird to miss someone who I have never met. It has been so difficult living life with all these thoughts. Can you please offer me some advice?

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

My heart ached as I read your message. I heard the grief, confusion and sense of loss through your words. I know it has been difficult for you, it sounds like there is quite a lot of emotional conflict happening in terms of your grieving. Let’s talk it through, and see if we can help you make space for what’s going on.

It’s Okay To Feel What You’re Feeling

You mentioned that it’s weird to miss someone you never met, but I don’t think that’s weird at all. I think it sounds like you went through something that affected you a lot. This man, even if you never met him, was your father, a man who you had been curious about for many years when you were younger, and while you never got the chance to meet him, there was this longing to know him. As a child, one is usually given a father and a mother – that’s the general setup. You see it all around you – so of course, even though your father might not have been around physically, the idea of him still existed. 

Abstract Losses

That “what if” that exists in your mind is something known as an abstract loss – this focuses more on the idea, or an image of what could have been, or what life might have been if you did get the chance to know him. Perhaps you had a dream that you might actually be able to meet him one day, and the reality of it not happening might have left its impact on your grief. 

I’ve said this in previous articles, and I want to say it again to you, Anon – grief has no timeline. You can take as long as you need with it. Your message does mention that there are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to your father and what had happened to him – if and when you’re ready, perhaps you might be open to asking about it. Getting answers to the questions that you have been wondering about for so long might give you a sense of clarity, or even closure. 

Try To Be As Open And Accepting About Your Emotions As Possible

Anon, I hear you when you say that you’re grateful for your family, and I also hear you trying not to hurt your mother. It also does sound like you’re not allowing yourself to be open with your grief about your father and your Taya. Keeping things in can often affect our mental health. It could lead to feelings of anxiety, negative thoughts or just general feelings of overwhelm. I would really encourage you to talk about what you’re going through. 

You’ve experienced a great deal of loss, and that deserves to be heard. If you’re not ready to talk to your mother about it, perhaps there is another family member or a close friend that you might be able to confide in? Another option that I would suggest is to see a counsellor, one that works with grief and bereavement. The idea is to give yourself a safe space where you are able to talk about or express what you’re experiencing. Another way of creating a space for your feelings and emotions is to journal, or if you prefer, draw or paint. The idea with both cases is to be as authentic and open as you can when expressing yourself. Be as honest as you can allow yourself to be. 

Grief is a journey. If there is one question that I cannot answer, it is the matter of how long it will take. It all depends on you, and how you process your emotions during this period. There is no right or wrong here – you can feel what you need to feel for however long you need to feel it. I really hope you find the clarity and ease that you’re looking for, Anon. Stay true to your feelings and yourself. All the best, take care!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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