Feeling the Loss of Your Father? How to Cope on Father’s DayMental Health
Holidays can be a mixed blessing sometimes. Take Father’s Day, for example. I have always enjoyed celebrating the fabulous fathers in my life on their special day.
But this Father’s Day will be different. Six days before Christmas of last year, my father passed away.
This year, as always, my heart will sing at the love our three adult children will show my husband on Father’s Day. But, like the hearts of many of us who have lost our beloved fathers, mine will cry, too. Whether your father has passed or you are estranged from him, the pain is there. And it hurts.
If you’re feeling the loss of your father as Father’s Day approaches, clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, author of Baggage Check, offers some heartfelt advice on how to cope.
1. It’s OK to grieve—even on a holiday
Father’s Day can trigger intense moments of grief, even if it’s been years since your father has died—but those moments can be life-changing.
“Grief has meaning because grief is the flip side of love,” Bonior says. “It’s the price we pay for love.”
2. It’s OK to look at Father’s Day differently this year
If you’re dreading Father’s Day and planning to isolate instead of seeing all those happy families toasting their patriarch in somewhere fancy, try to reframe your feelings.
“This can be a powerful time to reassess your father’s meaning to you,” Bonior says. “It’s a great day to reassess the ways you carry him forward, the memories that are important that you want to prioritize and the ways you will keep your relationship alive even if he’s not alive.”
3. It’s OK if your feelings about your dad are a mixed bag
There’s meaning in even the most complicated feelings you have about your dad, Bonior says.
“It’s important to allow yourself to feel even the most negative things,” she says. “These feelings can make you understand yourself better.”
For example, think about how an unhealthy relationship helped prepared you better to recognize, cultivate, and appreciate healthy relationships.
“Maybe it helped you value good relationships more because you know what you do need,” Bonior says. “Maybe you developed certain strengths from having to be your own person outside a toxic relationship. The key is that even bad feelings can help you gain insight and help you move forward and reflect.”
4. It’s OK to honor your dad
Honoring your dad is your choice, even if it seems odd to others. So don’t hesitate to make your dad’s favorite meal, watch his favorite TV show, make a list of all that you loved about him or share his favorite joke with friends.
“By doing this you’re sharing your dad as a real person and you’re keeping his memory alive which can be very important in helping you cope with a loss,” Bonior says.
5. It’s OK to completely ignore that it’s Father’s Day (and social media, too)
Each person copes with a holiday like Father’s Day differently. Feel free to avoid the holiday entirely—that’s completely fine as long as don’t feel worse by avoiding it.
“You don’t want to stuff your feelings and explode in a week,” Bonior says. And if you think you’ll be upset looking at social media, skip it, she adds.
“You don’t need to see all those photos on Facebook or Instagram,” she says. “As long as it feels functional, it’s okay. Just be sure to keep your finger on the pulse of your feelings.”
6. It’s OK to reach out for support when you need it
If you’re trying to psych yourself up for Sunday and aren’t sure you’ll be fine that day, communicate your needs to your partner or friends.
“The more notice you give your partner, the better,” Bonior says. “You should spell it out as in ‘I might need space on Sunday. Father’s Day is hard for me as you know.'”
If you have kids, you can also acknowledge that this day can be complicated. “Let’s say your kids are doing this huge Father’s Day celebration but your husband recently lost his dad,” Bonior says. “You can say something like ‘Daddy is going to be excited to spend the day with you, but you should know that Daddy is feeling sad because he’s missing Grandpa on Father’s Day, too.’
“The more notice you can give to your loved ones, the less of a chance there will be for dashed expectations.”
There’s an oft-quoted line from writer Gloria Naylor, the National Book Award winner of The Women of Brewster Place: "Old as she was, she still missed her Daddy sometimes."
How true that sentiment! Although it’s been six months, my father’s passing still feels recent. I admit, I still miss him all the time.