Grief is different for everybody and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Likewise, there is no right or wrong way to spend Father’s Day when your father figure is no longer here. Equally we recognise this day may be very difficult if you yourself are a father bereaved of a child or perhaps grieving the loss of a partner or indeed trying to support a grieving child. No matter the nature of the relationship, occasions like Father’s Day can bring up very painful experiences when grieving.
We’ve put together some ideas for how to support yourself when you are grieving a father figure or child on Father’s Day. Not everything will suit every person so don’t worry if something is not for you, these are just some things others have found helpful. Some may choose to remember their person on this day, whereas others may choose to avoid the frequent reminders.
However, you spend the day, please be gentle with yourself and do whatever you need to do on this day.
Managing Expectations and Plans
If you expect that Father’s Day is going to be a challenging day, then it might be helpful to plan ahead and hold gentle expectations of yourself. Planning paced activities for the day may help the time pass better. You may want to spend the day with loved ones or spend time alone. If you are worried about what conversations may come up, consider what you might say in those circumstances. Or you may wish to let others know what you need ahead of the day if that feels right for you. Remember there is no right or wrong in grief. Any plans you do make don’t have to be rigid, you can check in with yourself and change them as necessary. Sometimes no matter how much we plan, something may take us by surprise. Remember that it’s ok to feel whatever emotions arise for you and to take space as needed.
Find ways to connect with your person
You may want to take some time to remember your father figure or child or partner on this day. You may choose to incorporate them into the day in a way that feels meaningful for you. Whether this is lighting a candle, buying something you know they would like, raising a glass in their honour, visiting their grave, listening to their favourite music, or just taking a moment to have them in your thoughts. It is what feels most helpful for you. You can bring your person’s memory into the present with you, doing this might bring tears – but that’s ok. Allowing yourself to experience these difficult thoughts and feelings is part of the grieving process.
Some people find buying a Father’s Day card and writing a message to their person comforting. You could choose to leave this card at a special place, keep it in a memory box, or put it in the back of a drawer. Some people choose to celebrate other special people in their life on this day. For example, a friend, a brother, or mother.
Everyone is different
People have different ideas about how to do things and this can cause tension in families, when one person’s way of grieving is different to another’s. Remember that others who were close to your father figure or child will also be experiencing grief. Acknowledge that people can honour what is right for them, even when it feels strange or perhaps difficult for you. Having open conversations about your needs, while being sensitive to others’, may result in a happy medium.
It may be helpful to talk to them, or simply spend some time together.
If you find it helpful, writing about what you’re feeling can be very therapeutic. Even just taking 10 minutes to put your thoughts on paper can be beneficial.
Ask for help if you need it.
With TV and radio adverts, shop window displays, email subscriptions and social media, it can feel as though everywhere you turn you are being confronted with Father’s Day reminders. This can be very isolating and distressing for some. Do what you need to do to tune this out, if necessary, take a media break and do something for yourself. Or you may find it comforting to look at social media accounts which are dedicated to grief – these might validate how you are feeling and make you feel less alone on this day.
This day can magnify the uncomfortable and painful emotions that come with grieving. Some may feel sad on Father’s Day, some may feel happy, some angry, some lonely, and some nothing at all. Father’s Day may be tricky if you wrestle with multiple, often conflicting feelings. In particular, if you are a father grieving your father/grandfather or father grieving their child there can be feelings of sadness and feelings joy or gratitude. Or if you had a difficult or complicated relationship with your person there may be feelings of guilt or anger or you might not know how to feel. It is ok to experience all these things and you may well experience them all at once.
Talking to others
Let people know how you feel, and what is or isn’t helpful for you. Often people don’t know how to act towards a grieving person so they might do things that you find unhelpful or difficult. If you would like to talk and share memories of your father figure, child or partner, let them know. Being open about how they can do things differently might take the pressure off both of you. You don’t need to justify yourself- if people do not understand, it is not your responsibility to make them.
