Matthew Parris

I don’t want to ‘get over’ my father’s death

It has taken me five years to realise the gap left by my father’s death will never be filled

12 August 2009

It is five years since my father died. I thought I would get over it, but I haven’t. This is not a plea for sympathy — I’m fine, all’s well — but simply an observation, a report. Unusually for a man of 54 I had never, before Dad’s death, lost anyone close; and I had no idea what to expect.

I guessed, though, that the experience would not differ from other violent emotional traumas: first the shock, then a blank aftershock; then busy-ness — displacement activity; then perhaps a relapsing into grief. And after that and over many years a slow but steady process of what sensitive people might call ‘healing’ and the rest of us would call getting over it.

The shock, it turned out, though expected, was the phone-call. At the bedside of a dying man I expected no theatre, and found none. Just as I’d supposed the immediate feeling was only bleak, banal — no trumpets or violins, no wailing or floods of tears, but a kind of bleakness, a grey hour in a grey dawn. And so it proved: the rain coming down softly (I remember) outside in Catalonia. Blank.

Then (I thought) might follow a few weeks’ false-normality: still numb, but with arrangements of a practical nature to busy myself with. One would have too much to do to mope.

And so this proved, too: there’s plenty to fill close relatives’ days when somebody dies, and hardly time to miss the deceased. And it rained at the funeral too, and there were hundreds of Catalan and Spanish mourners to air-kiss at the door of the little church before Dad’s coffin was borne away in the hearse: red tail-lights in the rain. And I still wasn’t feeling much.


But waiting, I suppose, for the lapse into grief: a month or two of wallowing.

This never came. I went back to England and back to work. Ordinary service was resumed. There was no time of quiet, after-the-event confrontation with what I had lost, no delayed grief once I had, as they say, ‘time to grieve’. There we are, then, I thought. One down — and how many more to go? The waters had closed over my father’s head and the ripples subsided. I missed him, of course, but from now on, with each month that passed, I would surely miss him a little less. Time heals all wounds, etc. So now, I thought, begins that famous healing process.

I thought wrong. At least a year after Dad had gone, I started waking up in the night, missing him. Silly, because it’s not as though we were together much after I’d left home, and anyway Dad found all of us — all mankind — intermittently irritating. But I’d lie there and think of the things I might have organised for him; the ways in which his last years might have been made more comfortable. Should he have moved to the seaside, which he loved? Should I have taken him to the opera again? Should I have tried harder to persuade him to accompany me on one of Concorde’s last flights?

It took me perhaps a couple of years to begin fully to understand, with an intensity that grew, that the world had changed when he died; that there was still a big gap where he had been; and that it was not closing over.

And now, five years later, I see clearly that it never will. Now never a week passes — hardly a day — when I do not remember him: see a shoreline and think how he would have liked to walk there; hear some Brahms and remember that he liked Brahms; spot an ocean liner and recall how he would have wanted to take a pointless photograph of it; read an item of news about technological innovation or some new advance in engineering, and think how interested he would be to know of it. Not only in the night, now, but during the day, even at busy times, and at happy times, he enters my imagination, a welcome guest.

Quite simply, he has left a space that will never be filled; therefore he is, paradoxically, still here because the space is still here, and I can feel it all the time. The gap Dad left is not a vacuum, a void, a soft area of low pressure to be filled. The gap is hard-edged, chiselled by him into my life, measured by his worth, and ineradicable.

With this realisation has come another: that this sorrow is not itself a cause for sorrow. Regret is not a cause for regret. We ought to be sorry. We ought to regret. Death is not a ‘wound’ to be ‘healed’ or a ‘scar’ to ‘fade’. Once someone has been in the world, they have always been in the world; and once they have gone their absence will be in the world forever, part of the world; in Dad’s case part of mine. This is a good thing.

How foolish, then, is all this talk of ‘getting over’ death. How empty, how wrong-headed the exhortations we make to those who love us that they should try not to miss us when we’re gone. Why not? You do miss someone you love, don’t you, when they’re gone? How self-negating is the wish that others should not feel sad when they remember us. Of course they should feel sad! They can’t talk to us any more.

It is right that we make an imprint on the minds and lives of others, right that we should be needed while still alive; and therefore right that the imprint remains and the loss hurts, and continues hurting.

