When Dads Die Young

Lon C. Ware, 1916

Lon C. Ware, Jr. 1916

My Father’s Day story, “Running from Dad’s Death,” was posted at Open to Hope today. It’s about the last time I saw my dad, just a few days before his death. I was fourteen and scared, unprepared for death in a way I can hardly imagine now.

My dad, Lon Ware, was born in Chicago in 1915, the first child of Zeola Edna Munderbach and Lon Cleaver Ware, Sr.

When my Great Grandfather died around 1920, Grandpa Ware moved his wife and two young sons from the big city to the rural homestead in Missouri where he had been raised. After high school, Dad went to Toledo, Ohio as a salesman for A.P. Green Firebrick Company and met Mom.

Dad came home from World War II with an incurable kidney disease. In 1948 when I was under three, I remember visiting him in the hospital. He was often sick but when he rallied, he took me for BLTs and apple pie ala mode at the Pie and Sandwich Shop in Mexico, MO. There were afternoons walking around the nine hole golf course when he felt up to it. There were Sunday dinners at my grandparent’s farm and holding Dad’s hand as we walked down small town streets. When I was with him, I knew where I belonged.

At the Missouri farm , Dad in middle, 2nd row ~1923

At the Missouri farm , Dad in middle, 2nd row ~1923

Tallest one on the hay wagon ~1928

Tallest one on the hay wagon ~1928











A new job in Toledo, Ohio in 1937

A new job in Toledo, Ohio in 1937

...where he met my mom and fell in love (obvioiusly)

…where he met my mom and fell in love (obvioiusly)

My parents tried to shield my brother and me from his illness, but I felt the pervasive anxiety and dread and worried about those secret whisperings and hospitalizations. There was always love. While Mom tried to correct and fix me, he made me feel I needed no improvement.

Dad was forty-four when he died in November 1959. In his last years, he spent most of the time lying on the couch or in bed. I hovered near him, but never understood or believed he would die.

On a boat ride in 1957

On a boat ride in 1957

Dad playing charades 1958

Dad playing charades 1958










I have only a few photos of me with Dad. This was taken two years before his death when we were leaving Missouri and moving to Michigan. Dad was too sick to run his building supply business, so he sold it to his brother and took a less demanding job. No one wanted to go.

There’s something disturbing and fitting about his chopped off head. It must have been a terrible time for him, a defeat after ten years of willing his way through illness and beating the odds. In Michigan, he set his family up in a place where we could manage without him and died two years after the move. We didn’t manage well.


Grandma Ware, Brother Jim, Dad, Mom, and me, 1957

As you’ll read in “Running from Dad’s Death,” I didn’t know how to say goodbye and no one knew how to help me. My grief after my husband Vic’s death merged with the unexpressed grief of a fourteen-year-old girl who was afraid to cry and didn’t say “I love you.”


I’d love to hear stories about your dad and the good and not-so-good ways you said goodbye. For an article about my dad’s philosophy of life, see Say Yes and Leave Your List at Home. Here are excellent resources about helping grieving children: Teen Grief: Mourning the Death of a ParentHelping Grieving Children and Teenagers. and The Death of a Parent: Healing Children’s Grief.

  1. Your story is beautifully written as always, dear Elaine, and your story takes me back to my own experience of losing a newborn to death some 47 years ago. It happened at a time when, as you said, “There were no instructions and no end-of-life plans. There was no hospice and there were no therapists. No adults supported my decision or helped me through.” Like you, I did the best I could. But look at us today. Look what we have done with what we have learned of grief! Blessings to you, and thank you for all you do ♥

    • Thank you, Marty. I can only imagine how hard that was for you. I remember a few friends had miscarriages when I was in my twenties. I had no idea what to say or how to help them. We’ve come a long way as individuals but also as a culture.

  2. I write about saying goodbye to Dad in a tidbit on Saturday’s post. My father was born the same year as yours but lived to be 71.

