What I Learned From Losing My Father at a Young Age

We interviewed grief researcher Anna Baglione PhD about how losing her father as a young child helped form her personality and her life choices. She helps us to understand what a child goes through when they lose a parent and gives advice on how we can help a child who loses their mother or father. 

Grief can serve a higher purpose - quote

1.  What age were you when your father died?

I was nearly a teenager when my dad died. I guess you could say he avoided all the teenage drama that comes with having a young daughter, though I’m sure he would have been up to the task.


2. How do you remember it affecting you at the time? 

It was . . . depressing. I went from having a relatively normal life to having to wear an ugly funeral dress and awkwardly comfort people who were trying to comfort me. I became a very angry kid. I distinctly remember getting pulled out of basketball practice once a week so we could attend family grief therapy. I hated it (God bless the grief support counselors). It was awkward, and I mostly just sat in the corner trying to avoid the uncomfortable icebreaker questions. I also dropped out of piano lessons. Things just became a mundane kind of sad.


3.  Did your relationship with your mother change? 

We had to learn to lean on each other more than we were used to, for routine things like getting laundry and dishes done, or just figuring out “what’s next”?  It was definitely a learning curve. 


4. Who or what were able to help you at the time? 

Family friends, my parents’ co-workers, teachers . . . everyone tried as best they could to help.


5. Are there things that you feel could have been done differently or could have helped you more at the time? 

Not much - maybe if my mom had access to more financial resources things would have been a little easier. I was lucky - I ended up getting a scholarship to attend a really good high school, which helped. But I also remember all the rejection letters my mom got for tuition assistance. There didn’t seem to be any consideration for widows, in that respect.


6.  How do you think this experience has shaped your life or your personality over time? 

I think I’ve become more empathetic, for sure. While the experience of going through grief was an unwelcome one, the empathy gain has come in handy.


7. Does losing someone at an early age give you more empathy?  Or can it mean that the tragedies of other people can be more overwhelming? 

It comes in waves. Conducting our CHI 2018 study on grief support groups, it felt like I was talking to others who understood me (and I could understand them and tell their stories). But once we submitted the study for publication, my body acted like it was going through grief all over again. I couldn’t sleep well, and I wasn’t hungry . . . empathy is a strange beast.


8. What advice can you give those who may be supporting children through grief?  Teachers, parents, friends? 

Be incredibly, incredibly patient. Let them be angry, or sad, or whatever they need to be. And help them find a creative outlet for it (e.g. photography, painting, music, sports). It helps.


9. What else would you like to tell our readers about the experience of losing a parent at an early age?

Grief is tough, and sometimes life deals you sad cards. But it can serve a higher purpose, if you shape it into something meaningful over time. 


10. Do you think that your experience with loss is what led you to become involved with grief research? 

I do think my experience (and observing the experience of a family member, years later) pushed me to explore grief-related research as a purposeful direction for my work. It just took me awhile to realize I could do that kind of research, and that it could potentially benefit other people by giving a voice to their stories.


We are most grateful to Anna for working with us and sharing her valuable insights. If you are still coping with issues from losing a parent at an early age, have a look at some of our pages below, or see whether you might need counseling here. 

Related Pages:

How to Cope with Losing a Parent

Helping Children Cope with Grief

Books on Loss of a Parent

Have You Considered Online Grief Counseling? 

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