So I’ve decided that I don’t want to ‘come to terms’ with Dad’s death. It’s bloody awful that he isn’t here. It still cuts me up, and this is a fact of love. I’m perfectly capable of keeping things in proportion, as Dad always did, but I don’t want to ‘get things into perspective’, if by that one means wanting them to grow smaller. It’s a fact; his life is a fact; the gap now is a fact; it’s not getting any smaller; I’m sad, but I’m happy that I’m sad.

Matthew Parris is a columnist on the Times.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Marcus Cotswell


    You may not want to come to terms with your father’s passing; this article is eloquent testimony that you have done so. In your own way, to be sure – but then how else could you?

    Best wishes

  • Adrian Sell

    Quite simply one of the most humane, brilliant writers of our times. Thank you Matthew for putting in words what I could not.

  • Alice Tromm


    You write exactly my feelings. My dad also passed away 5 years ago and the missing doesn’t decreases, it increases. I didn’t cry at his death but now I remember more and more quotes he used and use them myself with my mom and sister.

    I also regret that I cannot ask him questions any more about his past, the war, his life.
    We hear them but we never write them down, don’t we!

    Thank you for this article, as I thought, I was the odd one out.

  • jill

    Matthew – heartfelt thanks for writing this and sharing with others. Love is love and is remembered for all time. The not being there, able to lift the phone and have instant rapport is what one misses most, such a shame there isn’t a hot line to heaven. Grief sometimes takes years to surface and sweeps upon us like lightening out of a clear blue sky. Loved shared should be passed to others because as we know love is truly the strongest force of all. I had this precious gift with my darling Mother. Keep writing from the heart.

  • Linda Botha

    Matthew thank you for expressing my sadness so eloquently. My father died in Dec ’08 after a long fight with the dreaded Alzheimers. When he was fighting his demons and at his worst, I wished he’d pass on and leave us all in peace. He has, but he’s not left us in peace. He’s left a huge gap in my life which too, will never be filled. I miss his smile the most…

  • lauriemacdonell-sanchez

    Utterly beautiful yet heart-piercing conveyance of the nearly inexpressible: I felt as if I were receiving a revelation from a writing of Thomas Mann, only warmer. A very wise friend told me when my father died that I would miss him more, not less, as time goes by. And so it is.

  • Eugenia Sonnenberg

    “a big gap where he had been” this is what is all about. I have this with a very dear friend who died 2 years ago.Many shared memories (Brahms!)or regrets: he never saw my potager, just photos of it. As usual M Parris knows how to write about feelings and people. Thank you!

  • MJU

    Dear Matthew,
    I have been very moved reading your article. My father died 32 years ago; he never came where I live – the Antipodes.Still I miss him in my life, not in this particular place where I am.
    I believe that the permanent grief of the death of a parent is due to the cutting away of our roots.
    The tree can continue growing if we realize that we can talk with them, share with them our experiences, that we know that the root is somewhere.
    I believe that my roots are in Heaven and ask them to help me live according to the way they wanted me to be.

  • paulgilboy

    You probably won’t realise it but gestures you have, mannerisms you display will be exactly the same as your fathers.
    Some times you’ll catch yourself in the mirror and you will see him.
    Whilst you breath your father has not gone, you are a reflection of who he was.

  • Victoria

    A friend sent this article to me and I’d like to thank you for writing it. I lost my husband nine months ago. I went back to work, life carried on, but underneath it all, I just could not believe he was gone. I started having nightmares about him and the nightmares turned into insomnia. Thanks to a very supportive doctor and counsellor, I’m now beginning to come to terms with life without him. But there will always be a huge hole where he was. Thank you so much for writing about grief in such an eloquent way, and reminding us that, of course, we will always miss those we love when they are gone. It is the price we pay for that love.

  • rkraghavan

    Avery moving article. It reminded me of my own father whom I lost three decades ago on my lap when I was rushing him to the hospital. He was more a friend than a father. I miss him to this day. The vacuum can never be filled. I can very well understand Mathew’s feelings.

