Coping with grief on Father's Day
Although the build up to Father’s Day isn’t as profound as other holidays, it can be an upsetting and unsettling day if your dad has passed away. It can also be a difficult time for fathers who are grieving the loss of a child.
How to cope with grief on Father's Day
A Father’s Day without a father is an upsetting experience. The fact that most of us outlive our parents doesn’t make it any easier to cope when we lose them. From now on, this one day of the year can become a permanent reminder of your loss.
Although that realisation is upsetting, it also helps you to appreciate the healing power of facing your fears. It may give you the motivation and reassurance that the only way to move forward is to go though the difficult moments and to develop coping mechanisms along the way.
Prepare for an emotional day, particularly if it’s your first one without him. Your mood is likely to change and influence the outcome of the day. That’s a normal part of the grieving process. Only you know what’s best for you and the following points are designed to help you appreciate that.
Be prepared for some awkwardness
People are uncomfortable with the subject of grief and that makes them say and do things which are normally out of character for them. They can also come across as being rude and obnoxious. It’s unfair to be “comforted” in that way but it happens and you need to be prepared for it. Try not to take their “advice” and “concerns” to heart.
Nobody knows how you feel
Despite what people say, they don’t really know how you feel or what goes through your mind. Only you know that because you are the one suffering it. Don’t let others tell you how to feel or define your grief in any way. Trust your instincts and do what feels right. Surround yourself with people who understand your grief and respect your feelings.
Different types of grief on Father's Day
The third Sunday of June is upsetting not just for children but for everyone who is grieving the loss of their father. It’s a particularly distressing time for men who are grieving fatherhood and for some immediate family members such as grandfathers or uncles. Being upset is inevitable but it’s also a vital part of the healing process. Moving forward requires you to overcome these emotions by allowing yourself to go through them.
Children grieving the loss of their father
Father’s Day and the lead up to it can be quite traumatic, painful, and confusing for children who grieve the loss of their dad. You need to remember that they have their own way of expressing grief and sometimes they don’t express it at all. Don’t be surprised if that’s the case but look out for any changes in their behaviour which may indicate a struggle to cope with their loss.
There is no right or wrong way to commemorate Father’s Day without the father of your children but these suggestions may inspire you to do something different this year.
Be honest with them
Try to involve your children in the planning of the day. Be as respectful and accommodating to their wishes as the circumstances allow. Have age-appropriate, honest conversations with them regarding the day itself and their feelings. This approach clears any misunderstandings and it gives you a good idea about the scale of their loss and its impact on Father’s Day.
Check in with their teacher to make sure that there aren’t any planned events or celebrations which may upset your grieving child or children.
Do something he enjoyed
Why not spend the day doing something their father enjoyed doing? Maybe he liked to fish, walk, or cycle? Perhaps he was quite creative and liked art or drawing, or maybe he was a keen photographer? Plan a visit to an art gallery or a day out taking landscape pictures. Then you can go home, print the best ones and create an album or make a collage from them to remember this day.
You need to be strong for your children, but...
...don’t neglect yourself in the process. It’s heartbreaking to know how much your children miss their father on this day but keep an eye on your feelings too. If the pain is still too strong or if it’s too soon to do certain things, you need to have a Plan B.
Fathers grieving the loss of a child
The loss of a child is a particularly traumatic experience for any father. It can be an emotional struggle which turns Father’s Day into a reminder of your lost dream.
Here are a couple of suggestions to help you plan the day and to highlight the importance of self-care and communication:
Talk with your spouse
The lead up to it and the day itself are likely to affect your spouse too. It’s important to be open about your emotions and to have a conversation regarding your plans for the day. Communication is vital for the well-being of your relationship at this testing time. It also helps to smooth over any misunderstandings and issues along the way.
Do something for yourself
If you don’t feel like doing anything at all, then take this as sign that it’s time to start taking care of yourself. It’s so easy to get caught in the daily grind and forget to look after yourself.
The least you can do on this day is to go for a leisurely gym session followed by a stretch in the steam room and sauna. If you can’t be bothered with the gym, then go for a run and have a long bath after that. The endorphins your body releases after exercising lift your mood and a relaxing bath may calm you and release some of the stress.
Take a day off
Step out of the daily grind altogether and do something completely different. Go offline, log out of your social media and detox from everything and everyone for a day (or two if you feel like it). Go for a hike, a long walk, take your bicycle for a ride or go on a road trip and take the family with you. Whatever it may be, use that day to reconnect with yourself and the important people in your life.
Please read our guide on coping with the loss of a child for more information.
We offer grief help and support through the National Bereavement Service's (NBS) webchat. It is a free online service which connects you to a trained advisor.
NBS has a wide network of contacts within organisations providing support to bereaved people. They will explain your choices and help you decided what would be most helpful for you and how to make contact with them.
The service is available Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm and Saturday 10am to 2pm and you can reach NBS by clicking on the chat box at the bottom of this page.
Contributed by Mark Welkin
Mark Welkin is the author of three grief books and a journalist who has worked for various media outlets in Europe and Asia. He lost his long-term partner in 2014 and a few months later, Mark turned to a grief counsellor for help. The results inspired him to share his experience and help other bereaved people to resume life after the loss of their loved ones.