Father’s Day is all about showing love and appreciation to the amazing dads in our lives. But if you know a father who’s lost a child to suicide, substance abuse, or sudden loss, that can be easier said than done.
For these dads, Father’s Day can bring about heightened feelings of grief, loss, and sadness, as well as more complicated feelings like anger, disappointment, and guilt.
Whether it’s his first Father’s Day since the child passed away or his 50th, it’s normal and expected for these feelings to arise.
Supporting a grieving parent after the devastating loss of a child is never easy, but days like Father’s Day can make it even harder. So what should you do if you want to support and honor a father who’s lost a child this Father’s Day?
Acknowledge Them and the Day
Bringing up Father’s Day to a grieving dad can feel uncomfortable. You might want to avoid causing or worsening painful feelings by mentioning fatherhood or the loss they’ve experienced.
But one of the most important things you can do for a grieving dad on Father’s Day is to acknowledge their experience as a father, including their loss and the difficulties that Father’s Day can cause.
Whether the father has surviving children or they lost their only child, it’s important to recognize their fatherhood and honor them on Father’s Day, just as you would any dad. (If they do have surviving children, make sure to let them know what a great father you think they are.)
Show Patience and Compassion
Grief has no set timeline, especially after losing a child to suicide, substance abuse, or sudden loss. Feelings of grief can steadily improve over time, or they can come in ebbs and flows.
No matter how long it’s been since a father lost his child, he’ll always cope with a profound sense of loss, especially around holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays.
It’s important to meet a father where he is in his grief if you want to lend him support and love on Father’s Day. Try not to assume that this Father’s Day will be any less difficult than the last just because time has passed.
Try to approach any perceived “setback” in the grieving process with understanding and patience, and let him know that his feelings are valid and normal.
Use the Child’s Name
It’s common to feel like you shouldn’t use a deceased child’s name around the grieving parents and other family members. You might worry that speaking their name will cause even greater feelings of grief in the bereaved parent.
However, a grieving father’s greatest fear is often that his child will be forgotten. You can help alleviate that fear by using the child’s name when you talk about them.
Encourage Seeking Support
Friends and family can offer a huge amount of support to grieving dads on Father’s Day. But it’s also important to encourage seeking outside support when needed.
Let the father in your life know that there are resources available in the form of professional grief counseling and support groups.
Create Space to Talk About the Child
Some fathers won’t want to talk about their child on Father’s Day, while others will embrace any opportunity to share stories and remember their child. Both of these responses are healthy and valid.
While you shouldn’t push a father to talk about their departed child, you can open the door for him to share his most cherished memories. For example, you could send a text that says, “I’m always just a call away if you want to talk about Jenny or anything else on your mind.”
Support Surviving Children
Grief is often a lonely and isolating experience. Although Father’s Day is centered around supporting fathers, surviving siblings may feel left out and forgotten on days like this. They might also feel increased pressure to make Father’s Day special for their grieving dad.
If the father has surviving children, you can support him this Father’s Day by supporting the kids. Show them extra care and compassion around the date, and let them know that you’re there for them.
Let the father in your life know that it’s OK to spend some time caring for himself this Father’s Day. He might feel pressured to spend the day with family or to behave in a specific way. However, it’s important to take time to himself, too.
You could offer to spend the day together doing something fun and relaxing, like enjoying the outdoors or going out for lunch. Alternatively, you could offer to take care of his other children or run an errand so that he can spend some alone time.
Let Him Know You’re Thinking of Him
Fathers can get forgotten and left behind when it comes to grieving a child, especially after miscarriage or pregnancy loss. One of the best ways to support a grieving father on Father’s Day is just to reach out and let him know he’s in your thoughts.
Ask Him What He Needs
Only the grieving dad himself can know exactly what would help him on this day. Although you can offer support in various ways, the best way to offer the right type of support is to ask what you can do to help and what he’s comfortable with.
The key is not to make assumptions about what he might be feeling on this date, but to allow him to express what he’s feeling himself. Don’t assume he doesn’t want to talk about his child, and don’t assume that he does. Meet him where he is, and support him based on that.
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