Father’s Day: How To Cope When It’s Tough To Celebrate

Many people struggle with grief and trauma around the dad-centric holiday.

“Grief around Father’s Day, a day when we normally come together to celebrate our dads and the role they had in our life, can be hard when they are gone and even harder this year, given the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dan Reidenberg, a mental health expert and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

“Our bodies and minds might be in panic mode as we try to cope with all of the uncertainty and changes to our daily lives, which leaves less emotional resources to cope,” added Nicole Bentley, a licensed therapist and intake coordinator at Cityscape Counseling in Chicago. “If Father’s Day is typically a hard day for someone, then this year that same person might have less ability to cope with it because of the emotional toll the pandemic has taken on their mental health. This could mean that emotions feel stronger or like they last longer.”

But there are ways to ease the effects of Father’s Day triggers. HuffPost spoke to experts to learn how to deal with the grief surrounding the holiday. While the focus is on people who’ve lost their fathers, much of their advice can apply to those who’ve lost a child or experienced other kinds of dad-related trauma.

Know That You Are Not Alone

“On days like Father’s Day, emotional scar tissue is reopened, as people feel the pain of what they never had or may have once had, but now it’s gone,” said licensed psychologist Tracy Thomas. “This is even harder when others are getting to have a more fulfilling celebration around you. The grief that people feel in this area may be more subtle the rest of the year, but when people see other people celebrating their dads, it generates more grief for those that already feel pain in this area.”

Scrolling through an Instagram feed full of dad tributes or even seeing families gathered together at a park may make you feel like you’re the only one not in a celebratory mood on Father’s Day. But this is not true.

“Knowing that you are not alone in this can help,” Reidenberg said. “There are many others who feel sadness, loss and grief, too.”

If you’re feeling grief around Father’s Day, you may find comfort in reading essays, books, blogs or even social media posts from others who have had similar experiences and who struggle around this holiday as well.

Take Stock Of Your Feelings

“Grief is hard. It is just never easy, quick or exactly the same for all of us,” Reidenberg said. “When you lose someone that you care about, it takes time to go through the grieving process. Everyone does it differently, and it is different for each person and relationship that you have lost.”

The process of coping is about going through the different emotions that arise, acknowledging them and responding in the way that’s best for you. Even if your emotional experience diverges from your expectations, it’s still natural and real.

“Be aware that you might have a range of feelings, even some that might surprise you,” Reidenberg said. “Some people grieving the loss of a father are sad, while others are angry that they didn’t get more time with their dad. They might be upset over the circumstances around their death. Some might be envious that others still have their dad around to celebrate with. Still others will feel sad that their dad didn’t get to see the successes of their children on Father’s Day and know it brought a sense of pride to their dad.”

Reach Out To Loved Ones

“If you find yourself struggling this Father’s Day, it might be helpful to reach out for social support,” Bentley said. “A loved one can provide emotional support, validation, perspective or problem-solving options, depending on what you are in need of. In times of distress, we are often less able to give ourself what we need, so seeking support from others can be very helpful.”

Connecting with others provides the opportunity to express your feelings rather than bottling them up.

“Talking about our hurt allows us to release the pain through our words, giving the loss less power,” said Saniyyah Mayo, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. She also suggested gathering with loved ones (in small, socially distanced or virtual get-togethers) to celebrate your father’s life.

“This also cultivates a positive mood and allows individuals to focus on the good times versus the loss that they are experiencing,” she said.

Share Memories

“Make sure to talk about your dad,” Reidenberg said. “Often people think that others won’t want to hear about someone who has passed because it is too hard on the survivors, but it is really important to keep talking about them in the present time on days like Father’s Day. Find the right people in your life that you can talk to about him, and share stories, good memories, things that you learned, and know that it is also OK to share your sadness and things that you will miss because he is not here.”

Sharing positive memories ― funny stories or good times ― can help cultivate a sense of joy during an otherwise painful time. You can share these memories in conversations with others, emails to loved ones, social media posts or journal entries with just yourself.

Thomas told HuffPost she faced some big challenges in her relationship with her father, who died last year.

“For years, I have made an extra effort to continuously write down all of the things he has done for me in my life and all of the ways I see how much he has tried while struggling with his own emotional issues,” she said. ”People can lessen the grief they feel (especially this year) by making a list like this in order to bring about the clarity that allows you to acknowledge something to celebrate, because celebrating what is versus grieving over what isn’t is an important emotions technique for building epic emotional strength to enjoy life.”

Carry On Traditions Or Create New Ones

“Find a way to carry on something important to your dad. Whether it was something you did together with him or something you did that made him proud of you, do it and do it in his honor,” Reidenberg said.

“Consider starting a new tradition in memory and honor of your dad,” he added. “It can be anything big or small, simple or complicated, alone or with others. The idea is just to find something meaningful to you and to your dad and do it each year in his honor.”

A new annual tradition could be marking the day by eating a particular food that he loved, walking a certain path he used to enjoy or collecting something he liked (stamps or rocks, for instance). You could explore a new place to get a change of scenery. The options are endless.

“If grief feels particularly strong this Father’s Day, consider what would be meaningful for you,” Bentley said. “Perhaps that means not celebrating with your spouse’s father this year or spending time with another loved one who you feel close with. Maybe it means having a self-care day to yourself or being around other people who feel safe to surround yourself with during such a vulnerable time. There is no right or wrong here. It’s all about leaning into what feels like the right fit for you.”

Talk To A Therapist

Bentley added: “Talking to a therapist about grief is always a great option. They can provide a nonbiased perspective centered entirely on your experience and your needs.”

Virtual group therapy and online support groups can also be helpful, as fellow mourners may offer another form of comfort and consolation.

“If your experience with grief seems to be intensifying despite your attempts at effective coping, that is a good sign that seeking therapeutic support could be useful,” Bentley said.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.