A day without Dad: Getting through grief on Father’s Day

Being fatherless at any time can be tough. But it’s interesting how a commercially-driven calendar event can hammer home feelings that may otherwise remain under the surface.

Greeting cards, TV ads and social media feeds tell us how we’re supposed to feel on Father’s Day. Happiness. Celebration. Togetherness. But if you’ve lost your father or you’re a father who’s lost a child, you might not be spending the day playing catch or wrapping up ties and socks. Instead, Father’s Day can be a harsh reminder of your grief.

When you’ve lost your father

As Father’s Day approaches, lots of people make plans to spend time with their father. Some families will meet up for a BBQ, others may decide to go camping and some will pay a visit to spend time with their dad. For those who are lucky enough to still have their fathers in their life, it can be a great day. But if your father has passed away, the day can be really hard.

Father’s Day can bring up a lot of feelings. Whether you’re young or old, single or married, a parent or not, losing your father is one of the most emotional experiences you’ll ever go through. Or you may have lost your father-in-law, grandfather or other father figure in your life.

If you’re struggling with grief this Father’s Day, know that you’re not alone. Here are some things you can do to help make coping with the day a little easier.

  • Compile your memories. What are your first memories of your father? What are you grateful for? Ask your family for their memories too. Write them down.
  • Take some quiet time. Carve out some time for peace and quiet. Don’t force your thoughts or emotions. Just observe them, letting them come and go as they will. Let yourself enjoy a moment of peace.
  • Write a letter. Take the time to write some words to your father. Think about a favourite time. Recall an important life lesson he left you with. Pour out your feelings on paper or in front of the computer and be honest about everything you’re feeling.
  • Pay tribute. Do an activity your dad loved. Eat his favourite meal. Visit that special place you used to go to together. Remembering times spent together can help you cope with the day.
  • Make plans. Try planning an activity or schedule some quality time with family and friends. Staying busy can help you make it through the day.
  • Ask for help. If you start to feel overwhelmed by sadness and grief, reach out to a family member, friend or counsellor. Help and support can make all the difference.

When you’ve lost a child

Losing a child is one of the most devastating types of losses anyone can experience. No parent expects to outlive their children. It feels unnatural and wrong. Grieving the loss of a child is an experience that colours the rest of a parent’s life. You can’t escape it and on days like Father’s Day, the grief may seem too much to handle. Time won’t heal the hurt, but it will become more bearable.

For a father, facing Father’s Day after the loss of a child can be extremely upsetting. This is especially true when the loss is new, but the pain of the day may continue year after year. If you’re grieving the loss of your child, here are some tips to help you get through the day.

  • Spend time with your kids. If you have other children, spend the day with them. It may hurt to be with them and without the child you have lost, but finding joy in the children still with you is a powerful way to cope with those negative emotions of loss.
  • Surround yourself with loved ones. You may want to hide away and be alone, but resist the urge. Spending time with people who care about you will be more helpful.
  • Keep busy. Living in a state of distraction from your grief is not necessarily healthy, but on difficult days like Father’s Day it can help.
  • Remember you’re still a father. Just because you’ve lost a child doesn’t mean that you’re not still a father to them. Never forget that. You are your child’s father forever.

When kids lose their dad

Father’s Day is often a challenging time for children who have suffered a loss in their life. If you’re supporting a child who has lost their father, grandfather or a father figure, use Father’s Day to help them learn more about who the person was in life.

  • Talk about their Dad. Father’s Day is a great time to talk about the person they’ve lost. Share happy thoughts. Discuss good times. It will help ensure their father remains a real presence in their lives.
  • Listen and validate. It’s important for children to learn how to express grief and adults need to validate their feelings. Help them communicate their feelings and remind them it’s OK to feel sad, mad, afraid, confused or lonely. And help them realise that it’s because of great love that we grieve in the first place.
  • Make a memory box. Put keepsakes and other special items into a box. Tangible, visible items can help children feel connected to the person who has gone. It can be pulled out and cherished year round on birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.
  • Create a scrapbook or photo album. Young children may not have a large bank of memories of their dad. Family photos and keepsakes can help them remember and reflect on the good times. Having a scrapbook or photo album in memory of their father is a great way to keep memories alive.
  • Build a memorial website. If you’re feeling high tech, you can build a website with pictures, stories, videos and other memories. Depending on your age and the age of your children, they may be 100% better at the project than you!

Supporting others through the day

While you may not have experienced the loss of your father, some of your friends may have. There are lots of things you can do to reach out and make their day a little brighter. Here are some ideas.

  • Send a card or make a call. It’s a small gesture that means so much. All you need to do is remind them that you’re thinking of them.
  • Be a source of comfort. Be there to listen to them and provide support.
  • Avoid platitudes. Don’t try to rush your friend through the process of grief. This only invalidates what they’re feeling. Be patient.
  • Be mindful of their feelings. If they don’t feel up to visitors, you should understand and respect that. Offer them a rain check.

Treasure good memories

Fathers play an irreplaceable role in life. If you had a good dad, then Father’s Day can be sorrowful and maybe even bittersweet as you remember good times. If you had a more difficult relationship, the day can bring up feelings of loneliness and sadness. Or if you’re a father suffering the loss of a child, it can amplify those feelings of loss and bereavement.

Focus on what your father meant to you and what you learnt from him. What is your father’s legacy? Why was he important to you? And remember, Father’s Day is a special day for celebrating and remembering fathers, grandfathers and others, whether they’re living or not. Take advantage of the day.


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