The Birth of My Daughter Helped Me Grieve My Father’s Death

Seven months before this writer discovered she was pregnant, she lost her father. Here, she explores the complex journey of navigating the deep joy she experienced when becoming a mother while also grappling with the deep grief of having lost her father.

I don’t remember much about the days following my father’s death—the long, cold, endless first week of January 2021. 

The news came crashing in on the afternoon of January 2nd via a phone call from my mother. I was still nursing my hangover from the night before, freshly showered in sweatpants, when I saw her name pop up. 

From the moment I answered, I could hear the pain in her voice, and I knew this was it. This was the call. The one I had feared for the past 17 years, as I watched my once-unstoppable father grow weaker and weaker, from one illness after another. Her voice cracked—and I called for my fiance, washing dishes in the tiny kitchen of our Boston apartment. He sat with me and held my hand as my mom delivered the news, and I cried. 

He was gone.

Two days later, my fiancé and my best friend flew with me to North Carolina to be with my mom. I have few memories of the flight—having to stop outside of a Starbucks at the airport to cry, my face feeling hot and flushed underneath the face mask we were all still wearing because of the pandemic. Clutching the armrest and crying as the plane flew through turbulence. Walking through the terminal in a haze. 

When we arrived, my mom was shaking with anxiety, tears rolling down her face, creating a pool of black mascara near her mouth. She asked me, ‘I don’t understand why this had to happen. Why did it have to happen, Lindsay?’ I nodded my head, unable to say anything but melting into her, her hug bringing the relief only a mother can give. I looked around my childhood home, filled with so many memories, and I felt a coldness wash across me. 

It felt different now. It felt emptier. I felt emptier

Over the next week, I helped my mom sort out insurance paperwork, called my father’s friends and family, went through old photos and ate copious amounts of food our near-and-dear sent. My fiance, filled with nervous energy because he couldn’t fix how we were feeling, went into cooking mode: filling my mother’s freezer with three months worth of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since my dad was the chef in our family, he knew my mom wouldn’t eat if it wasn’t easy for her. 

My friends kept my phone buzzing with text messages and phone calls, sent flowers, gifts and cards, and while I appreciated every sentiment, all I wanted to do was to wrap myself up under blankets and hide. 

This was a pain unlike any other pain I had felt—one that has no ending and no solution. It wasn’t a break-up where I could move on and find the right person—my dad would never come back. It wasn’t a disappointment over a job opportunity or a dent in my pride over a gossiping frenemy—this was the end of a period in my life that would never have a different resolution. 

My dad got sick, he never got better, and then he died. He died. I couldn’t even say those words for months. Even now, I like to say ‘he passed away.’ The D word is just too, well, final. Death is so definitive. 

My mom had once told me when I was trying to get over an old boyfriend that ‘nothing dies as slowly as a dream’—and I thought of those words a lot. I had always dreamt, wished and hoped my father would go back to being my dad. The one I knew before I turned 15 and everything changed.

My larger-than-life dad, Captain Frank James Tigar passed away on the afternoon of Saturday, January 2 at home, from an apparent rupture of an aortic aneurysm. After 25 years doing his dream job in the fire department, he retired, and within three years, received his first cancer diagnosis. He had a carcinoid tumor on his appendix, followed by kidney cancer and lung cancer. He also had a heart arrhythmia—where it beat dangerously fast—requiring two surgeries. 

He suffered from neuropathy in his feet, severely limiting his ability to be active and mobile. He developed COPD, forcing him to wear an oxygen mask each night, and eventually, his lungs deteriorated to where he needed the support of oxygen 24/7. He refused to take pain medication, and instead turned to alcohol to soothe his symptoms. This extra weight gain from drinking put pressure on his heart, making the aneurysm inoperable. 

I like to believe his heart was so big, so loving, so full— it quite literally, burst. 

New friends or strangers often ask me if my father’s death was sudden. It’s an odd question because to me, all death is sudden. Was my dad in an unfortunate car accident out of nowhere? No. But was he in hospice care, given a few days to live? Also no. There was no warning, he just became sicker over time, until finally, he was out of pain. 

Watching my father turn from the type of person who fills up the room with laughter, who teased me with jokes, who rolled the windows down in his pick-up truck and sang at the top of his lungs on a summer day to embarrass me to who he was like when he passed was the most emotionally challenging experience of my life. It fundamentally changed who I am as a person, how I view being a parent, how I prioritize my health (both mentally and physically), my relationship with alcohol and my ability to trust other people. 

The hardest part of grieving him wasn’t the shell of a person he was when he passed—I was grateful that the version of my father was no longer in pain. But who I had to grieve was the father I had before the sickness transformed him, my childhood and my life.

I had to grieve the dream.

To me, there were split personalities—two halves that never made up a whole, two people I loved and experienced in different ways. I couldn’t — and still don’t — understand why he had to face so many obstacles and battle so many demons. His constant plagues didn’t make sense to me, it didn’t seem fair. I mourned my old dad before he left, and I let the sick dad go the moment he went. ⁣

The dad I missed then, now and forever, is some mix of the old and the new — but mostly it’s the dad I knew once upon a time. When I was my daughter’s age. When I was a little older. When he was my hero. I like that in my memory and in the stories I tell my child, he will be the healthy, happy, singing, vibrant and life-of-the-party dad that first stole my heart. ⁣

Somehow, through the birth of my daughter, I’ve somehow healed and created a new story for both my childhood and motherhood journey. 

And it all started with a song.

During that terrible week in January, I drove with my mom to pick up my dad from the funeral home. I didn’t anticipate it would be a positive experience—but I didn’t realize how jarring it would be for a stranger to hand you a box, labeled with a carefully-placed sticker with your father’s name. My dad—a six foot, 200-something pound, previous firefighter now fit in a white cardboard box I could hold in my two hands. 