    My mother Ruth at age 9 experienced something like your bereavement at age 14. Her mother Sadie died of tuberculosis. On the day of her death the fire in the furnace died too and the house became very cold. All of her life Mother chafed at being cold. In fact, she couldn’t stand it and became wild when the furnace in our house on Anchor Road ran out of coal. Of course I understand why.

    Just read your forsythia story from a Facebook link – what a wild ride that was!

    • I look forward to your piece about your dad, Marian. My guess is another farm boy. What a powerful image about your mom, her mother’s death when she was a child, and no heat. It’s a sadly perfect symbolic image–like a dream.

      It’s been interesting to have five posts published at The Good Men Project. They found a piece I wrote called “The Abandoned Table.” Then I submitted four more pieces. It’s exposure to a whole different group of readers, mostly men. The piece before this one, “There Are Actually Six Languages of Love, Not Just Five” had many thousands of readers, far more than the number of readers I’ve had on anything else anywhere.

  3. Yes, we’ve come a long way Elaine. (Incidentally you might want to change the date of your father’s birth – you must have meant 1915 not 2015).
    I can only imagine that the death of any loved one brings up earlier deaths where the grief was unexpressed. It’s never too late to go through the grieving process. My sister only recently had the burden of our mother’s death 20 years ago lifted from her …
    Thank you for this lovely piece beautifully written.

    • Thank you for editorial support, Susan. Whoops. Correction made.

      The experience of my father’s death taught me how to stay conscious and connected during my husband’s illness and after his death. We didn’t hide from each other, our community, or our family. I allowed photos of my husband even in his last days, even after his last day. It’s lousy to have so few photos of my dad from the years I remember. Thanks for your encouraging and helpful comment and your wonderful Jungian writing.

  4. What a lovely tribute to your dad at this time of year Elaine. Your words, although melancholy are so eloquent.
    Your story reminded me about the close bond I shared with my own father who also died much too young, 54, from a final heart attack. It was a combination of poor diet leading to terribly high cholesterol and a broken heart. We all talk about broken hearts and question the possibility of whether or not somebody could actually die from one, but I am quite sure that was a major part of his demise.
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful story. 🙂

    • Thank you, Debby. It seems our broken hearts don’t change cancer risk, but definitely increase risk of heart disease. And, of course, all those dietary and exercise issues. I’m sorry you lost your dad too young, too. We both had difficult moms, so we relied on our dads. Wish they could have stayed around longer.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story…

  6. I got to be with my dad as he died. I believe it was the first time I ever witnessed a death. He had planned for his dying, filled a huge looseleaf with advance directives, final wishes, all his financial information… He prepaid for his own cremation. “It’s time,” he said when my sister and I arrived at the hospital. Before long he was unconscious. The nurses disconnected him from life support and I sat with him, wanting the last words he heard to be “thank you.”

    • I remember you writing about this, either in your blog or book. Your dad did a great job of helping his family through this and you got to say the words you wanted him to hear. And still we miss them…

  7. A lovely tribute to your dad on Father’s Day, Elaine. Thank you for sharing your memories and helping us all work through our grief. It took losing my mom to really understand what grieving means… it’s a process, a long one. Perhaps it never ends. I suspect the ebb and flow of grief will last a lifetime…

    • Thank you, Ann. It is a long process. So difficult when talking with someone who is newly grieving and they want it to be over–NOW. Grief isn’t like that. It works on us and changes our hearts forever. Sometimes it sets us on new paths. That happened to both you and me.

  8. I know what an incredible gift our entire family received from having Hospice at my parent’s home, first for my mother and a few months later when my father left us. We had the immense luxury and peace that comes from having time to say goodbye, and from the certainty that they left lives that were completed in every sense of the word. My heart goes out to you when I hear about losses that didn’t include those soul-healing blessings.Thank you for this (as always!) beautiful post.