  • Joanna

    I lost my mother to terminal cancer 6 and a half years ago. By all accounts, I should have ‘come to terms’ with my loss, had ‘closure’, etc, about 5 years ago, but this never happened. Although life gradually picked up its pace again, love and laughter intervened, as well as other problems and losses, there are still times when I lie awake at night, desolate at the thought that she has gone and I won’t be seeing her any time soon. More often, it’s the almost daily realisation that I can’t now address that comment or ask that question that I normally would have done. So the gap continues. One counsellor I had, suggested that this betrayed some sort of ‘weakness’ in my character. I refused to accept this, and still do. Everyone is different, and if this is how we honour and experience someone’s memory, there is nothing abnormal about it. It is more unnatural to pretend that that gap created by the disappearance of someone whom we loved dearly and once played a major role in our lives, has been superseded by more present concerns. What a wonderful insight this article reveals.

  • lizzie

    Matthew. I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for writing this.

  • David – Portland Oregon, USA

    Thank you for a wonderful article.
    My father passed way just under two years ago and as time passes I believe that I think of him more and more often and he frequently appears in my dreams. I find it very comforting because although his physical presence has gone away he is still with me each and every day.
    Of course, I am intensely sad that I can no longer visit him but am happy that he stays with me in a metaphysical sense.

  • Andrew Dawson

    I had not seen my father for five years when he died. We were not estranged but had simply taken refuge in being busy. I was half a world away and in plaster, unable to travel until three months after the funeral. Your piece put his death, the gaps, and the hollowness into proportion, something I had been unable to do since that Christmas Eve 16 years ago. And I will enjoy more the frequent times I see those things that would variously delight or frustrate him.
    Thank you.

  • Shirley

    Dear Matthew, I brought a few recent copies of the Spectator with me to France. This morning I grabbed one and popped it in my handbag. When I was sitting having my coffee at one of my favourite cafes at the Marchè Forville in Cannes I pulled out my Spectator of 15th August and read your article. My father died three years ago and today would have been his 90th Birthday. I cried as I was so moved and cant thank you enough for expressing many of the feelings and thoughts which I experience regularly but particularly on a special day like today. My father and, no doubt, yours were part of a very special generation – as my daughter said, who was very close to him, his generation was the last not to be spoilt.

  • Ali Plowright

    Hi Matthew

    What a beautifully written heartfelt message. I was looking on google to make sure I spelled your name correctly as I was wanting to contact you and found your article.
    I lost my mother 33 years ago she died when I was 21 and like you I still think of her almost every day and talk to her and my kids have a relationship wth a woman they have never known. Death brings such finality doesnt it, such absolute change and we cant control it, any of it’s happenings or arrangements. We are players on the stage of life and death happens all around us.
    For me, since that time, the lesson is to have that conversation, share the moment, say ‘i love you’, and live the life that I want with those that I care about, we pass this way but once….
    Thank you for sharing such beautiful thoughts.
    Ali, Youlgrave

  • Mark.

    My father died 5 months ago. He was 95. I’m 57. I miss him hugely. He was my best mate. Thank you Matthew for your beautiful piece. I will re-read it often. You have put into words the way I am feeling but, lacking the necessary skills,I cannot articulate. With all best wishes.

  • Sam Proctor

    I lost my father eight days ago. He died suddenly while I was far away.

    The world suddenly has a different tint when you lose a father, and the perspective changes accordingly. Mountain ranges which one impressed you are reduced to molehills, pinpricks, inconsequential lumps of sand. The sea is drained of colour. A fatherless landscape is barren, and the vegetation will never again have its primal tinct of green. No book, trip, piece of music or artwork will ever fully compensate for such a loss.

    I would have given my house, my savings and my income just to talk to him for five minutes this morning.

    A wonderful article.

  • Mike Tucker

    Hello Matthew and everyone else. That was a special moment for me to read and understand your pain and expression. We will all become more able to bear the pain of missing someone we love thanks to your sincerity.

  • Gurumurthy

    I am 76 and my father died when I was 11. I did not know him too well but not a day goes by without thinking and missinf him.
    Our parents are our first link with the Eternal

  • Eva

    Beautifully written. You capture the feelings of loss and grief in a way that I feel is true. I never thought I would miss my mother so much after she died, as we didn’t spend so much time together when she lived. But that is how it is now.

