Fathers Day comes at a time of the year when Dads are happily poised, anticipating the prospect of being able to spend warm summer evenings enjoying outside activities with their family. Children love this time of year too. However the excruciating burden of coping with your feelings after a child has died suddenly changes the perspective for everything and the previous fun of watching the excitement of your children planning how to spoil Dad on Fathers Day is transformed. For Dad is no longer that same person. Never can be. It is still his day but it has a very different feel.
For a father who has lost a child Fathers Day becomes an extraordinarily painful time. Trying to push the upcoming day aside, hoping that will make it easier to bear can make things more difficult, especially if Dad has been unsuccessful in distracting himself with other issues. Confronting it, discussing everything that troubles him with his partner, meeting with the children to find out what they would like to do – can really help. It will certainly give the children more stability to not be worrying about what Dad wants to do – if anything.
For a father with other children, getting them together a few weeks prior to Fathers Day to discuss how each of them would like to spend the day, would probably provide a much welcomed opportunity to share ideas and feel involved. Children tend to feel more secure when they know what is expected of them and each will be able to make a contribution to the conversation that all will be discussing. They will most of all want to be sure that Dad is ok and to feel satisfied that they have made a meaningful contribution to the day. If there is definition it will also, and most importantly, give them something to share with their friends when they return to school.
Creating some plans for the day doesn’t exclude wanting to include a quiet time for everyone when some/all of the family might want to go for a walk or visit the grave. Whatever it is, It is likely to be something that they might want to share with Dad.
If you do not have any other children how you spend the day is something that it would be wise to discuss with your partner so that you are both fully prepared for the very difficult day ahead. You might want to establish a routine that provides a structure which you can resort to each year.
Perhaps you will find it easier if you share some of the day with friends who understand your suffering or alternatively perhaps you might prefer to go away on your own to some isolated place where you will not risk having to cope with a thoughtless remark from a well meaning neighbour or person in the local shop.
In talking things through with your partner you are confronting the issue of grieving which will help you both move forward. The more you are able to help each other understand the impact on each of you of the loss you have both suffered the more secure you will be in being able to develop coping structures for your tragedy.
Alison Cox MBE