Many thanks to Molly Keating and our colleagues at O’Connor Mortuary in California for allowing us to re-post this to benefit our community.
Dads. They’ve got their own unique hold on each and every one of us. With Father’s Day on the horizon, I am always drawn to thinking of the people whose voices will struggle on this holiday with what to say. How do you go through the day if your father has died or if you are a father missing a child?
If you are on this shadow-side of Father’s Day this post is for you.
If your dad has died …
I’m so sorry. I hear many people refer to their dads as anchors or guides in their lives, light houses that assure our position and point the way. Losing such an important person changes everything, leaves us afloat, feeling aimless and confused.
So what are ways to bring joy and forward movement into the day? How do you invite your dad to be a part of Father’s Day?
Here are a few ideas:
- What were some of his hobbies? There’s probably something you and family members could do together in his name; play a board game, throw a football around, tell some of his best bad jokes : )
- Share a picture of your dad on Facebook with a tribute, it doesn’t have to be long. Key words, a favorite story or a life lesson he taught you are great places to start.
- BBQ or enjoy some of your dad’s favorite things to eat.
- Visit your dad’s grave and leave something for him. I have seen people leave a nice cold Budweiser for their dad and I love things like that because they make me smile and hold so much meaning.
- Consider ways you could become that light house or mentor to others. Living out a legacy is one of the most meaningful ways of honoring people who have loved us & changed us.
If you are a grieving father …
I think grieving fathers are some of the most overlooked grief communities that I know of. Understandably, there is a tremendous focus on mothers grieving because of the role their bodies play in the life of the child. These are different griefs tethered to the same loss but their differences don’t elevate one above the other.
I think one of the most significant issues dad’s face in grief is the role of responsibility they feel as protector of their family. When children die, no matter how, father’s take the burden of responsibility on their shoulders. “I should’ve been there,” “I could’ve done something different,” etc. That’s what being a dad is. It’s a protector, leader and helper and that identity is damaged and can even feel dismantled entirely when a child dies.
So, how in the world do you face Father’s Day when you don’t feel like you’ve fulfilled the role? We know that men, in general, are helped by taking action when facing grief and pain. Below are a few ideas that are hopefully constructive and instrumental in helping make the day more bearable, significant, and ultimately helpful.
- Make something for your child. This can be as simple as paper airplanes, and as complicated as your skill set takes you. Creating a bench for your yard or a picture frame for a favorite photo can be special ways of crafting something for them that you can continue to enjoy.
- Resist the stereotypical urge to “keep it bottled up.” This doesn’t help anyone, in fact, it only further isolates the people in the most pain. Share with your spouse or a trusted friend about the pain of the day and a way they could be of support to you through it.
- Consider the kind of day you need; do you want to be with friends & family or would solitude be more helpful? If you have a gathering of people, set aside part of your time together to name your child and acknowledge the loss. Being together with people who love you and miss your child is a wonderful reminder that you are not alone in this.
- Look forward. Because the loss of a child is in so many ways the loss of the future we can often become absorbed or obsessed with only looking back into the time they were a part of our lives. Spend time looking back, it’s not bad or wrong, it’s part of grief. But I would encourage you to dare to look forward, even if it’s just for 5 minutes, at what this year, the next 5, the next 10 years may hold for you. There is a lot of life ahead; look for ways to carry your little one with you into the future – it’s not the way you planned it, but it’s something you can do, if you choose.
To each and every person out there facing a Father’s Day on the shadow side, I am just so sorry. I know no blog or list of actions can fix what you are going through. The above is an attempt to guide, to be that light house for those of you who do feel adrift without fathers or your child.