Father's Day gives society a chance to honor and show gratitude to all the men in our lives that act as fathers and father figures. But how do we help someone in bereavement who is dealing with the passing of their father?
When my dear friend lost her father, there was no amount of support that felt enough. She was beside herself as she struggled with the loss, and I knew that as Father's Day approached, it was going to be a tough holiday for her to get through. No doubt, Father's Day can bring forth a barrage of mourning and fresh sense of loss for many, but there are ways to help alleviate the pain.
Preemptively talk about it. Addressing the loss before Father's Day, can be one of the most important things you can do to help a loved one get through the tough day. It can be an uncomfortable effort to make, but someone suffering from the loss of a father may feel comforted by the support. Given how much my friend had mourned for her father in the previous few months, I proactively reached out to her and let her know I knew this day was going to be tough. Just the act of letting someone know that they crossed your mind can often be a huge source of comfort.
Recalling memories you have of the deceased is also a wonderful way to offer comfort, and if you don't have any, simply asking questions can also be helpful. For example, people grieving their dad may feel that everyone else has moved on and forgotten, but taking time to bring up old memories can often nurture solace. I called my friend on Father's Day and talked through the memories that were on her mind (such as previous Father's Days when she celebrated with her dad) and allowed her the space to laugh, cry, and reminisce. Even simple questions like "What is your favorite memory of Father's Day with your dad?" or "What was your dad's favorite food?" might lead to a healing and comforting conversation.
Aside from sharing memories, you can also let the person in mourning know you are there for them. Oftentimes, grief can feel incredibly isolating. But reassuring the person that you are present and willing to help can be impactful. The knowledge that they can grieve openly without worrying about making someone else feel bad can be incredibly comforting. I offered support to my friend by calling her, dropping off some food, and texting her throughout the week so she knew I was thinking of her during this holiday.
Cry it out.
Sitting with my friend and letting her cry through her sorrow was incredibly cathartic for her. Instead of trying to cheer her up or distract her, I let her sit with her grief, and we talked and cried for hours while she went through several stages of mourning without the interruption of me trying to make her feel better. Oftentimes it feels difficult for loved ones to sit on the sidelines and watch someone go through so much pain, but allowing them the space to cry freely can have profound effects and be a much-needed release.
Do something special.
The weekend of Father's Day, I dropped off a meaningful card and book of Maya Angelou's poetry because I remembered my friend mentioning how much her dad had loved her work. She said she read the book throughout the weekend, and rediscovering something her dad loved offered her solace in an unexpected way. Finding a way to show you've been listening and then doing something thoughtful around the time of the holiday can be a wonderful way to support your loved one during this difficult time.
There is no easy way to be there for someone experiencing the loss of a father. What worked for my friend may not work for your loved one and it's important to respect their space, boundaries, and needs during this time. That may mean running over to their house to give them a shoulder to cry on or sending them a "thinking of you" text and letting them process the day solo. For my friend, having her support system take these actions above reminded her that she wasn't alone in this heartbreaking rite of passage. Inevitably, most of us will deal with the loss of a parent, but by having an empathetic community, there's a chance that some of the pain can be minimized, especially during difficult holidays like Father's Day.