Real stories of Father's Day grief
Two young women share their experiences of coping with the loss of their dad during Father's Day.
Fran Hopkins, 30, Manchester
2020 will be my second Father’s Day without my amazing dad, Ian. It’s a day that we used to more or less ignore and we would laugh together about it being corporate rubbish. When I used to call Dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day, a lot of the time he’d laugh at me, say “thanks darling” and quickly change the subject. He hated presents, hated attention, didn’t want cards and absolutely didn’t want a fuss. It’s a day that I have noticed and dreaded every time it comes around since his death at the end of 2018 and is something that we seemingly can’t escape from. It’s a day that—despite his protests—I wish I had made more of an effort to spend time with him.
I consider myself quite a resilient person, who is able to ignore the constant barrage of emails and advertising everywhere you look, but around this time every year the familiar sense of dread, outbursts of emotion and overwhelming waves of sadness start to creep in. For people who have lost their dads, Father’s Day is an all-singing, all-dancing, glittery in-your-face reminder of what we’ve lost and the endless social media photos of people with their dads or celebrating the day together can be very hard.
"If you just want to stay in bed and not do anything, that’s fine too"
Last year I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to hide away from Father’s Day and refused to make it a day that reminds me of what I’ve lost. I still have a dad and a brilliant one at that. I concluded that while he wasn’t here to celebrate with, I would instead celebrate his life and do things that made me feel close to him. In 2019, I spent the day in my flat with my phone on do not disturb, got into my comfiest pyjamas, drank wine, cooked a roast dinner and snuggled up to watch some of his favourite films that I’d borrowed from his collection. Some of the films I hadn’t seen before, and knowing that I was watching a film he’d loved so much made me feel really close to him. This year will be quite different as I will be in lockdown with my mum and brother. I am planning to head out for a long bike ride in the morning for some important alone time to quietly remember my dad in my own way, followed by a family walk, dinner together and an evening spent watching “Dad’s” films.
My advice to people experiencing Father’s Day is this—the lead up to the day is the worst; the dread is unrelenting and uncomfortable, but it won’t last. Make plans to celebrate their life, watch their favourite films, eat their favourite food, listen to their favourite music, spend time with people who make you feel happy and loved, but most importantly be kind to yourself. These days are hard enough as it is without the added pressure of making it “perfect”. If you wake up in the morning and you just want to stay in bed and not do anything, that’s fine too. Do whatever makes YOU feel good at that moment.
One of the most important things to remember on this day, and in general, is that you are not alone. There is an amazing, beautiful, open and caring community of people out there who have lost loved ones—the charity Let’s Talk About Loss is the perfect example of this. Find your local group—reach out to the hosts, come along to a virtual meet- up with like-minded people who understand and make some lifelong friends. The one thing everyone I’ve met through Let’s Talk About Loss has in common is the overwhelming urge to make something good come out of loss—to reach out and support each other and to create a positive, safe, welcoming community to share and be heard.
Fran lost her dad in November 2018 after a short battle with liver cancer. She joined Let’s Talk About Loss in May 2019 and is now one of the co-hosts for the Manchester meet up group.
Ruth Marshall, 23, Glasgow
When I was first asked what it was like to spend Father's Day without my dad, I was emotionally stunted. I couldn't remember what I did on Father's Day last year as it was the first one without him. This made me feel overwhelmingly guilty and upset. What I do remember from last year was putting a reminder in my calendar not to look through social media because it’s such a trigger for me, and for anyone who has lost a parent, or both parents, to see everyone celebrating whilst you're grieving. It takes me right back to the anger I felt when I first lost my dad less than two years ago when I couldn't help but ask why did this have to happen to me? It's an aspect of my grief that I thought that I had left behind, but I always find it returns on dates like Father’s Day.
My dad was a quiet man who enjoyed spending time with his family. He was a manly man who was gifted with three feminine girls. So he had to have his very own "man cave" with his beloved computer (as he was a techy guy too) and fast cars displayed everywhere. Since he has passed away we haven't changed anything in the man cave. So that’s where I will be spending most of the day. It's the only place I feel close to him because he spent most of his time there.
Before my dad was diagnosed he would spend hours in the kitchen perfecting his homemade curry. This was a weekly tradition that we all cherished, as we all made sure we were home for dinner on time. So on Father's Day, we will be doing exactly what he liked to do, spending hours in the kitchen cooking a homemade curry from scratch.
"Let yourself feel whatever emotion comes to the surface that day"
For those who have lost their Father, I would recommend having a digital detox for the day and staying off Facebook and Instagram as it can be very triggering. Whilst we are in lockdown I expect there will be even more posts than usual on Father’s Day as the pandemic means that many people will be celebrating the day away from their dads. It's so much easier said than done staying off social media, as we are all constantly connected to our phones. I use an app called "1 hour", which locks apps to remove the temptation for the day, or I delete the app and then re-upload it the following day. It doesn’t guarantee that you won't see anyone post but it definitely makes the day a bit more bearable.
For those who are isolating and can't do their usual ritual then why not try making a new one for this year. It could be something as simple as making a dish they liked, listening to their favourite music, or in my case watching my father’s favourite movie.
"For those who are isolating and can't do their usual ritual then why not try making a new one for this year"
Let yourself feel whatever emotion comes to the surface that day. Some people might keep themselves busy as a coping mechanism, so however you’re feeling it’s best to just sit with it and not feel guilty about it. Some people might want to cry their heart out and some people feel totally numb, just let yourself feel however you’re feeling that day. Don’t block it out, or feel guilty for feeling or behaving a certain way.
Let’s Talk About Loss has helped me process my Father’s death in a positive way by writing about him and speaking about him to others. It has also given me the confidence to speak about him to those who have never experienced loss before, as often it makes them feel uncomfortable. It’s so important for people to talk about their experience of loss, instead of bottling it up, and to work towards making bereavement less taboo.
Ruth lost her dad in September 2018 after nearly one year with terminal lung cancer. She joined Let’s Talk About Loss in January 2020 and she now hosts the Glasgow meet up group.
About Let’s Talk About Loss
Let’s Talk About Loss is a bereavement organisation, which supports young people aged 18-35 who have lost a loved one.
It brings young people together and offers a safe space to talk through the reality of losing someone close to you when you are young.
Read more: How to find lockdown mental health help
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