  • Robert Jules Vincent


    We’re born, we live, we die; one can’t deny
    that simple fact. But heed, lest you abjure
    beliefs of others who beyond that state will find
    much reassurance in some contradicting kind
    of thought, vouchsafing one’s eternity of soul
    beyond the grave, ne’er questioning that goal
    which worship and devotion shall ensure.
    Aye, best to keep one’s counsel lest offend
    the proselytising faithful, soft of breath,
    who offer comfort for that darkening light.
    Not gently raging ‘gainst the long good night
    made substitute with ‘passed away’, not dead,
    or ‘slipped into the next room’, as oft said,
    which to those of less certitude is death.
    So call me by my old familiar name if need,
    and envy those who have the strength to get
    through sorrow and the weeping of the day,
    as year on year all suffer that decay
    eroding mortal coil, both saint or slut,
    till safe in Heaven’s clasp forever but
    though keen to meet their maker, please – not yet. RJV

  • Steve

    Thank you Matthew.

    A beautiful and poignant essay.

  • Ann

    Matthew – what a beautiful tribute to your Dad. It really embraces how people feel when they lose someone close and cannot articulate their grief. I have printed off your tribute and will take time to re-read the heart felt words. Thanks. Ann

  • John Whitbread

    To pour out ones heart, even to to a very close friend, can prove to be almost impossible for many people. To do so and have those profoundly honest emotions opened to the world takes courage, even if you do not believe so yet. In doing so you have revealed something that we so often forget to believe in. We are actually part of an immense family and in writing of your loss we have all been exposed once again to the certainty of this truth. Our hearts do not just ache for our own pain and loss. We all have within us the same fibre and substance that is the real defining character of humanity. I lost my father in 1983 and the memory of all he said and did still gives me joy and tears and strength. His loss for me signalled a profound change that years later lead me to wonderful discovery.
    Thank you for your honest words. The truth and the innate hunger we have to find it is I found the key that unlocks all the doors in the end.

  • dominic

    Matthew, as one who lost his father at a great age some 17 years ago I identify in every way with your missing your father ,and the recognition of the space that such loss creates in our hearts. Even now ,so frequently I too will see something of interest to him and mentally note that I must mention it to him . I was amused at your comment re ocean liners,my father went to war in 1941 on the Queen Elizabeth and though a farmer was, like your father ,fascinated by ships and the sea.His voyage to war in so grand a liner was one of the highlights of his life
    Condolences on your loss

  • Richard

    I Lost my mum to CJD 2 years ago, I was 30. The trouble is life was shredded earlier when I was 25 when mum was diagnosed with cancer. I became the man and my father became the helpless. I understand….

  • frederick johnson

    Look in the mirror in the morning, first thing, he’ll be there looking back at you, you don’t really lose people.

  • Jean

    I just came across this article and cried my heart out.

  • Margaret Symonds

    I know exactly how Matthew Parris feels – my father died nearly 6 years ago, and I was over 60, but I still feel how much I want to be able to tell him things and share things with him. It’s particularly poignant because he worked most of his life for Barclays Bank and would have been appalled by the state the banks have got us into, but would have somehow relished it too! I suppose what I find most comforting is that I will always have the memory of what I had with him and our life together, and he is probably the one who made me who I am.

  • John Tindall

    As a Christian pastor of 43 years experience I’ve got to say that this piece is one of the sanest, most mature treatments of grief that I’ve come across. It’s also written in the finest Parris prose. What a gift this man is to his generation.

  • Elaine Walls

    What a beautifully written piece, capturing what occurs when your well loved father dies. The relationship doesn’t end, it changes. Still as active, still as significant. Instead of the frustration of disagreement, we get the sadness of loss. But I found that Dad’s death helped release memories I had never taken time to embrace. Now I have that opportunity whenever I am reminded, as Matthew is, of things Dad did or loved. That’s my silver lining and I don’t ever want to ‘get over it’.

  • Lesley Cookman

    Matthew Parris on grief. A revelation. Thanks to @caroleagent.

  • Dot Bowe

    You have expressed how I feel so well. Thank you.It has been 25 yrs since my mother died and there is still the gap.

  • Nicky Hedley

    This week it has been 23 years since my Dad died at the age of 58 and I still miss him as much as ever. I’m a 56 year old woman and like Matthew thought time would heal, it hasn’t and it never will. He has put in to words exactly how I feel, thank you.

