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  • By David Roberts

Father’s Day After a Child’s Death


Fathers be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers, who turn into mothers, so mothers be good to your daughters, too.” -John Mayer

When life progresses according to the human laws of the universe, much beauty can be discerned from that progression. This quote from singer/songwriter John Mayer illustrates this in a powerful manner. Acts of unconditional love from father to daughter help to ensure that love will be reciprocated and freely given when daughters themselves become mothers. Love is truly a powerful force.

But what happens when life does not go according to plan? What if an event so catastrophic occurs, that it alters the natural laws of the universe and changes the way that we view the world? What if that event also causes us to question the values and assumptions that we once held so near and dear to our hearts?

I am one of many parents in our country whose life plan has been altered by a catastrophic event.

During early grief, holidays were particularly difficult for me to manage. My memories became more frequent during the days leading up to the holidays, and as a result my pain became more intense. The holidays could never go by fast enough. Father’s Day was in many ways my toughest holiday to endure.

In the beginning of my journey, Father’s Day was associated with many raw and painful triggers. Father’s Day was a constant reminder of many experiences that we would no longer share. Father’s Day was not bittersweet, it was just bitter.

Today, I do not dread Father’s Day like I did early in my grief, nor do I experience the raw emotion associated with it. I believe that one of the things that has helped is my realization that I can still have a relationship with my child. That relationship has been strengthened in part by the signs I have been given me of continuing presence. I have learned that the signs we receive are usually a product of what is happening with us in the present moment.

What has also helped soften the pain of Father’s Day is the conscious decision I made to embody the best qualities of my child in my own daily life. Doing this has allowed my child’s essence to become a part of everything I do and every holiday that I celebrate, thus softening the pain that the physical absence can bring.

Maintaining a relationship with my child by embodying the best of who they were has also allowed me to stay connected. Because of my change in perspective about life and death, Father’s Day (as well as other holidays), no longer brings me to my knees.

Here are some other suggestions for activities that can be helpful for fathers to stay connected and to honor the legacies of their deceased child on Father’s Day. I believe these suggestions can also apply to anyone dealing with the challenges presented by the death of a loved one during any holiday:

  • Plan a family gathering to share stories and memories of your loved one. Our loved ones come alive through the stories that we share.

  • Plant a tree or start a garden.

  • Volunteer at a local organization that had meaning for both you and your loved one.

  • Release biodegradable balloons or sky lanterns that contain messages from you, family and friends to your loved one. You can do this alone or in the presence of others.

  • Find some old magazines and invite family and friends to make a collage of pictures and words that remind you of your loved one.

  • Light a special candle.

  • Make a donation to a favorite charity or cause in memory of your loved one. The amount does not matter – even a small amount towards a meaningful cause can be a wonderful gift.

  • Perform a random act of kindness for somebody. The act can be as simple as holding a door open, or letting a car in front of you in traffic. The warm feeling that you get from doing this may put a smile on your face and give you a brief respite from your emotional pain.

The activities that you choose to honor your deceased loved ones on Father’s Day and on any day of the year should be those that uniquely connected you to your loved ones during their life on earth.

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