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Coping with Father’s Day grief when you’ve lost a child

Father grieving, head in hands

It’s supposed to be a day for quality time with your kids, but for dads who’ve had to say goodbye to their child, Father’s Day can be a painful reminder of what they’ve lost.

After the death of a child, holidays like Father’s Day, Thanksgiving and birthdays can bring back the worst feelings of grief and loss. It doesn’t matter if this is your first Father’s Day after losing your child, or 20 years since they died, it’s okay to feel sad, angry or low.

If you’re struggling to cope with grief this Father’s Day, here are some thoughts for getting through the day.

Mentally prepare

Part of coping with grief during holidays like Father’s Day is being aware in advance that there may be challenges. Try to mentally prepare for the fact that special days might be harder now.

From seeing happy families celebrating together to walking past the greetings cards at the supermarket, there will probably be a lot of things that remind you of your loss. Being aware that you might be affected by these things might help you prepare for any emotions that resurface.

You might also want to plan something special to commemorate your son or daughter.

Find a way to commemorate your child

You might feel as though you want to ignore Father’s Day as much as possible. For some people this works, but for others it is more helpful to acknowledge that you are remembering a son or daughter on Father’s Day.

Many grieving parents choose to mark these difficult days by visiting their child’s grave, or a special place the family visited together. Doing something as simple as writing a card to your child can help you acknowledge that they are still a part of your life, and express any emotions you are feeling in the process.

Express your emotions

Men often feel the social pressure to ‘stay strong’ and keep their emotions hidden. Unfortunately, this means that fathers’ needs can be ignored or overlooked.

Grief cannot be denied, only delayed, says the COPE Foundation, a non-profit grief organization. It says that after losing a child, you might find that you are tempted to pack your grief away and ignore it as much as possible, because its sheer enormity seems overwhelming. Facing such strong and painful emotions, it says – as well as admitting that you aren’t in control – can be incredibly daunting.

If you find you’re experiencing a lot of emotions on Father’s Day, remember that it’s okay to express them. Staying strong often only delays grief. Acknowledging that you aren’t okay is an important first step to coping with whatever you are feeling. There’s no shame in admitting that you still love and miss your child.

Try talking to a close friend or member of your family. If you feel uncomfortable opening up to someone, you could try writing down your thoughts.

Find support

If you feel that you can’t talk to your friends or family about how you are feeling, there are bereavement support organizations that can help.

Bereavement charity The Compassionate Friends supports families coping with the loss of a child, no matter what age they were when they died, or how long ago it happened. They have over 660 chapter locations across the country and online communities so you can connect with other bereaved parents to share your experiences.

The MISS Foundation, specializing in providing support for grieving families, has a range of support services. These include online support groups and the HOPE mentor program, allowing you to connect with a trained volunteer who has also experienced the death of a child, either in person, via email, on the phone or by Skype.

Read more practical advice about coping with grief.