My mother’s hands were shaking as the funeral director tried to hand my dad to her, so I took it for her, and my dad sat in my lap as we headed back home.I held the box with care, stunned by the sight of it. I was afraid to spill it but also didn’t want to look inside. I couldn’t fathom how this soul who raised me, whose blood pumped through my veins, was minimized to ashes. 

To a fucking box.

I started to cry and my mom grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I kept one hand on my dad—and for the last time in my life, I was sandwiched in between my parents, the safest place I had ever felt until I met my husband. 

On the day we headed back to Boston, my mother suggested I take a moment in the house, alone, before making the drive to the airport. I stood in our kitchen and I stared at the box. My mom had placed it on the high-top chair my dad always sat in at the corner, his cane still resting by the seat. 

I wanted to have a moment with my dad before I left, but I was uncertain of what to do. After being quiet for a while, I opened my Spoitfy and I pulled up our song, ‘My Girl’ by The Temptations. Throughout my childhood and when I would come home to visit in college and even when I moved away to New York City and then Boston, my dad would put it on and ask me to dance. 

We always danced right there in the kitchen, my mom sitting at the table, watching us with a smile on her face. It was something my dad and I always had, even in his sickness, even with the oxygen tank, he would find a way to dance with his daughter. 

So, I picked him up and I hugged the box as tight as I could and I danced.

I closed my eyes and I tried to remember what his bear hug had felt like, and for a moment, I could smell his aftershave, the sweat on his shirt. I could feel the stubble on his face. I could see the red in his cheeks as he teared up, as he always did with me—I was the softest part in his heart. The song repeated a time or two, and I cried until I couldn’t anymore. 

I sat him back down in his chair, I kissed the box, and I walked down the stairs, closing the door behind me, feeling like I left a piece of me behind. Like a chapter was over.

Six months later, I got married. Six weeks after that, I found out I was pregnant. 

When my husband and I calculated the timing of conception, we realized we conceived Father’s Day weekend, and it felt like a little wink from my dad. Our daughter arrived in March, on her due date, wide-eyed, beautiful and perfect. We named her Josefine James, her middle name matching her late grandfather she never got to meet earthside. 

During my pregnancy, I grappled with constant, conflicting emotions of pure joy anticipating the arrival of my child—and the depths of fresh grief that had yet to scab over. Every milestone was a celebration—and a reminder of who was missing. Every kick showed me the miracle of new life growing inside my tummy—and the mourning of a person who had passed before I was ready.

Taking a keepsake photo in front of the tree, my belly covered in a red sweater—but trying to make it through my first Christmas without my dad. Reaching 30-something weeks pregnant on New Year’s—but spending the day in bed, as the first anniversary of his passing had arrived.

I refused to listen to ‘My Girl’ after that day in the kitchen with my dad. With pregnancy hormones or not, it was too triggering, too painful, too much. I didn’t get to dance with my dad at my wedding to our song, I didn’t get to tell him he would have a granddaughter, I didn’t get to talk to him about being a parent—so I also didn’t get to listen to our song. I would quickly turn the song when it came on a playlist or the radio, frightened of what would come pouring out of me if I heard it. 

Until, a summer day in August, when Josefine was about five months old. 

She was sprouting out of her newborn shell, greeting the world with giggles and fascination. She loved being held while I swayed with her, and as my postpartum haze was clearing, I found myself falling more and more in love with my daughter. She was magic to me and I was amazed by the very sight of her. 

My husband was cleaning our patio, with an oldies station on, and ‘My Girl’ started playing. My instinct was to turn it off, but my hands were full with Josefine, and I didn’t have time before the words started streaming. 

I looked at her, unsure of what to do, when she smiled. She liked it.

I watched her in awe, kicking her feet, babbling, reacting, and for the first time, I didn’t sob. I teared up but instead of grief, I felt love. The unconditional kind. The kind my father felt for me that I couldn’t possibly understand until I became a parent myself. 

They say grief is love that has no place to go, and finally, all of my grief did have a place to go: to my daughter.

That was grandpoppy and mommy’s song, JoJo,” I told her. She grinned. “But I guess it can be our song, too.” 

Josefine is now a curious, brave and vibrant toddler, fearless in learning anything and everything. She has a twinkle in her eye that looks just like my dad’s—and I see him in her all the time. 

It’s been three years and five months since my dad passed and I’ve been a mother for two years and three months. There has only been a short amount of time I knew the loss of my father without the birth of my daughter. They are intertwined in my memory and my lived experience—the ending of one giving life to the other.

My father’s death broke me in a way that couldn’t be healed—but my daughter’s very presence gave me back my hope. It gave permission to remember and savor the happiest memories with my dad. It gave me back our lyrics. 

One more song before bedtime, JoJo, what do you want to sing?” I asked her.

My Girl,” she mumbles with a pacifier-filled mouth, cuddled up in my arms she’s nearly too big for already. 

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May. I guess, you’d say, what could make me feel this way?”

My Girl,” we sing together as I rock her. 

And I close my eyes, imagining, somewhere in the great beyond—but never too far away—my dad chimes in, ‘Talking about my girl. My girl. My girl.’


  • Lindsay Tigar

    Lindsay Tigar is the co-founder of Mila & Jo Media, an award-winning journalist, two-time entrepreneur and mama to Josefine. She's also a parental leave certified executive coach. She's a frequent-flier, Peloton addict, and a coffee and champagne snob. Her friends are her family and her lifeline. Lindsay calls Asheville, NC home but spends much time in Denmark, her husband's home country.  Follow Lindsay on Instagram. and visit her website.

Share the Post:

Related Posts