The following letter was written a few years ago, to a man whose daughter had been killed—suddenly. He gave me permission to post the letter for Father’s Day.

Steve –

After you read this letter, please put it into a drawer and every month or so, pull it out and reread.

Mandy’s death shouldn’t have happened. But it did. When you say “our family is ruined,” keep in mind that is a thought, not yet the truth. That said, what you convince yourself is “true” will have a lot to do with your family’s future.

Part of your journey is reconciling your belief that “it is up to me to keep my children alive regardless of circumstances, and therefore I have failed.” Another part of the journey is remembering you are the parent of two living children.

Can you get through this horrid time and eventually enjoy being a father to Sam and Elizabeth?

Your Living Children’s Futures

How you move forward will help determine whether your two living children are able to maintain a realistic view of their deceased sister, rather than an idealized one.

Will they grow up feeling they are “not as good,” i.e. not worthwhile (worth your while)?

Mandy was six. Those first six years were delightful; had she lived she wouldn’t have always been delightful.

Your son Sam said, “the best one is gone.” Maybe in the wink of time she was the most fun, but she doesn’t have to be remembered as the “best of the lot.” The “best” sets up an impossible standard for your children to follow. Sam and Elizabeth are too young to reason this out without your support. You and your wife can prevent Mandy from being the child they can never match.

Why is this so important?

Because down the road, how your living children think of themselves will determine the choices they make in their lives.

Your children have had two losses and gained one new fear

Sam and Elizabeth lost Mandy, and they have also lost you, the parents they had before Mandy’s death. And they also have a new fear: will you hold up? Will you have the strength to be there for them when they need you? Do they have to worry about you?

Bottom line: be aware of appearing so needy that you kids start taking care of you.

Your children’s desire to be like their peers

Right now everything is going the way it has to go; you are working your way through your experience of loss – this year and next and the next – and I think you all are doing a tremendous job.

But keep in mind, right now (not down the road) your children desperately want to be carefree like their peers. And this is not possible. Try to find a sliver of strength to help them wrestle with feeling “different.”

Some final thoughts

  • We are never “grown up.” We aren’t “grown up” when we get our driver’s license, when we can legally drink, when we marry, when we become a parent, when we suffer loss, or are elderly. You are now growing up with the loss of one of your three children; stay open to how the death can positively influence how you continue to grow.
  • Slow down on saying your life is over… that you would also like to die. Right now you feel weak, but can you admit to how strong you can be and are?
  • The accident took Mandy’s life, but it doesn’t have to take four lives. There may come a time when it is appropriate to say just that to your two living children.

A final question

Do you ever consider your life with Mandy was a success?


With deep respect and care,