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Dear Annie: I’m mourning the father I never really knew

A man with his back to the camera stand, pensive, beside the sea

Dear Annie: My father left my mum when my brother and I were small. He remarried twice and drifted away. It wasn’t until a few years ago (I’m in my 40s), that we began to meet up.

There were many people at his funeral that knew him better than I did, although I was his son. To friends, I seem okay – the man was a stranger most of my life. Yet I’m unsettled by how I’ve been affected by his death. Grief seems too big a word to claim. How do I explain it? – LG

Annie says: What a strange experience that must have been for you – going to your father’s funeral and feeling like a stranger. And harder still, now that you’re feeling so affected by his death, but have to ‘be okay’ for your friends’ sake. What I’m curious about is, for whom is ‘grief’ too big a word to claim as yours? What I suspect is that perhaps you fear being judged by others as taking on what you worry is not yours. And yet it seems from your letter that you are, in some way or another, quite understandably experiencing grief.

It sounds to me as though you are in fact experiencing two kinds of grief – grief for the relationship you never had with your father, and grief for the relationship you finally established before he died.

So it is no wonder that you are feeling impacted by his death. It must have been terribly sad to lose him after such a short time of reconnecting. I imagine there may have been all sorts of ideas about the potential future of your relationship, and then it was suddenly taken away from you.

I urge you to give yourself as much time and space as you need for these feelings of loss, and to explore them as much as possible. You shouldn’t need to explain it to others, but if you do, simply tell them what I’ve said above, and ask that they also acknowledge your right to grieve. It is really important that you do this.

If you have a question for Annie to answer in this column, you can write to her at

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling self-help book We Need to Talk About Grief, inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

Regretfully, Annie cannot enter into personal correspondence

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