When you’ve lost a child, Father’s Day brings a new world of emotions — it’s supposed to be a happy day, but instead it’s tinged with heartache. This Father’s Day, we wanted to share some ways to honor bereaved dads.
In my many years of running Still Standing Magazine, a magazine to help bereaved parents and family members to embrace life after loss, I was always most crushed by the heartache of fathers.
Not that my heartache after losing my sons — or the heartache of my other sisters in loss — wasn’t soul-crushing. But hearing the primeval and guttural ache in the words I’d read from fathers who shared their hearts about the losses of their children just did something to mine that I can’t explain.
Maybe it’s that we expect them to be ‘strong,’ and seeing them weep and show the emotions we know so well just jars us, or maybe we just can’t bear our loved ones to feel the pain we feel. Either way, it’s very apparent to me that fathers grieve just as intensely as mothers do, and where Mother’s Day gives us a sting we can’t take away, Father’s Day does the same to them.
Most importantly, remember them. Often, mothers will be remembered on Mother’s Day, (if they are lucky), but rarely does anyone tell a bereaved father, “We are sorry. We know this must be a difficult day for you.” Be that person. Dads are often so worried about the triggers the mothers of their children suffer, little is remembered about this day being a trigger for fathers also.
Don’t treat them differently just because their child no longer lives. If you’d normally send a card or a little gift to a man for Father’s Day, do so. He will especially appreciate the effort, and he will appreciate the small bit of ‘normalcy’ he gets to feel on a day that is absolutely the furthest from being normal. Take dad out for brunch, take him fishing. He’s already feeling an immeasurable loss in his heart. Help him know that no matter what, he’s still a father, and it’s his day.
Ask him if he’d like to talk about his child. Yes, we know. Often, men don’t want to talk, and especially about their feelings, but I’ll say from experience, my husband really found so much from support groups we attended that allowed him to talk and share. Even if it is not typically their personality, bereaved dads are like any other dad — they are supremely proud of their children and will often talk about them, living or dead, with pride and gratitude. Give them that opportunity, and be that ear.
The best gift you can give a bereaved father is the gift of acknowledgment. Many dads feel somewhat ignored in their grief, and rest assured, they are grieving and feeling isolated. No matter what you do, the simple act of thoughtful recognition and acknowledgment of their child, and their pain, is a gift in itself.