Surviving Father’s Day Grief: When sadness meets storytelling

Holidays and Special Days Holidays and Special Days : Litsa Williams

Perhaps because of gender stereotypes or how the people at Hallmark decided to spin it, Father’s Day has always felt a bit different to me than Mother’s Day. It was often about tools and gadgets and dads getting permission to drink beer and watch sports without apology.

Comparing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards this year, thinking about this contrast, I was struck by how much less emphasis there was on the uniqueness of fatherhood or the relationship between a father and child (a lot more good jokes though!). Father’s Day is, at its core, unquestionable about love. It is just a bit more . . . hidden. You know, like when two brothers give each other that one-armed, pound on the back, hug. You know there is love hiding in there, it just isn’t quite so obvious.

Layer grief on top of this and the contrast feels pronounced. Mother’s Day, at least for me, has always created a gentle, emotional space where we acknowledge relationships and the feelings of gratitude that we don’t always take the time to appreciate. When those relationships are lost, there is a space on Mother’s Day, however painful, to acknowledge those feeling and that loss.

I can’t speak for anyone else but for me, Father’s Day has felt a bit different. It wasn’t a day that created the space for the same level of emotion in life, so it seems to make it a harder day for me to know what to do with the emotions of the loss. I wonder if others feel this. Be it fathers who have lost children, or children who lost fathers, if the day didn’t carry the same emotional weight when a loved one was alive, does it make it harder to figure out what to do to acknowledge the day when they are gone?

I know I am not alone in the feeling that I don’t have any particularly strong or important memories of Father’s Day with my father – I have talked to others with similar feelings. I know there are many fathers who deeply appreciated Father’s Day but might not have shown it or felt the weight of it in a significant way. Still, that doesn’t make the loss any less. The day still represents a relationship, one that many of us, fathers and children, have lost. We are still faced with reminders. We may, in fact, be feeling an added layer of regret that we didn’t do more or appreciate more those Fathers Days we had together.

So where does that leave us? What do we do? Well, I have posted about sulking for Father’s Day. We have posted on supporting kids who can’t remember their dads on Father’s Day. We have posted deeply moving words from one grieving father to another. But what we haven’t talked about, despite it being something I make the conscious effort to do this time of year, is storytelling.

Without many specific Father’s Day memories, what this day pushes me to remember and share are the little things about my dad, who he was, and what he did. It makes me want to share stories and anecdotes with the people who never met him. It prompts me to spend some time remembering the little memories that start to fade and to share them all over again. I know many of us do this often anyway, but it can be nice to have a reason. It can be nice to share with someone for the first time something about your child or about your father that you have never told them before. 

I appreciate so much when people trust us enough to share their memories of loved ones. We know it isn’t easy, so we never take for granted how nice it is to be let in on those memories. I shared this on Instagram just the other day, and I’ll share it again here:

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This is the window in our office, the one you often see in our photos from the inside. When we first came to see this space a year and a half ago we raved about how beautiful the window was and the light it let in. Once we got to talking with the landlord about what we do, he shared that he and his dad bought this amazing old building together nearly thirty years ago. He told us that the old window was falling apart was nearly irreparable. But rather than let it go, his father painstakingly took the whole window apart, saving and restoring the original wood and glass, committed to the integrity and history of the building. His dad died a number of years ago, but he explained that the window always makes him think of his dad. And now, even though I never once met the man who restored this window, I often think of him. I remember that story, with so much gratitude, when I look up at it on my way in, or when I appreciate its amazing light in our office. Especially around this time of year I sometimes find myself sad about all the people in my life who never got to know my dad, and who never will. In those moments I try to think of all the people who, though they never met him, get to know little bits of him through me – through little stories and anecdotes. All this to say, with Father’s Day coming up, tell your stories. Share your memories. Love lives on in so many ways.

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And today we have loved reading the legacies of father’s shared here:


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What legacy did your father, grandfather, or other father-figure(s) leave behind? #fathersday2019 #grief #griefandloss #griefsupport

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Though at Father’s Day it is easy for me to get stuck on not having a (living) dad and all the people who never got to meet him and all the new memories I’ll never make, telling stories and hearing stories always reminds me of the ways our love and our legacies continue. Children remembering fathers, fathers remembering children, finding the strength and moment to tell someone who never met our loved ones just how great they were, and to share memories with the people who can remember with us. And grief theory supports it. Don’t believe us? Check out the Continuing Bonds model of grief.

