For anyone who has lost a spouse or significant other, the celebration of Father’s Day can be a challenging prospect.
It’s difficult not to notice it as there are constant promotions all around us.
From the perspective of a widow with children, it’s a reminder that their dad has gone forever, that you are effectively a double parent and the powerful emotions of your loss can re-surface as a result. For the children, it’s painful to have that reminder that you no longer have a dad. No one to make that card for, as others around you make theirs in school. For widowers it can be awkward as you are expected to enjoy your ‘special day’, indeed to have a Happy Father’s Day, but your wife/partner is not there to share it with you, which again is painful. Even for a childless widow, there may be a real sense of loss as they reflect on what may never be.
If you are supporting friends or family who are grieving for a loved one this Father’s Day and are not certain how to be there for them, here are a few ideas:
- Don’t ignore them. Contact them to let them know that you are thinking of them on this day and their loved one is not forgotten.
- Be prepared to listen. Whether the death happened recently or years ago, sometimes the bereaved need to share memories of their loved ones or feelings about their loss.
- Liaise with the children to help them do something special for their dad who’s trying to do two parents’ jobs.
- Take a small gift to a widow (and her children) just to let them know they’re thought of on a day when they’re even more aware (if that’s possible) of their loss than on other days.
If you want to help, ask instead of making assumptions about what to do:
- ‘Are there ways I can help you with …?’
- ‘Would you like me to …?’
- ‘Would you like to talk about …?’
There are also some things you should never say:
- ‘At least …’ anything. Saying ‘at least’ makes it seem as if the loss isn’t that important to the speaker, so why should it be so important to the bereaved?
- ‘You should …’ OR ‘You shouldn’t … .’ No one has the right to tell someone else how to go about the emotions or the business of grieving.
- ‘I know what you’re going through.’ Each loss is unique.
It’s helpful to understand that you can’t ‘fix’ your friends’ or family’s grief, but you can comfort them by letting them know that you support them in it.
For all those who have been widowed, it’s helpful to decide in advance how to deal with this day. Do what feels right and what works for you on Father’s Day. It does not matter what we “should” do or what anyone wants us to do.
This is how some of our Widowed Young Support Volunteers have dealt with Father’s Day:
‘Father’s Day was really difficult, especially at church when all the other children were discussing what they had done for their Dads, and it would leave my children feeling extremely upset. We decided to celebrate my husband by going away for the day as a family and do something fun together, usually something my husband would have enjoyed doing’.
‘My second husband (a widower) and I decided on having a ‘We’re a special family day’ which we celebrate instead of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in May. We spend the day together as a family, have a special breakfast, play games, watch a film together, eat chocolate – and often buy a family present like a DVD or game’.
‘On Father’s Day I now look forward to some chocolates and some new socks as my children recognize I’ve kind of done both the dad and mum roles for the past 14 years.
We also write a few cards of thank to some of the male role models in their lives’.
‘I encourage the children to celebrate their memories of their Dad. Making cards at school and Cubs can be hard, but the adults usually are very understanding’.
‘Father’s Day is one of those days which I wish I could fast forward. I want to pretend it does not exist but you are faced with it at every turn.
I even find it hard to buy gifts and cards for my own dad. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that I still have my dad but it hurts me that my kids don’t have their daddy anymore. Special dates and occasions can make this journey even harder’.
‘The first anniversary of my husband’s death fell on Father’s day which made it extra poignant. My son and I joined with a group of young widow/ers and their families at a nearby holiday park for the weekend. It was a comfort to be around others who understood that it was a tough day, yet we could still have fun together and it was okay to laugh as well as cry’.
‘Normally I have ignored it! It was never a date we marked particularly, so when Lynne died, it wasn’t a significant date.
The kids never remembered, unless a card was made at Cubs/Brownies, so I did not notice much difference when the family organiser behind it (Lynne) died. It was also not noted at Church, so I did not feel left out of things there.
Nowadays, I think we are more likely to acknowledge it in Church – and give people the chance to give thanks for Dads, living or dead and often we have lit candles. It is good, as we all have father-figures to remember’.
‘The first Father’s Day, the kids and I could not face the outside world, so we hid at home still too raw and angry.
This will be our third Father’s Day without Ainsley and we plan to face the day the best we can. If it feels like a day to mourn or a day to celebrate, perhaps a mix of both then so be it. We have learned that sometimes it’s ok not to be ok, however it feels softened now by remembering the goodness of the past we all shared together. No one can ever take that from us’.
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