  • Anon

    I’ve only just come across this articel. Thank you Matthew for articulating what we probably all feel but cannot express!

  • Nick

    My father actually died today and I happened to stumble on this just before I left the city, thank you.

  • Charlotte W

    At last! Someone talking sense on this subject. Thank you Matthew.

  • Pamela

    Not only is this article welcome for all of us who continue to grieve, but also are the comments in response. I won’t feel quite so alone in my grief over my father and I will bear the ‘moving on’ cliches a little better now, knowing I am in good company.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for your honesty and clarity.

  • AML

    Thank you so much for expressing this! I read it thinking of the pain of a terrible loss I still feel after divorce several years ago and death of my mother in 2011. I can rationalise my feelings, intellectualise the loss, understand why it had to happen but none of that has diminished the lingering emotional impact you describe. Calls to ‘move on’ made me feel a failure for knowing that, in some measure, loss has affected me in a way that means it will stay with me forever. This is the first external opinion that has helped to validate my response.

  • Wyn Ellis

    I searched for your article after hearing your wise words on ‘Today’ this morning. Thank you for your ever so helpful words and, almost equally, for the 42 contributors who were moved to comment. Shall treasure ‘It is the price we pay for that love’.

  • john LoThorpe

    Sir, this article and your reference to it on bbc radio 4 this morning 6/10/12 was actually reassuring. despite losing my father 10 years ago, I still think of him daily and occasionally weep. I thought there was something wrong with me – there isn’t

    john Pendreich

  • Jonester

    One of the worst poems I’ve ever seen. Aiming for profundity but falls a million miles short. Written by an A level student?

  • @mtmcneill

    Thank you Matthew. I lost my wonderful Father at 08.30 on the 10th August 2006. I have no regrets about the manner of his death. I was with him when he received the mutually devastating news that he was dying. I was with him when he expressed a desire to die at home. I was with him as He declined. I was with Him as He raged against the dying of the light. I was with Him as He quietly left me. I chose His final suit and tie, dressed Him and helped place Him in His coffin. Despite this I still see the world through His eyes. I hear His voice as clearly as if it was yesterday and I never want to lose that.
    Your piece spoke to me and made me sad, but I am happy that I am sad.

  • james higham

    Well done, have to agree with John Tindall on this.

  • Sue

    How very moving … and how much I can relate to all the above. I am only 7 months into all this and I had hoped it would get better.

  • Susan

    It’s 10 years since my father died and 8 years since my mother died and the guilt and the grief are still there – a void that I wonder if I will ever get over but the piece of writing is so good and appreciated. Thank you

  • The Elderking

    Beautiful piece.

    We go through life barely noticing the aging of our family let alone ourselves. Then one day this happens. We lose uncles and aunts, grandparents and we are sad to say the least.

    But when a parent goes it is fundamental. I lost my father 3 years ago and, like Matthew, was broken up but activity (and family nonsense) stole that space and time to grieve..

    Then, last Easter I lost my mother.

    That second loss evoked again the loss of my father. At 57 I was a orphan. Now they were both gone – in losing my mother it was if I had lost my father again.

    Suddenly all those gone before are felt more keenly, missed. Not just them but what they represented – their generation, culture, memories, experiences.

  • kevinlaw1222

    Mathew Parris’s words express just how i feel about losing my Mum – thank you. It’s nice to know that you are not the only one who has these thoughts.

  • Lorraine

    I lost my Mother 16 months ago. I have a loving husband and children and fantastic friends. However, nothing fills that ever present gut-wrenching emptiness. That feeling of being cherished has disappeared forever.

  • Paul

    i lost my father this week and I find this article rather depressing – mainly because I suspect it will be entirely true for me too. I’d rather lose this pain which is basically crippling.

    • harri

      My heartfelt sympathies sir, that pain is overwhelming sometimes.

  • Harri

    Why is it that you have to register to downgrade a nasty comment but can upgrade? I lost my mother 3 months ago.

    “The gap Mum left is not a vacuum, a void, a soft area of low pressure to be filled. The gap is hard-edged, chiselled by her into my life, measured by her worth, and ineradicable”
    Beautiful prose (adapted!) – and now at least I know how to articulate what I feel and to whom I should acknowledge created that prose.

