On Father’s Day 2017, I started the day in Margate, N.J. for brunch with my fiancé’s family, then battled I-76 West traffic to get to Plymouth Meeting to go bowling with my step family. Afterwards, I headed to my cousin’s house in Norristown for a barbecue with my family and then later battled I-76 East to get home to Center City.
You might notice, my father wasn’t a part of that schedule. He died suddenly of a heart attack a few weeks before. Instead of preparing myself for the emotional toll that holiday could have on me, I ignored it and focused on everyone else.
I wanted my fiancé to spend time with his family as I now saw how quickly our loved ones could be taken away from us. I wanted to make sure my step family was okay as this was a day we would generally spend together. And I wanted to be by my 95-year-old grandmother’s side as this would be her first holiday not celebrating her only son.
The hours ticked away on the clock and there was little time for me to check in with myself. I pushed through the day like a bulldozer through a forest.
Then it all stopped. I sat on my couch to collect myself. I could feel the seas inside of me turn angry. In a matter of minutes, I was paralyzed. It hit me that I did not see my dad, I did not talk to him, and I would never see him again.
Suddenly a small but strong EMT was lifting my body off of the bathroom floor and hauling me onto a gurney “You’re okay,” she said. “You’re having an anxiety attack. But you’ll be okay.” I spent the night in the hospital and the following week on the couch. I learned my lesson and I vowed never to ignore Father’s Day again.
Everyone grieves the loss of a parent differently, but here are a few things you can do for yourself, or recommend to others, to help ease the pain on Father’s Day.
Go through the memories
Some people find it too difficult to look at pictures, while others find it comforting. For those that generally stay away from the memories to get through their daily lives, Father’s Day is a good time to go down memory lane as it may prove to be more therapeutic than hurtful. Chances are that you heard your father’s voice or saw his face on Father’s Day. When that is missing, it can feel very unnatural and conjure up uncomfortable and anxious feelings. Going through photos, watching videos, or listening to voicemails can help to fill that void.
Continue to honor him
Holidays in general can be tough when you are grieving the loss of your father since they are times typically spent with family, but with Father’s Day, the entire country is focused on the very figure you no longer have. I used to find this insulting, and sometimes still do— especially Hallmark commercials! —but I’ve learned to look at it in a different way. Just because he is gone, doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate my father just as everyone else is celebrating theirs. Do an activity you loved together, listen to his favorite songs, or go to a favorite restaurant.
Save time for you
The show must go on! There may be other fathers in your life that you have to celebrate that day. Before you head to that barbecue, make sure you save some time for yourself to reflect on your time with your father and the relationship you had. Taking an hour in the morning to sort through your emotions can have a profound effect on how you process the difficult situations throughout the rest of the day.
Rely on others
When your inbox becomes filled with “Father’s Day Sales” and “Father’s Day Discounts” and “Great deals for Father’s Day,” it can make you feel very lonely. You begin to feel as though you’re the only one in the world without your father present. I promise you, that is not the case. Rely on your friends and family members to help you through the day. By opening up to those close to you about how you’re feeling you may find they have similar thoughts and feelings. Or, become a part of a community that is going through the exact same thing. Places like OptionB.org and ModernLoss.com have plenty of resources for those grieving a parent.