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Young adult just now grieving the loss of my father from cancer at 4 years old


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My father died when I was 4 years old from cancer. When I hit around 20 years old the reality of his death, my loss, its permanency, and all of my grief hit hard. Has delayed grief like this been an experience for any of you? I was always told he loved me so much and fought his illness every day to stay here for my mom, my sister who was only 2 years old, and I. But death still took him too young at 31 years old.

I have done a lot of research over the past three years (I'm 23 now) on young childhood bereavement and have not been able to find much information or studies on children who lost their parents before 5 years old. I'd just love to hear how this has effected other people with a similar situation. I feel so alone because I'm 23 grieving a death that happened 19 years ago but feels like it just happened. It's hard for friends and family to understand me because I've been "fine" for my whole life and they're confused why it's just now hitting me. And like I said, there's very little research to give them answers.

It's such an interesting experience because I was too young to remember having a relationship with him. It feels like my father-daughter relationship ended before it ever began. It wasn't until last week that I watched old videos of me and him for the first time. I had never seen us interact together and heard his voice. One particularly sad realization is he was everything I hoped to have in a dad. He was always holding me in his arms and telling me how much he loved me. It was almost easier never watching videos and blocking out the possibility of how great he was/would have been during my childhood. I sometimes hate that I was actually loved and cared for so much by a father figure. It reminds me that if he just didn't get sick, my life would have been me as the girl with two parents, my dad cheering me on in the stands at high school track meets, him watching me graduate college, us sharing all of our similar interests together (I'm told by family I'm just like him), and of course him walking me down the isle at my wedding. What I envy so much about what other girls have with their dad, I ONCE DID. So hard to believe and accept that was taken from me so early on. It makes the yearning for that now so much greater.

I experience so many emotions trying to wrap my head around this reality and the why factor. I'll never have an answer to why it had to be this way. The best way I can describe it in one word is a loss. A great, terrible loss. An unfortunate circumstance out of my control. In many ways I feel robbed of a childhood. Robbed of even having memories to carry on their legacy/memory because I was too young to understand and appreciate those final days, months, years. How young I was just seems so unfair. Too young to get the support a child needs to then go support and love other people in their future relationships with friends and a spouse. Forming relationships at this time in my life has been really hard for me because I've learned to associate love with loss. The closer I am with someone, the more I have to lose. And while that's a true statement in general, I feel like those my age don't think that way and love seems easily worth the risk. This is one of many ways I don't always feel normal for my age. 

Lastly, I used to think being young when he died was for the best, that I was lucky to not be an older child that really "knew" what they lost. But I have found my lost to be just as great. I had near zero time with him. So few memories. Mainly just photos and now videos. He hasn't been at any of my milestones. Never watched me grow up into an adult. I just want more time with my dad. It will always be hard to accept my reality. Anyone else have a loss this young and/or similar to my experience? I'd love to hear other's thoughts on this.

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Dear Alyssa,

I'm so sorry for your pain and sorrow. My experience is different but I hope others will come forward to share their experiences. I hope these resources will be helpful too.

What's Your Grief

Grief Healing Blog

Grief in Common

Grief Share

Grief Recovery Method

Tiny Buddha

Thinking of you.

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I'm so very sorry for loss and the pain and sorrow you are felling now after all these years. Loosing a parent is very hard in anyone's life. Loosing a parent when they are so young and you are just a child is just so no fair and unimaginable.

i was older then you when my dad passed I was 15, and my dad was 50. I lived through him not being there for many milestones like you....proms, graduations, wedding and him walking me down the isle, birth of his grandchild, births of his great grandchildren. Watching me grow and seeing his grandson grow and all his great grandchildren too, plus their milestones. My dad has been gone for 47 years now, but since my mom recently passed I feel the loss of him even more.  Yes  I do have memories of him, but not as much as I'd like. I do not have lots of pictures as he must have been the one taking the pictures. I only have a few of me and him together. I have no videos, but I do have his voice on a cassette from a few years before he passed. I was envious of my friends that still had their dad's. It was hard building relationships too. For me I think I married so young for fear of being alone if my mom passed. I lived my life thinking of my dad and hoping he was looking down and that I was making him proud. In some ways it gave me the push and incentive to try harder. 

Have you tried counseling? I don't know but it might help. Why your feeling it so much now I'm thinking is because of you looking at pics, videos, seeing friends having their dad's still in their life, you going through milestones without him. Some day you will be glad you have these memories of pics and videos. I'm sure that you are not alone!!!!!!!!  Remember that just because someone has their dad doesn't mean that they have a close and loving relationship. You had a loving relationship with your dad in the short 4 years of your life that some kids never have. Treasure that!!

hope there is someone here that has been through what your going through right now.

Good Luck! 

Hugs! ❤️❤️

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Hi Alyysa

I seem to have found myself in a very similar situation to you. I am now 20 but I lost my dad very suddenly when I was 7 in a fatal motorbike accident. There’s not a lot I can remember about him unfortunately or about how I felt about my loss at the time but I remember being terribly upset at the funeral but then at such a tender age, I suppose I just got back on with my life as there is no handbook for how to grieve at that age. So, with little closure, I feel like this is where I may have seemed to have lost my treasured memories of my time with him as I wasn’t aware I needed to hold on to them so tightly.

I feel like I have only just started to properly grieve my loss. This is partly due to the amount of time I have had to myself this year to really think about things and how my loss may have subconsciously effected how I am now. But also funnily enough, when you talk about finding it hard to form relationships, the breakdown of and heartbreak I experienced from my first relationship at the age of 19 triggered me to think a lot about the loss of my dad. It’s also sadly made me start to question is it something about how I haven’t had a father figure, that I’m now not as easy to be in a relationship with. And since, I have found it awfully hard to put my trust in someone else due to the fear of any more loss.

The main thing that hurts me though too is the fact that he should’ve been here and deserved to be here to see the children he put so much effort into creating a life for, grow up and succeed in their own ways throughout life. I have siblings who were 5 and 9 at the time so also have been through this horrible experience with me but for some reason I feel like it’s really got to me most out of us all this year and maybe this is due to the struggles I’ve had with the relationships I’ve had with other people and with myself. I also think as we’ve all been so strong throughout growing up and still are so strong in many ways, I don’t feel like I want to resurface the grief with them as they may not want to like I do. So I am happy I have been able to read what you have had to say and at least found some sort of  ‘normalness’ to how I have been feeling.

I began at the start of this year, as a coping mechanism, to use ‘self-therapy’ I guess you could call it in which I have been writing down bit by bit and day by day how I feel I may be still affected by my loss and the absence of that treasured father-daughter relationship. I do recommend this to anyone in a similar situation and I am happy to share this file with you if you think it may be of use.


I have also started to listen to the podcast “Griefcast” on Spotify which is a discussion had with comedians who have experienced grief at a time in their lives and how they have dealt with/feel about it. I find it very helpful to listen to other people’s experiences to know I’m not alone with how I am thinking.


I hope this helps and hasn’t been any sort of trigger to you. Let me know if you want to talk about it more! 


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