My Ugly Grief Story

By Guest Writer, Brittany Cole

I’ll never forget the night my father died.  I was 14 years old when we received a call from hospice telling us to come right away.  The next thing I knew we were loading up the mini van and my soon to be brother-in-law was running red lights to get us there as quickly as possible.  My dad was already dead when we arrived. I walked into his room and looked into his yellowish face.  I was numb; all I could think was “oh my gosh, it’s finally over.”

When I was 6 years old my dad was diagnosed with leukemia, and growing up with him was not a pleasurable experience.  It wasn’t because he was sick all the time, but because of the verbal and emotional abuse he put my family and me through.  So, the night that he died I felt the joy of relief and freedom from this horrible situation.  I didn’t have to tune out the shouts of my father as he fought with my mom.  I didn’t have to come home and hide in my room because it was the only place I felt safe.  I didn’t have to tell my friends they couldn’t come over in fear of what my father might say or do.  Never again would my mom, my sisters and I have to huddle in the back of the house while my dad was on a rampage.  Never again would I be left standing at the front door, crying, watching him drive away again, calling for him to come back and wondering if he ever would. Never again. It felt good.

Relief from a traumatic and abusive situation is a confusing thing to process. Your life radically changes but how in the world do you begin to communicate what happened?  For so long none of my friends knew what was going on at home.  The ones that knew found out from their parents and treated me differently.

My parents were separated about a year before my dad died. When two girls found out about my situation at home they started asking me, “Are you ok?” How is everything at home?” When I answered “fine” they continued to pester until I finally snapped and said, “What do you want me to say?! My life sucks?!” I left the room and they never asked me about it again. From that point on I felt pitied by them. Before this happened I had never communicated my feelings to anyone outside of my family and my best friend.

Learning how to communicate a complicated grief story is not an easy task.  In fact, after my first experience I rarely talked about it until I went to college.  By then I had developed well-rehearsed, superficial responses to any question. I became a master of saying a lot without saying anything at all.

It wasn’t until a year after I had graduated from college that this changed. I was out to eat with a new friend and she asked me about my past. So, naturally, out came my fluffy response and to my surprise she replied, “Nope. Try again. What really happened?” I was shocked.  No one had ever been so blunt with me before! So, for the first time, I openly and honestly shared my story with someone I barely knew. It felt really good.

This was a pivotal point in my life.   It gave me the courage to share my story with people which, in turn, allowed me to begin to heal, grow, ask my family questions, use my story to help others, and not be concerned with what people would think of me at the end of the day.

I know I still have a lot to learn.  Communicating a complicated grief story is never easy, especially when you do it for the first time.  So, if I can leave you with a closing thought it would be to find someone you can trust and tell them what happened. And, I’m going to continue to share my story and my experiences along this ugly grief journey.

Photo Credit.


  1. Anonymous said on October 15, 2010 at 10:58 am ... #

    so, so proud of you b. who you are and who you’ve become and who you are still growing into.


  2. Alisha said on October 15, 2010 at 11:05 am ... #

    Brittany, so many things about your story touched my heart. But this, most of all: “I became a master of saying a lot without saying anything at all.” That resonates with me, and I’m sure it will resonate with a lot of others as well.

    Thanks for putting into words the thing I’ve always known I was doing. And thanks for trusting us and yourself enough to share this so openly.

  3. Iris Arenson-Fuller said on October 15, 2010 at 11:14 am ... #

    I want to acknowledge you for this great step in telling your story. It will help many people. My eldest was 14 when his father died after some years of illness. The situation was not the same as yours, and my husband was a good father when he was well, but his illness created many changes, some of which were related to plaques on the brain and emtional changes. I know my kids, and particularly, the older ones, had a lot of ambivalent feelings that complicated their grief for a long time.

    I wish you well.

  4. Rachel said on October 15, 2010 at 11:22 am ... #

    I was very moved by your story and your strength that allowed you to share it. We all go through the pains of life and are stronger because it. You, my dear, are one strong lady. Thank you.

  5. Diane Dyer said on October 15, 2010 at 12:10 pm ... #

    Thank you for your courageous sharing. As a funeral Celebrant, meeting with a family, the story told can be ‘ugly’, and feelings are often raw and confusing. Healing begins with honest sharing.

  6. evp said on October 15, 2010 at 1:19 pm ... #

    This is a big step for you!! SO PROUD. =)

    Love you.

