What Father's Day Means To Me Now That My Mom Is Gone

by Elissa Furlong

With Father’s Day coming up, it’s safe to guess people all over the country are thinking about the types of relationships they have or had with their fathers.

Whether your father is a hero in your life, someone you feel no closer to than the stranger you made eye contact on the subway this morning, or anywhere in between, a holiday that exists specifically for the purpose of celebrating dads is likely to bring on these sorts of thoughts.

Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my relationship with my dad has evolved in the past few years and how my thoughts about Father’s Day have changed along with it.

My mom passed away from cancer shortly after I turned 16. Even though she had been sick for a long time before then, her death still, in a way, came out of left field.

That may sound strange (since there’s obviously a chance when someone is diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer, he or she will succumb to it), but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t fathom my mom actually dying.

And I didn’t imagine she would, at least for a very long time.

I had been extremely close to my mom my entire life, and if I’m being honest, I had felt a little closer to her than I had to my dad while I was growing up.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s never been any doubt in my mind I have a great father.

But, the almost indescribable mother-daughter bond made me feel as though the connection I had with my mom was unlike any I had with other people, including other family members.

It was after my mom passed away I started to develop the sort of relationship with my dad I had had with her.

Even though I don’t think the relationship I had with my mom can or will ever be fully replicated, the support and guidance my dad has given me since her passing has strengthened our bond almost immeasurably.

In that sense, my thoughts on Father’s Day have been reshaped accordingly.

As I said, I’ve always had a good relationship with my dad. I’ve never doubted I was lucky to have a person like him play such a prominent role in my life.

Prior to my mom passing away, I hadn’t experienced a Father’s Day when I was made to reflect on how genuinely strong and great a person he is.

Sure, I had done so to some extent, as that’s sort of what Father’s Day is all about.

What I mean, though, is I hadn’t fully acknowledged how important my dad is to me until he was the only parent I had left.

He naturally stepped into the role of being my rock in the midst of such intense grief.

When Father’s Day would roll around in the past, I would tell my dad how much I loved him, thank him for all he did, etc.

But it wasn’t until after my mom had passed away that those words and sentiments had the kind of weight they do now.

When I lost my mom, I lost the person I loved most in the world.

If my dad hadn't been there by my side and hadn’t consistently been there for me over the course of the past six years, I don’t know what I would have done or how I would have handled everything.

In that way, Father’s Day has become a holiday when I celebrate someone who was an unwavering support system to my mom while she was sick, and who now provides me with the same sort of support as I go through my 20s without my mom.

An event of such magnitude has made a holiday like Father’s Day all the more meaningful to me. My dad has helped get me through what I hope will be the hardest thing I will have to deal with in my life.

Even though Father’s Day is obviously about celebrating dads, I can’t help but think a lot about my mom when it comes around.

When I think about my dad and the strengthened relationship I now have with him on Father’s Day, I’m inclined to also think about what he meant to my mom.

As I mentioned, he provided her with all of the love and support she could ask for while she was sick: He drove her six hours down to NYC every single week for treatment, and he was always there to do research on the latest drugs, lift her spirits and do whatever else he could to go above and beyond what was expected.

Father’s Day now means reflecting on all he did for my mom. I think about all he has done and continues to do for me and my sisters since she passed away.

Because of the events that have taken place in my life, a holiday like Father’s Day serves as a reminder I’ll probably never meet anyone as loving or supportive as my dad.

It adds weight to the words you might see on a Hallmark card: “A father is irreplaceable.”

A few months ago, I had a talk with a teacher I met here in Thailand, where I am currently teaching, about what it’s like to lose a parent, as her dad had been killed in a car accident.

It’s not a discussion I have with people my own age very often, and we both agreed it truly does make you realize your parents, depending on the type of people they are, love and care about you in a way no one else does.

Some guy will lose interest over something superficial; some friend will forget your birthday; some bitch will point out your flaws every chance she gets, but a loving mother or father will put you up on a pedestal and hell will freeze over before they take you off of it.

The type of unconditional love you get from your parents is something that could very well go unmatched throughout your life, and feeling as though I took my mom for granted, to an extent, is one of the most impossible feelings.

It is one I am still trying to navigate.

If I didn’t have my dad here by my side, there’s no telling how much harder something already indescribably difficult would be for me. For that reason, I’ll tell him “Happy Father’s Day” on Sunday, and I’ll really mean it.