If you’re a person who likes to write more than talk (or someone who likes to do both), we made some printable sheets to get you thinking and remembering (and maybe sharing, if that’s your thing). Click on the image for a printable Father’s Day Grief PDF.

Leave a comment with the memories of your father or your child. Talk to someone about your dad or your child. Introduce them to someone new through your stories. Or, if this isn’t your thing, tell us in the comments what is going to help you survive Father’s Day.

Let’s be grief friends.

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11 Comments on "Surviving Father’s Day Grief: When sadness meets storytelling"

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  1. Caryn Rogers  June 12, 2019 at 6:43 pm Reply

    I don’t know what Father’s Day will mean for me this year. My Dad died just a few weeks ago. He was in a nursing home and we had planned to visit him and enjoy some time with him. His death was sudden, and I’m just trying to figure out day by day how to get through it. I wish he was here. I have a twin sister, and he loved his “girls” We really wanted to see him. Even with his dementia, he knew we were his daughters and would have enjoyed the visit. My brother is spending the day with his sons, my sister and I are, I don’t know what we’ll do. Cry a lot maybe. I think it’s great advice to talk about my Dad. I’m a writer, so the writing prompts are great! He wasn’t a Father’s Day, guy. But, loved being a father, and I think he did like feeling special. I know next year will be different. I do feel sad seeing all the commercials with daughters and their dads.

  2. Mary Andol  June 12, 2019 at 7:58 pm Reply

    My father grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Buffalo, New York. He met my mother in World War II when he was stationed at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. They fell in love at a Valentine’s Day dance put on by the U.S.O. who invited all the young women working at the phone company. Three weeks later they married. 49 years later, I felt his strong arm beneath my hand as he walked me down the aisle. Two months later he died, and I was midway through my only pregnancy. I talked to my daughter about him some but not enough. When she was still very small, we watched her in the evening walking around the oak tree he planted from a sprouted acorn years before. As she walked, she held up her hand like she was holding someone else’s hand and chatted pleasantly with her invisible companion. When asked who it was, she described him as her big, purple monster. They always said goodbye at the same spot where he fell that morning while mowing the lawn. Twenty years later, she followed him home. I found a story she wrote about the purple monster and knew she always wanted to meet him. My father taught me one thing that no one else could have taught me: how to recognize the feeling of “someone is about to arrive who I haven’t seen in a long time”. It is one of those sixth sense phenomena that is hard to explain like trying to describe the color blue to someone who was born blind. The other more important thing that he taught me was how to be a good father although I wasn’t always a good father. My mother helped me raise “our” daughter and filled in as the mother, me as the father. From walking down the aisle to walking behind his coffin, I was always honored to know such a sweet, gentle man. I wish she had known him.

  3. Linda Poche  June 12, 2019 at 9:53 pm Reply

    My father died nearly nine years ago, a week before my first anniversary. I’m so glad he got to walk me down the aisle. He was charming and funny and said just the right things to help keep me from crying and smearing my makeup. Less than three months after he died, Mom had to get a pacemaker implanted…for the same thing that killed my dad. Mom died seven weeks ago, and I was numb for Mother’s Day, but now I’m feeling both losses keenly. Their anniversary was a couple of days ago, and although I was sad, I realized this was the first anniversary in almost a decade that she could be with Dad again. And I told her as she laid in her hospice bed that Dad was waiting for her, with his big goofy grin, holding his arms open for a giant hug. I miss them both very much, but I am so glad they get to dance in the trees together now.

  4. Ali Jacobs  June 13, 2019 at 4:43 am Reply

    This is my first Father’s Day without my Dad, who died last November. As an only child of two only children and without children of my own, my family is now just Mum and me, so there’s a huge amount of adjustment to this new state of ‘normal’. While it’s Mum that has really struggled with loneliness and outward grief, my loss has crept up on me more slowly, and Father’s Day is almost making me angry. Why are my colleagues doing a ‘who’s baby?’ photo comp? Some people never had dads to start with, so it isn’t just me thinking that’s poor taste. Or am I being oversensitive? I realise I haven’t written about what my father was actually like or how I feel right now. Well he was funny right to the end (on hearing he was terminally ill, he joked to the doctor that ‘Well, at least I won’t have to live through the mess Brexit is causing’, he could be moody and a bit scary, especially when I was a kid, and he had a thirst for knowledge. Most of all, he wanted the world and the people in it to be better and kinder. There may not be a dad for me to give a stupid card to (he hated the beer/fishing cliches), but my memories and his legacy are firmly in place.

