Leading up to Father's Day, I've been racking my brain questioning "how can I acknowledge Father's Day and provide grief education, while making it different than what was provided on Mother's Day?" This is a tough question to answer as the skills/exercises provided for Mother's Day are just as applicable to those who are greiving on Father's Day. So, I want to create space the same way I did for those grieving on Mother's Day to those who are grieving on Father's Day; whether you are a child grieving the loss of your father or you are a father grieving the loss of your child.
While you may see some cross over in May's blog to today's, I will also be addressing a few different obstacles interfering with one's ability to effectively grieve on Father's Day.
To The Children Grieving Their Father(s)
"How do I still recognize/acknowledge my dad?"
"How do I cope with seeing everyone else celebrating their dads?"
Do these questions sound familiar? Just like those grieving their mother(s), individuals grieving their father(s) have also asked the same questions. With that, it's important to create space for effective coping to ensure your grief journey is being honored.
As mentioned in last month's blog, it's important to set boundaries around what you give attention to on a day that can potentially carry a lot of triggers. How do we do this? First, I'd like to invite you to explore and identify triggers this day may carry (Examples: social media posts, activities previously done on Father's Day, a store's card section, etc.). Second, I'd encourage you to explore and identify how you might be able to set boundaries around those triggers (for example, if you are triggered by the card section in a store, you may choose to skip walking by that section until the day has passed.).
Now that you've identified possible triggers and ways to set boundaries around those triggers for the day (or leading up to the day), let's talk about how you might be able/want to acknowledge and recognize your dad. Before you do, first ask yourself this question:
Does celebrating your dad on Father's Day feel okay for you and/or fit with where you are in your grief journey?
***Please note, if you're not in a spot where this feels right, THIS IS OKAY! It doesn't mean you love your dad any less. In identifying this, you are recognizing and honoring where you are in your grief journey.
If your answer to the question above is yes, explore the following questions:
How do you want to celebrate him? (Carry on a tradition of your dad's?; Engage in the regular activities of a typical Father's Day with a new twist/added element to still incorporate your dad?; Start a whole new tradition?)
Who would you like to be involved in the celebration? (You, yourself, and your dad?; You and one other close trusted supportive individaul?; You and close family/friends?; A community celebration?)
If your answer to the question above is no, explore the following questions:
How do you want to spend the day? (Engaging in an activity?; Providing yourself with distractions?; Having a day filled with self-care?; All of the above?)
Who do you want to spend the day with? (You and yourself?; You and a spouse/partner/significant other?; You and close family members?; You and a close friend or two in your trusted support system?; You and a supportive community?)
A friendly reminder, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. The most important piece is to ensure the answers to the above questions fit within your grief journey and feel right to YOU!
To The Fathers Grieving Their Child
Here is where things may look a little different. While fathers can experience the same obstacle as mothers (wondering if they should still celebrate/acknowledge the day; and like mothers, you are still a father and deserve to be recognized if it feels right for you and fits within your grief journey), the more common obstacle I'll hear from fathers who are grieving is a lack of permission to grieve as they need to "stay strong" for their family. This absence of permission can stem from the loss of how the role of a father was once filled and uncertainty around how to fill that role following the loss of a child.
Before providing you with similar questions I guide my clients through to start exploring this area, I want to remind you and encourage there to be permission to grieve. Grieving the loss of your child does not make you weak, it makes you human.
I'd like to invite you to explore the questions below.
***Trigger warning! Exploring these questions may be triggering to some. Please honor your grief journey and listen to what feels right for you.
How did you view and fill your role as a father prior to your child's passing?
How do you view and fill your role as a father currently? (Hint: it's OKAY if you think "what role?" or have uncertainty around how to answer this question.)
How would you like to view your role and how might you continue to fill your role as a father in the future? (For example: if you viewed and wish to continue viewing your role as a father to be a protector and a model of strength for the family, in what ways can you be a protector and provide strength to others/your family?)
For all of you who are grieving this Father's Day
I'll say the same I said to those who are grieving their mothers/mothers grieving their children, honor your grief journey! Navigate this day in a way that feels right for you in terms of where you are in your grief journey, how you choose to connect and/or stay connected with your father or child, and at a pace that feels right for you.
Give yourself grace! Know that you're doing your best on a day that can trigger many different feelings.
Here's to living a better life as your best self.
Brittany Squillace, MA, LMFT