Father's Day

When families are grieving, Father’s Day is a challenge for everyone.

On Father’s Day, we celebrate the men in our lives who have taught us respect while showing us love, demonstrated strength by offering support, and reflected confidence combined with kindness. As the third Sunday in June grows near, we are inundated with marketing and advertising encouraging us to show our gratitude to dads through gifts and deeds. For a family grieving the death of a father, this day often highlights loss.

The most frequent loss experienced by children who come to Judi’s House is the death of a father. Over the years, all the children and families who have participated in our programs taught us that Father’s Day has a unique impact. Unfortunately, some of those most affected can be overlooked or forgotten. We wanted to offer suggestions about how to be a support:

A family mourning the death of a father. Some families choose distraction to get through the day, such as going to see a movie or taking a mini-vacation. Others choose to honor dad by playing a game he loved, eating his favorite food, or visiting the gravesite. It is important to remember that while the traditional definition of “father” is limiting, father figures come in many forms. They are mentors, grandparents, uncles, and friends. These people may step in throughout the year to fill many roles children need in their lives.

A family mourning the death of a mother. Although the day is marked in honor of dad, the patriarch of this family has lost his partner in parenting. She is not there to deal with skinned knees or broken hearts. She’s also not present to help the kids organize a handmade card or a special meal. Assistance in helping the kids plan a token of recognition or offering to take the kids to allow for much needed rest and relaxation, may be a welcome surprise for dad.

A spouse grieving the death of a father. Their primary focus is likely on the children. They are confronted with how to raise their children without their partner and how to independently take on responsibilities they thought would be shared. For this spouse, Father’s Day may be the perfect opportunity for a small gesture to show that although their journey has significantly changed, you have not forgotten them.

A family mourning the death of a child. If someone in your life is grieving the death of a child, it is important to be sensitive and ask, even months in advance, what supports they may welcome. Mothers and fathers who have lost a child likely struggle with holidays that remind them of how their family has changed. While stories about the deceased or kind words about their role as parents may bring comfort to some, for others it may be a painful reminder of what they are poignantly missing. As with anyone who is grieving, simply let them know you are present and willing to listen extends kindness and compassion.

If you are supporting a family grieving a death loss, know that Father’s Day may be a difficult day for them from many different angles. Showing up in small, caring ways, and acknowledging the changes and struggles they are facing may be just the bit of comfort they need to face the day.

Memorializing Mom

For some grieving families, Mother’s Day represents time to draw closer to one another and experience healing. For others, it brings on overwhelming or distressing grief waves. As the second Sunday in May approaches, Judi’s House offers the following suggestions.

Planning ahead is one of the best things families can do to take care of themselves when potentially difficult times are approaching. While self-care, connecting, and memorializing may help some, others just want to get through the day. Either is okay.

Talk to kids about what they want to do. Maybe they don’t want the whole day to be about Mom. Maybe they want to celebrate grandma, a close friend, or each other. Maybe they just want to go to a movie or do something to take their mind off Mom’s absence.

Connecting looks different for every family. The benefit is creating positive interactions and memories, even while navigating intense grief waves.

Here are some suggested activities for creating family connection while combatting isolation and loneliness.

·         Make a family activity grab-bag. Have each member of the family write a group activity on a slip of paper. Combine all the activities in a bag, jar, or hat. Take turns choosing from the mix. In addition to practicing getting along and following rules, playing together as a family facilitates healthy brain development and bolsters confidence.

·         Paint a mural together. Being creative together as a family can lead to a growth mindset. Tape butcher paper to the wall and paint or draw a collage or a panorama. It can be something that honors Mom’s memory, or something entirely new!

·         Cook a meal together. Maybe it’s Mom’s favorite food, or a special dish she made. In addition to being better for you, home cooking provides a space for sharing family memories, traditions and culture.

·         Exercise together. Physical activity reduces sadness and worry. It helps kids focus and think clearly.  It doesn’t have to be extravagant—take a walk, play soccer, or dance in the living room.

Memorializing Mom might look like doing something she liked to do, going to her favorite restaurant, or playing her favorite game. It might look like buying her favorite flowers, or visiting her gravesite. Kids could write Mom a letter. More than anything, just acknowledging her role and importance in the family may help meet grief waves head on.