By Bianca Neumann, Head of Bereavement at Sue Ryder
Grief affects everybody differently and coming to terms with losing a parent can take a long time. For some of those who have lost their father, Father’s Day might bring up difficult emotions but people who have experienced grief often tell us that the run-up to these days is actually more exhausting than the day itself.
Many clients have said to me how they avoid shopping, in particular supermarkets, in the run-up to special occasions like Father's Day, because they don't want to see all the aisles filled with cards, and specific ‘dad’ gifts. This could be because it brings up feelings of sadness or anger and perhaps even feelings of jealousy and envy towards people whose father is still alive. These feelings are not uncommon and yet they often get pushed aside and leave a remaining feeling of guilt or shame as an inner voice labels these feelings as 'bad' when in fact they are very normal.
Another consideration is that whilst most Father’s Day gift ideas celebrate paternal love and connection, some people might have experienced a more difficult relationship with their father, or even lost touch before he died.
What advice would you give a partner who is supporting a loved one experiencing paternal grief at this time?
Each person’s grief on Father’s Day will be different, but there are a few things you can do to make sure your partner feels supported.
You could ask your partner in advance how they would like you to support them. They may prefer things to carry on as normal, or they may want you to be with them, to help them mark the event in some way, or to get in touch on the day.
Acknowledging with them that you know Father’s Day could be hard and that you’re there to lend a listening ear means you’ve opened up the conversation if they want to talk more. They may take you up on the offer, say no, or not be ready to respond at all yet. The important thing is that they know you’re there, you care, and you are ready to support them. If the person does want to meet or talk, give them space to share their feelings without trying to fix things.
If you feel comfortable in doing so, you may want to share a story or memory about their father and the kind of person they were, or even a photo of them from a time you spent together. It’s a good idea to choose a positive story and keep the focus on the person who has died, rather than what you said or did.
If your partner is really struggling with the thought of Father’s Day, you could ignore the day completely. Encourage them to mute their social media apps for the day and do things that make them happy – maybe that’s exercising, watching a Netflix show, going on a walk or simply having a lazy day.
Sue Ryder has launched a campaign to inspire the nation to be more Grief Kind. It’s easy to show the people around us that we care, yet, when someone is grieving, many people are so scared of getting it wrong that they do nothing.
Sue Ryder is creating a national movement of kindness around grief which promotes open conversations about bereavement. To find out more visit sueryder.org/griefkind