On Father's Day we celebrate, honor and remember the person who filled the role of dad in our lives. Store displays and billboards constantly remind us that Father's Day is meant to be filled with traditional joyous family gatherings.
However, as the third Sunday of June approaches, grievers are left to ponder how this Father's Day will be different. No matter whether it was a father, mother, grandparent, sibling, child or other someone special who died, the reality is: things won't be the same this year.
This will be Glen's first Father's Day without his dad. And as a recent college graduate, he misses having his dad to talk things through with. Especially those big decisions about career and life choices. For the first time, Glen feels really angry and robbed of being able to have more time with his hero and role model. His fiancée's offer to let Glen borrow her dad, although well meant, doesn't lessen Glen's emotional reactions. "I thought my dad would always be around. This is so unfair."
Megan and her brother Justin always felt different on Father's Day. Having two moms, they used to joke about having the morning free to do whatever they wanted since there was no dad around! Nonetheless they always made a big fuss over grandpa and wanted him to feel like a king at Father's Day dinner. But since Justin died of an overdose, no one is in the mood to celebrate. Grandpa is going to their cousins' and their moms want to go to the cemetery. "I never would have imagined being at a family gathering without my son and my daughter," Rita laments. "I sometimes pretend that Justin is just busy with friends, or being obstinate. But dead?"
Ever since she was a little girl, Father's Day had been a day for Bettye Jean and her dad to have an adventure. Wistfully she recalls, "It was our day to spend however we wanted; nothing pre-planned." Some years they would bicycle ride for hours, or go searching for birds' nests in the nearby woods. Once they played twelve consecutive games of Horse on the basketball court at the park. The year Bettye Jean had a broken arm they stayed home, baked a cake and decorated it with sprinkles and marshmallows.
By the time Bettye Jean was a teenager their celebrations had evolved into their simply eating a quick breakfast together, so that she could dedicate the rest of the day to homework assignments. But there was always that element of time set aside for just the two of them. "Dad was always happy just being together; that's one thing that never changed." Until this year. Dad's death last September means that their fifty-six years of creating Father's Day memories together have ground to a halt. After debating a variety of choices, Betty Jean has decided to make her Dad's favorite dinner, look through photo albums and listen to some of his favorite music. "I think I'll feel closer to him that way."
No matter how recently or how long since the death occurred in your life, Father's Day is likely to take on new meaning this year. You have choices as to what you will do. Consider balancing time with others with some alone-time...this can make the day more bearable. It can be comforting to write out a card or poem expressing your sentiments and then decide what you will do with it. Do something traditional, or create new traditions. I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas.
Fredda Wasserman, MA, MPH, LMFT, CT, is the Clinical Director of Adult Programs and Education at OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center, one of the nation's most respected centers for grief support and education. Fredda presents workshops and seminars on end of life and grief for therapists, clergy, educators, and medical and mental health professionals at locations throughout the country. She is the co-author of Saying Goodbye to Someone You Love: Your Emotional Journey Through End of Life and Grief. Recognized as an expert in death, dying, and bereavement, Fredda has devoted her career to life's final chapter.