Alyssa Paul LCSW
Getting Through Father's Day Grief
Tomorrow, millions of children will spend the day showering their father with gifts and quality time, but the holiday isn't enjoyable for everyone.
Father’s Day can be a painful reminder, for some people, of the absence of a significant relationship. Grief isn’t an emotion reserved solely for losses associated with death. Some people weren’t fortunate enough to have a father whom they can honor the positive role that he played in their life. Instead, he was a source of tremendous pain, and Father's Day is a reminder of the loss of the "ideal" father.
Grief is natural to feel during holidays and is experienced differently for everyone. The week leading up to Fathers Day may affect someone deeper than on the actual date, for others, feelings of grief hit after the holiday has passed. Remember your process is your own, there is no rule book for grieving. If you find Fathers Day is emotionally intense for you, here are some helpful tips. I encourage you to read through them all no matter what your relationship was like with your father.
How to help yourself through Father’s Day grief…
Reach Out For Support
Talk to friends or family that will be able to hold space for your feelings of grief. Share with them your sorrow, but also your gratefulness for the joyful moments.
Steer Clear of Social Media
Social media will be littered with posts, which can trigger your own set of emotions. It’s a needless trigger, it’s okay if you stay away from social platforms for the day. Engage in alternative activities you find enjoyable. Mindfulness is a helpful strategy designed to keep you in the present. Living in the present alleviates rumination and apprehension. Find some mindfulness exercises here.
If you find your thoughts are consumed with your grief, set a specific period in the day to focus on the feelings and thoughts associated with your grief. By committing to the allotted time you can help alleviate distressing feelings. You will be able to use other time in the day differently because your aware there will be a special time dedicated entirely to being with the painful feelings. It can be however long you choose, I suggest a minimum of 30 minutes.
Find a way to exemplify your father in your life. Maybe there was a tradition you can continue or a hobby he was interested in. Whether you did it together or not, this is a great way to honor him and keep him close to your heart.
Moving forward in life doesn’t mean forgetting. Sometimes we can get confused and equate the level of grief or sadness that is felt to how much we cared for someone, which is a fallacy of the mind. It’s okay to enjoy life and feel other emotions besides grief. It's also ok to reflect positively. Your father's life is comparable to a novel, comprised of detailed chapters, death being one, of many captivating chapters. Remember the good times, feel the appreciation for those wonderful chapters that are filled with your times together.
If your father, for lack of a better word, was “not so great”, these additional tips can be beneficial......
You've heard it before, but learning to forgive others, in my experience, is one of the most liberating things you can do. Like the saying goes
“resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”.
Resentment is toxic to your body and your soul. Forgiveness is not a painless process. It is not rekindling a relationship and it is not condoning what he did. Forgiveness could be your next step in freeing yourself from the chains of the past. Find additional tips for cultivating forgiveness here
Get to Know Him
Learning about your father's personal history, especially his early relationships can help you understand him and his behaviors more. Having an understanding of someone’s core being can help generate compassion, resentment's kryptonite. Compassion does not mean you have to love your father or excuse his behavior, but it can help you approach the hard truth that your father wasn’t healthy enough to be the father you wanted/needed him to be.
Do Activities That Honor You
If your father was a source of misery, Father’s Day can trigger painful memories and feelings associated with those times. Seemingly intolerable emotional states can trigger self-sabotaging behaviors. Doing things that foster self-love and improve your mood is especially helpful in reducing impulses to maladaptively cope. Take a bath, enjoy a nice meal, anything that honors you!
Not all relationships are the same and not all grief is the same. “Blood is not thicker than water” in some families, and that is okay. At times, for the betterment of the self, we have to abandon poisonous relationships and there ain't no shame in that! Not loving your father does not make you an awful person and it is not your fault. Acknowledge the loss of the “ideal” father and practice self-compassion. Get some guidance on compassionate self-talk here. Although these exercises are very useful, they do not supplement professional mental health services. I believe everyone could use support from time to time and therapy can be very helpful, but therapy is your individual choice. If you find your grief is interfering with the quality of life I encourage you to seek professional guidance.