Be generous with you
Ensure you have some downtime. If you have children, it can feel like there’s pressure to do lots on Father’s Day. Likewise, if you have a partner and they want to visit their father figure, you might want to be there with them. But don’t forget that sometimes you need to take some time for yourself too so take breaks when you need them. Plan something nice after something difficult. And allow yourself to feel your feelings, whatever they may be. We have some further suggestions listed below on ways to respond to difficult thoughts and feelings under our final note section.
If you are struggling you can:
Call Cruse Bereavement Helpline on 0808 802 6161
Text SHOUT to 85258. This is a free 24/7 crisis text service run by Shout.
Bereavement support services:
Beatson Cancer Charity Bereavement support service – you can find more information about support we provide here
Compassionate Friends (offer support to bereaved parents and siblings) The Compassionate Friends (tcf.org.uk)
Child Bereavement UK(supporting individuals and families bereaved of a parent or child) Child Bereavement UK
We have also listed a few other exercises you can do to help. Occasions like Father’s Day can amplify already difficult emotions, which can cause higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and we can get caught up in our thoughts. To help with this you can practice relaxation or mindfulness techniques. We have a few suggestions below but do remember to do what feels kindest for you.
Soothing Rhythm Breathing
Once you have found somewhere comfortable to sit, place both feet flat on the floor about a shoulder’s width apart and rest your hands in your lap. If you feel comfortable you can close your eyes when practicing this exercise, or you can look down at the floor if you would prefer. Allow yourself to have a gentle facial expression, perhaps a slight smile.
Continue to focus on your breathing. Notice the breath coming in, down into the diaphragm and then moving back out. Sometimes it’s useful to focus on the point just inside the nose or mouth, where the air enters and leaves. Focus on this for a little while.
It is perfectly ok for your mind to wander, that’s what our minds do. Just try to notice when your mind wanders off, with a curiosity about where your mind has gone, and then gently guide your attention back to an awareness of your body and breathing, as best as you can.
Restful walking meditation:
With walking, we have the opportunity to be in our bodies in a somewhat different way than when sitting or lying down. We can bring our attention to our feet and feel the contact of the foot with the floor or ground with every step.
Before you begin your meditation, find a quiet space to walk. It could be outdoors, or in a hallway, or even a large room, walking back and forth.
If you find it useful, you can count steps up to 10, and then start back at one again. If you’re in a small space, as you reach ten, pause, and with intention, choose a moment to turn around.
With each step, pay attention to the lifting and falling of your foot. Notice movement in your legs and the rest of your body. Notice any shifting of your body from side to side.
Whatever else captures your attention, come back to the sensation of walking. Your mind will wander, so without frustration, guide it back again as many times as you need.
Particularly outdoors, maintain a larger sense of the environment around you, taking it all in, staying safe and aware.
When you’re ready to end your walking meditation, stand still for a moment again. Pausing, choose a moment to end the practice. As you finish, consider how you might bring this kind of awareness into the rest of your day.
Progressive Muscle Mindfulness
Progressive muscle mindfulness is an exercise that involves bringing attention to your mind and body by progressively tensing and easing of muscle groups throughout your entire body.
You will tense each muscle group vigorously, but without straining, and then release the tension where the purpose is to notice the sensation as you let the tension go.
If you have any pain or discomfort at any of the targeted muscle groups please do feel free to skip that step.
Throughout this exercise you may visualize the muscles tensing and of the sensation of letting that tension go as we move throughout the muscles in your body.
It is important that you keep breathing throughout the exercise and so we will firstly begin by bringing our focus to our body and breath.
Now let’s begin. Start by finding a comfortable position either sitting or lying down in a place where you will ideally not be interrupted.
Allow your attention to focus only on your body. If you begin to notice your mind wandering, this is okay, notice where it has wandered to and bring it back to the muscle you are working on.
Now, take a deep breath through your nose and into your abdomen, hold for a few second, and exhale slowly.