    • I’m glad you had that support. I felt supported in my husband’s death, partly or maybe mostly because of the experience with my dad. I didn’t want to do it that way again. We go through things and, if we’re lucky, we learn from them. Your tribute to your father was a delight, dripping with love and humor.

  9. thanx for sharing your story about your dad. i connected to it. i’d like to share a bit of mine. my dad died when i was 17. he was 41. the last time i saw him in the hospital i went to share my excitement about being accepted to pratt institute. he sent me from the room because he didn’t know who i was. he was on morphine for pain and hallucinating. i was devastated. at the time, i believed fathers didn’t die. he was my hero. he taught me to draw. he was an artist. it took me many years to be able to say goodbye to him.in my family we did not discuss feelings. so life went on and we all grieved independently. in silence. it was not until i was in my 40’s i felt freedom to grieve and make peace with his death. like DJ Kaye, i believe a person can die of a broken or unfulfilled heart.

    • What a hard, hard experience, Lisa. I’m so sorry this happened. These experiences are etched in our minds and hearts forever. Our dads were so young. The culture dealt with death by staying strong and putting up shields. There are more options now, but grievers have to look for them. I’m glad you did. I’m glad you’ve had a chance to say goodbye to your father later–and I’m glad you learned you can do that. I’ve had a number of rituals for my dad in recent years.

      About dying from a broken heart: My mother’s soul withered from her fear of experiencing grief. I’m grateful I didn’t wither with her.

  10. Thank you for sharing this with us, Elaine. I miss my Dad today on Father’s Day. He died at age 90 when I was 51, but I feel I lost him to his depression when I was 12. He refused all treatment for it throughout his life. He was mostly emotionally unavailable and withdrawn during my teen and adult years and then became contentiously dependent upon me the last 10 years of his life. My sister and I had the profound gift of being with him when he died in the nursing home. He had been unresponsive for several days. At the moment if his death, he opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. A look of wonder, peace and love transfigured his face. It was the look of an infant gazing at his/her mother. That look healed my heart. He was finally at peace.

    • Suzanne, I can’t imagine how hard this was to experience as a kid who wanted to be in a real relationship with her dad. And how hard to be there for him despite the emotional abandonment. I’m sorry for you, your family, and for him. I’m trying to imagine almost 40 years of that kind of depression without saying, “I need help! My family needs help!” I get your words “contentiously dependent” because that was my experience with my mother-in-law after my husband, her only child, died. She was 90 then and aggressively angry at me for being the last survivor. She lived until she was 102. I stayed because I had to for my own conscience and she had no one else, and miraculously, her anger dissolved in the end. Your dad’s last look up was a healing gift. You had to wait so long for it. Sometimes we have to stay until the end, even if getting there is hurtful and hard. Peace to you.

  11. My dad died in 1994, my husbands dad died in 1989 a peaceful passing. My dad was at home and hospice had just left saying death was near. I was feeling so scared and Jon told me again how peaceful his dad died. I stood at my dads bedside and he started gasping for breath as if he was drowning it was terrible to watch. I have never understood to this day how different both deaths were

    • I’m sorry your dad’s death was hard and you were scared. Death is so variable and often hard for those watching. Sometimes people fade (Vic’s mom and my mom) and sometimes they go out working hard. Vic did two days of gasping, but it didn’t have an air of desperation, but more like a runner winded from a hard race. He was working so hard to breathe and I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t let go–but he kept working and gasping until our son Anthony arrived on a delayed plane. Vic opened his eyes for the first time in 2 days, gave Anthony a visual love-filled blessing, squeezed his hand, stopped fighting for breathe, and stopped breathing in 45 minutes. This dying is hard for those of us who love the dying one. A small dose of morphine keeps the dying one relaxed as they cross the finish line. Vic seemed peaceful and unafraid inwardly and the whole room was peaceful, but he still gasped. Sending you love.

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