  7. Larissa Warne said on October 15, 2010 at 3:06 pm ... #

    Wow! What a powerful story! I am so moved that you were able to so eloquently share your grief story. So many times, others assume that the relationship with a deceased parent was a loving relationship. I volunteer for a child’s peer grief support program, Brooke’s Place, and we always try to keep in mind that the deceased person who brought them to us was not always a loving person. Their relationship in life could have been a very complicated one, which, in turn, makes for a very complicated and extremely painful (in your words, ugly) grief journey. Being able to share one’s story of grief is a big step towards healing. That is why programs such as these are so important to our youth. We work to transform grief to hope. Kudos to you for sharing your story with us.

  8. Anet said on October 15, 2010 at 4:02 pm ... #

    Britta so proud of you!! You are one of the strongest ladies I know & it’s all because of what you have been through in life. You go girl!!

  9. Liz Good said on October 15, 2010 at 6:34 pm ... #

    You are amazing, what you are doing with your life is amazing, and all of your positive energy in spite of going through grief and pain is amazing. Amazing!

  10. Cynthia said on October 15, 2010 at 8:20 pm ... #

    And here you are sharing your story with people who are proud of you and truly feel blessed to know you. You used your ugly grief journey to bring something really special to everyone.

    You’re an inspiration, Brittany!

  11. Chris h said on October 15, 2010 at 8:57 pm ... #

    I don’t feel like I have an adequate response for what I just read but that was really touching and it takes a lot to share something like that you’re amazing and I hope you can continue to grow and I’m sure your message will touch a lot of people it has me

  12. S. said on October 15, 2010 at 10:16 pm ... #

    Dear B.,
    You indeed had courage when you answered the friend that did not take your fluffy answer as the “truth”.
    Having a dear friend that lost his mother at the same age and had a similar story I saw him do this with me for years. Finally I had the courage to question him and the whole story and the “truth” and tears came out. The grieving for him started I believe then…25 years later.
    It is a heavy burden and yes ugly.
    Thank you for sharing and caring enough to be brave for all of us to learn from you.

  13. April said on October 16, 2010 at 12:02 pm ... #


    Thank you for sharing your story. For your sake and now the rest of us who get to share in your life, I’m glad that you were “called out” to tell your real story. What a gift that friend gave to you that evening. Sometimes though I think many people don’t want to hear the “ugly” and even though you’re willing to share, they may not be ready to listen.

    Although I’ve only just met you…I know you’re something special and I can see this because you’ve risked showing it – What an example you set – Thank you!

  14. Franklin said on October 16, 2010 at 2:33 pm ... #


    Thank you so much for your story. Sharing with others–new friends, old friends–about our losses, struggles, and life altering periods of life can do so much for our grief journeys. My admiration, respect, and appreciation for you has just grown.

  15. Kim H. said on October 17, 2010 at 4:28 am ... #

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are such an amazing person. I’m so fortunate to know you, as is everyone else involved with CZC.

  16. Betsy said on October 17, 2010 at 10:27 pm ... #

    Brittany, this is a great article! I’m so proud of you and all that you are doing in your life to help make an impact in others’. I admire your courage in openly sharing your story-as I’ve always admired you’re outgoing heart and compassion for people. Will always be proud to call you my best friend 🙂

  17. Celesta said on October 18, 2010 at 5:43 pm ... #

    You are one special somebody. Thank you for sharing your story so openly with so many. You are truly a blessing to many more than you will ever know. You are amazing. God bless you tremendously.

  18. Shashi said on October 20, 2010 at 3:47 pm ... #

    Thank you, Brittany, for your brave story. Death often confers “holiness” on the deceased, regardless of who they were in life. I lost my mother at age five and know how hard it is to deconstruct the “official story” to get to the truth — especially if, as with your dad, the reality was bad. Blessings. Stay strong, cry when you need to, ask for help when you need it, and always stand in your own truth.

  19. Stephaniee said on October 20, 2010 at 4:30 pm ... #

    Thank you so much for sharing your incredible story, Brittany. You took undeserved childhood grief and trauma and used it as inspiration to change the world for better. Your strength and compassion is so apparent, even after meeting you only once. You are awesome! ♥

  20. roughroads said on October 27, 2010 at 5:39 pm ... #

    Very touching story! Sorry for your loss, and the childhood experiences you have faced. On some levels I too can relate.

  21. Tank said on November 29, 2010 at 5:24 pm ... #

    Guess im not the only one that has a crap father afterall. Stay strong people! Remember, u are not alone!

