“Ask a Priest: What If I Didn’t Feel Sorrow at My Dad’s Death?”

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Q: I’m a Catholic living in accord with Church teachings. My 92-year-old father died last Christmas. I did not feel the normal sense of sorrow or loss upon hearing of his passing. There are still no tears. Till age 16, I experienced mostly verbal and physical abuse from him. It was around that time I began a program of physical fitness with the goal of joining the Armed Forces. That stopped the physical abuse, mostly because I became too strong for him. Subsequently, I entered the U.S. Army, met my wife while in service, and in my 31 years of service, I had little to no contact with my father. Routinely, I’d speak with him on the phone when I called my mother from various duty stations across the world. These conversations were amicable, centered on the politics of the day, or books. However, this did not bring us closer, and he never asked for my forgiveness. I think he lacked the capacity to seek forgiveness. Neither of my parents are Christian. In my three decades of military service, I saw my parents three or four times. Frankly, I never missed them then, any more than I do now. As a conscious act of volition, I have gone to God in prayer. I asked Jesus to remove the hurt and pain in my life caused by my father. My mother is still alive but feeble. She knows how I feel about my father. She stood by him for all her life, and I see her mostly as an enabler. I guess what I’m asking is, what ought to be my spiritual or emotional response? I have grown sons of my own serving in the military. Neither of them have had any contact with their grandparents. I think I have forgiven both of my parents consciously. Still, there is no emotion about either of them. I don’t want to hate them. I see them as failed products of their culture. Any light you shed on my situation will be helpful. Thank you. – P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It sounds as though you have already done the right thing by making an act of the will to forgive your dad and mom. That is the key element of forgiveness.

If you didn’t feel sorrowful feelings at his death, then just accept that. We can’t always control our feelings (or lack of them). There is no need to fake feelings that simply aren’t there.

Perhaps what you could do is pray for the soul of your dad, and at least keep in contact with your mom. And pray for her, too.

Your mom might have had her own cross all these years, dealing with your dad. There is something to be said for spouses who stay faithful to each other through many years.

One other thing that might help is to realize that your dad might have wrestled with his own problems. Perhaps he had a tough childhood and an abusive relative in his life. His abuse toward you might have been part of the tragic way he learned to deal with things.

Moreover, he and your mom, not being Christians, never had the grace of baptism or the other sacraments to help them.

At any rate, anything you can do as a sign of respect for your parents will be a good example to your own sons.

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