    • Jess Balk-Huffines  August 19, 2019 at 4:44 pm Reply

      I just saw this and feel so similarly to what you have written. I am an only child as well of two only children, and Momma and I have been trying to figure out our new normal without my father. For so long, it was just us three, then I got married May 2018 and we officially became four. Three months later, we were now three again with my father’s death. I feel you so hard in this comment; I just wanted to pass it along.

  5. VICKI LANSEN  June 13, 2019 at 4:36 pm Reply

    My father is still alive and 81 years old. However, his new wife will not let any of us childr see how, nor is he allowed to see us or spend time with us unless he sneaks out. This is particularly sad and causes us all much grief, especially because of how he came into our lives.

    I was four and my brother was three when he married our mother. He was only 24! I remember the day when he asked us if we thought it would be okay if he was officially our Dad. We did, and he adopted us and we all lived on a farm. He showed us unconditional love, taught is humor, and kindness and how to be decent people. Never an angry word. Never a spanking. Just a sit down on his knee talk about what we did and why it was wrong. We still laugh about a ride behind the tractor in the manure spreader when he told us it was the only machine in the world that beats the shit out of itself and that we were never to tell Mom he said shit.

    So Fathers Day for us has now become a day of reminiscing, retelling all our old farm day stories and how Dad made us laugh and love life. It is all we have left.

  6. Nina  June 16, 2019 at 9:42 am Reply

    My Dad died nearly 20 years ago and i miss him all the time he was the greatest man who ever lived to me and im so proud i had him for 38 wonderful years he loved me so as i did him and thats what keeps my memories of him positive,,,,,Happy Fathers Day Dad i will always love you

  7. Joan K  June 16, 2019 at 2:23 pm Reply

    This is the first Father’s Day I will experience without him, as he died on February 8, 2019, at age 95. I miss him more and more with each passing day as I walk around the house and see clothing, tools, etc., that remind me of him or drive the same route to his Gerontologist or find myself food shopping and reaching for an item that I always bought for him. I grieve the loss of my role as his primary caregiver–a role that, although challenging at times, I cherished and was honored to have. I take comfort in looking at photographs taken with my father throughout the years…and only now see wonderful qualities in him that I never realized (or perhaps took for granted) when he was alive. I hope to remember how he taught me how to ride a bicycle, drive a car, swim, garden, love and care for dogs and appreciate the great outdoors. And I will thank him for the many times he helped me with his physical strength, e.g., moving into my apartment when I got married, fixing my car, repairing things, etc., as well as for his emotional support when I was hospitalized, sad or needed a hug. I love you Dad and always will.

  8. Susan  June 19, 2019 at 10:16 am Reply

    Daddy died 30 years ago. He was a part of what truly was the “Greatest Generation”. He was a part of the landing operations on the beaches of Normandy. He was there for the liberation of Paris and concentration camps in Poland. He was a hero, but most of all he was my Daddy. I miss his jokes. The way his blue eyes would twinkle when he shared one of his dreadful, but oh so funny puns. He instilled the love of reading in me and I still do crossword puzzles in ink, because “using pencil for a crossword puzzle is for sissies”! I miss his hugs, his laughter, his generosity of spirit. I wish my husband and my daughter could have known my father. I have tried to make him real to them in my stories of life growing up with this lovely, lovable man, but no words can do him justice. My faith tells me that I will see him and my mother again someday. I was blessed to be their daughter.

  9. Bec  August 30, 2019 at 5:51 am Reply

    This will be the first father days without my dad. He died February 6th 2019 from a massive heart attack. I find that this day isn’t special for me and I find all I picture is that dramatic morning with me trying to save him. I have a partner who respects my grief however I feel guilty for refuse to go see his family or celebrate that day. I am so concern that as the months go I will forget what he look like and only remember him like that morning

  10. Bec  August 30, 2019 at 5:59 am Reply

    This will be the first father days without my dad. He died February 6th 2019 from a massive heart attack. I find that this day isn’t special for me and I find all I picture is that dramatic morning with me trying to save him. I have a partner who respects my grief however I feel guilty for refuse to go see his family or celebrate that day. I am so concern that as the months go I will forget what he look like and only remember him like that morning . The thing that upsets me the most is that I don’t have those little moment like having a cup of coffee every afternoon and chat about our day. People don’t seem to get that these moments are what you appreciate the most. My dad was a kind and caring man who died to young without getting to see me get married, have kids and graduate uni.

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