Take a deep breath in again. And again, as you breathe notice your stomach rising and your lungs filling with air. As you exhale, imagine the tension in your body being released and flowing out of your body.
And again inhale…..and exhale. Notice what this feels like in your body, what is it that you notice? Perhaps there are sensations or thoughts or a perceived shift. You may perhaps begin to feel more relaxed, though not the main intention it can often be a welcomed consequence. As you go through each step, remember to keep breathing.
Now let’s begin.
Tighten the muscles in your forehead by raising your eyebrows as high as you can.
[Hold for about five seconds].
And gently allow that feeling of tension to ease off. Pause for about 10 seconds. Now smile widely, feeling your mouth and cheeks tense. Hold for about 5 seconds, and release, appreciating the softness in your face. Pause for about 10 seconds.
Next, tighten your eye muscles by squinting your eyelids tightly shut. [Hold for about 5 seconds], and release. [Pause for about 10 seconds].
Gently pull your head back as if to look at the ceiling. [Hold for about 5 seconds, and release, noticing what it feels like as the tension eases off]. [Pause for about 10 seconds]. Now feel the weight of your relaxed head and neck sink. Breath in…and out. In…and out. Let go of all the stress In…and out.
Now, tightly, but without straining, clench your fists and hold this position until I say stop. [Hold for about 5 seconds], and release, and allow the tension to ease off, noticing any sensations that are there as you do. Pause for about 10 seconds.
Now, flex your biceps. Feel that buildup of tension. You may even visualize that muscle tightening. [Hold for about 5 seconds], and now ever, so slowly, letting the tension ease. Now notice what the muscles feel like at rest.
Breath in...and out. Now tighten your triceps by extending your arms out and locking your elbows. [Hold for about 5 seconds], and release. Pause for about 10 seconds. Now lift your shoulders up as if they could touch your ears.
[Hold for about 5 seconds], and quickly release, notice the sensations, notice if there is any heaviness. [Pause for about 10 seconds].
Tense your upper back by pulling your shoulders back trying to make your shoulder blades touch. [Hold for about 5 seconds], and release. [Pause for about 10 seconds].
Tighten your chest by taking a deep breath in, hold for about 5 seconds, and exhale, blowing out all the tension. Noticing what this feels like to exhale and let the tension go.
Now tighten the muscles in your stomach by sucking in. [Hold for about 5 seconds], and release. [Pause for about 10 seconds].
Gently arch your lower back. [Hold for about 5 seconds, relax]. Pause for about 10 seconds.
Take notice – what are the sensation in your upper body, what you notice as you let go of the tension and stress, hold for about 5 seconds, and relax.
Tighten your buttocks. [Hold for about 5 seconds]…, release, imagine your hips falling loose. Noticing what it feels like as the tension eases off. [Pause for about 10 seconds].
Tighten your thighs by pressing your knees together, as if you were holding a penny between them. [Hold for about 5 seconds]…and release.
Pause for about 10 seconds.
Now flex your feet, pulling your toes towards you and feeling the tension in your calves. [Hold for about 5 seconds], and gently let the tension go, as you do notice what that feels like as you let the weight of your legs sinking down. [Pause for about 10 seconds].
Curl your toes under tensing your feet. [Hold for about 5 seconds, release].
Pause for about 10 seconds.
Now bringing tension throughout your whole body, as far as is comfortable and without straining, tense your whole body. [Hold for about 5 seconds] And gently allow that tension to ease off and as you do notice whether any sensations throughout your body, beginning at your head and going all the way down to your feet. Bringing your attention to your body as a whole and taking notice of any sensations of how your body feels in the here and now, whether any sensations or of perhaps of easing or of letting go, whatever it may be that you have noticed as we reach the end of this exercise.
And now bringing your attention gently back to the breath as you breathe in and out [pause for 5 seconds]. And now bringing your focus back to where you are, seeing what you notice in the space around you what you can see [5 second pause] what you can hear [5 second pause]. And welcome back into the room and into the here and now.