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The Missing Piece: Continuing Life Without My Dad

Updated: Oct 31, 2019


A missing father can leave children vulnerable to a dangerous lifestyle — how have these young adults dealt with it?


It was Nov. 20, 2012.

The evening passed by as I picked up clothes from my bedroom floor, listening to my parents’ chatter from the living room below.

It was the first night of Thanksgiving break during my freshman year of high school. I felt liberated having no responsibilities, normally feeling buried from my high-school workload. With all of my family close, I felt fully secure.

It seemed like we were making progress toward a brighter future, especially my 65-year-old dad, who had recently had surgery on his legs to improve his mobility.

Sarah Stortz sitting inside her grandmother’s home in Decorah, Iowa, with her father and two older siblings in 2006.

Early in the next morning, my mom crept through my bedroom, calling my name. Barely awake, I stumbled out to the hallway, asking her if everything was OK.

She said she woke up to my father not breathing on his recliner.

I felt muddled because of my drowsiness, but I could steadily feel my heart falling into my stomach. I asked if he was all right.

“He’s dead,” she said, voice cracked.

Her sentence smacked me awake. How could he possibly be dead? Just last night, he asked me how my first play rehearsal went. The surgery was supposed to make his life easier. What went wrong?

When I walked downstairs, paramedics and police officers were already in my house.

I thought I was still dreaming. Numbness took control of my body. I couldn’t acknowledge this was reality. When an officer approached me and asked me if I was all right, I could only respond with a flat “Yeah.”