  • kenza

    I believe that it’s okay to feel a gap, losing a parent is not something easy. I also lost my father 16 years ago, i was only two ! Yet it still hurts : i miss him all the time, there isn’t a day that passes when i do not picture seeing him, talking to him … But you know what pains me the most ? The fact that i don’t even remember him, all i have left are stories that i have been told, and some old pictures of him. So my advice to you would be : cherish every moment you had the chance to spend with him :)

  • Sandrine

    Thank you Matthew. Tonight, I checked on google how to call my dead father..It must sounds stupid and yet I was really fortunate to get your article and read your thoughts. You wrote this article in 2009, strange, this is 2013 and this is the first time i came across it.. I lost my father 5 years ago and you were able to express in few many words what hasn’t been clear for me and yet so difficult to deal with. the feeling of love for my parents is as pure as for my beautiful children; what ever happens, what ever is been said, forgiveness is for ever present in my life because I just love them as they come…I will miss my father for ever, I will cry for his absence forever and as long as I will live. My father was a wonderful French man, it just shows once again that where ever we come from, these feelings are shared all over the world!

  • Fergus Pickering

    My mother diedwhen I was thirteen. I am now sixty-eight. I’ve had a good and mostly happy life. I have two daughters and I loved my stepmother but did I get over it. No.Never

  • Tara Lawrence

    I just lost my beautiful Dad two months ago. He was only 66 and I’m 43. I am a nurse and have been exposed to death for years. Since I got, “the call,” I have not been the same. I grieve the loss of him so deeply it is like a cold steel plate cutting through my heart. I am at the cemetery constantly and I have literally changed the flowers to bushes, to greenery, and back to flowers probably 5 times. This is a strange comfort to me. I feel like I am DOING SOMETHING FOR HIM STILL. I speak aloud to him when I am there and I usually don’t cry when I am there. I feel like I am with him. That being said, I have incredible crying bouts at home and my heart and soul ache for him.
    I have read the books and have learned plenty about death throughout my career. YOUR ARTICLE WAS THE FIRST AND ONLY THING TO PROVIDE ME WITH SOME COMFORT!!
    I love how you expressed that as the person was here on earth and created a space that their space is still here.
    Your words made me feel closer to him and helped immensely.
    I just wanted to say’ “Thank you.”
    Tara Lawrence
    Rhode Island

  • geanine harding

    Matthew thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I am 52 years old and I lost my Mom when I was 18 and never got over it. My best friend was killed when I was 19. My Dad was killed when I was 25 and I never got over it. When I was 45 my brother got killed and of course I never got over it. So for me I have been trying with the help of a therapist to get the anger out of my soul. I read posts on line all of the time for ideas. Your writing was the first time I read someone express that you did not want to get over it. Reading that made such a difference in my mind. I can not explain it but having everyone say just to get over it only gets me more mad. Having you understand makes me want to get over the anger and release the pain. I got married without my family, had kids without my family around. Everything made me miss them more. I feel so amazing now knowing that it was normal in a sense for me to not want to get over it. I want to release the pain and anger now. Thank you so very much.

  • Leanne

    Thank you Matthew for your article,

    I am looking for answers and hope someone may have some
    help. I have lost loved ones in my life since I was 16 years old, this has
    become a tragic pattern that happens EVERY 5 years almost to the same date or
    month, the last loved one to pass was less than a week ago, for 30 years I have
    lost loved ones and it scares me out of my mind for this to continue.

    I am now 47 and I do not have very many loved ones left and
    I am not sure how I should be reacting to this strange anomaly, I almost feel
    as though I have been cursed, though I don’t believe in that sort of thing!

    Can anyone come up with an answer as to why this would
    happen to me EVERY FIVE YEARS? I am not looking for sympathy or anything I am
    just trying to get some understanding; I believe this pattern has never
    happened to anyone else ever?

  • Miriam Ferneyhough

    I lost my Dad nearly 2 years ago and i’ve only begin to realise the hole he left in my ife. I’ve been so hard work towards my friends and family for the past year and a half whilst trying to cope. Reading posts like these helps me come to terms but also realise that its ok to feel sad. It made it all okay to think ‘i dont want to come to terms and move on with the loss’

  • Wrionma Williams


Can't find your Web ID? Click here