  22. Ellen said on May 4, 2011 at 8:03 pm ... #

    Brittany- your story resonated with me in so many ways even though I am now in my 50’s. When my father was dying, I was the one who spent the most time with him – between visits from his hospice nurse. In his last week I stayed with him from midnight to 8 AM and slept on cushions in his room. I had hoped I would forget that there were times when he wakened and I soothed him or gave his medication … but I have not. I fluctuated between feeling like being gentle & helpful to feeling like jerking him by his shoulders and screaming at him. Caring and Anger; like a ping pong game. I wish you very well as you manage your grief and anger in the future, and congratulations for getting your story out!

  23. Katniss said on December 10, 2011 at 12:14 am ... #

    Wow, this story really helped me.
    My dad died 5 months ago, and I’ve been so confused about it. He was an alcoholic, and very emotionally and physically abusive up untill I was about 14. Then, after few calls to the cops, he stopped being overtly physically abusive but was just as, if not more emotionally abusive and cruel. He basically tore my family apart with his lies and abuse. So when he died unexpectedly, I didn’t know what to feel. My friends weren’t that supportive either. I’m in high school, and other kids my age don’t really know how to react to loss. They just tended to ignore it, and when they finally did acknowledge it, I had a hard time admitting what I really felt. I just told them we weren’t very close and it wasn’t all that hard. I even joked about it.
    And it’s true. I don’t feel the heart-wrenching loss your “supposed” to feel when you lose a parent. But I do feel confused and conflicted and I wish someone would ask me how I really felt. But like I said, it’ hard to admit, or even explain.

    I am so glad to have read your story. It’s so good to hear someone else has gone through the same thing, and understands the things I’m going through. Thank you so much for posting this, it was really an inspiration.

  24. Carly said on February 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm ... #

    Thanks for being brave enough to share your story! I am glad you were able to find a friend to confide in and begin the healing process. You are a wonderful writer & your story was riddled with emotions that, I think, will touch everyone who reads this- including myself.

  25. Tasha said on February 16, 2012 at 4:55 pm ... #

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story!!

  26. Bess said on March 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm ... #

    I agree with April. Sometimes it seems like people would rather have a fluffy, barely-grazes-the-surface lie than have the truth, no matter how ugly, messed-up, hurtful, or grisly it might be. Usually when someone finds out about my dad, I only give the basic details: I was six years old and he died of a seizure. That’s the truth, but it’s not the whole truth. It doesn’t include the full story. It barely contains part of the story.

  27. Tessa said on March 24, 2012 at 3:15 pm ... #

    Good for you for telling your truth in a safe place, and being able to know a safe place, which isn’t easy when you grow up in abuse.

    And thank you to those who care enough to ask and are safe when we do tell the story.

    I appreciate your help, Brittany.

  28. Remy Diederich said on April 12, 2012 at 10:40 pm ... #

    Thanks. I have just spoken with two people who are confused about how to grieve someone they didn’t like much. I’ll pass this on to them.

  29. Drew Alexander said on April 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm ... #

    Wow, well done, Brittany. Keeping the channels open, the words and feelings flowing is like irrigating a wound. Armed with the kind of courage you obviously have, and with the gift of self-expression, you are already avoiding a big trap [emotional shut-down] that had me in its grip for years, decades, to be honest. I wish and pray for you continued strength and healing in the times to come.

  30. Suzanne said on August 6, 2014 at 1:51 am ... #

    Thank you for your story. I am 54 and my abusive step father is still alive and I am caring for him. My Mother died 3 years ago and felt he would do the right thing by us as she suffered from terminal cancer, and slowly died. I have been under his suffocation and abuse since 1969. I stay in misery and suffering as he still holds much of my mothers assets, money and property. I want to be paid for my suffering. I know that there is a good chance my brother and I will get nothing as he keeps threatening to leave it all to charity, as he says my brother and I are worthless and always were, even though we have both done ok, in life even after so much long term abuse. I loved my mom, and have tried so hard to forgive her for turning a blind eye for 43 years as the meaness, and abuse continued on long after we both left home. I will be relieved when he finally dies, like I can finally put so many years of suffering, and feeling so worthless behind me. I wish so much I could see a point to this kind of long term suffering. As a Mystic in training, I can only think that I am blancing past life Karma. I only wish my mom had loved us enough to save us such pain and suffering, even continuing after her death. I can only believe that she had to have suffered from mental illness as what mother could stand by while her new boy friend made her 9 year old daughter scrub a toilet with a tooth brush for hours till it was perfect? I ask the Universe each day for peace and understanding, and most of all for the ability to forgive myself and my mother.

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