How to Cope With Father's Day Grief

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Americans have been celebrating Father's Day for over 100 years as a way to honor fathers and father figures. For those who are grieving on Father's Day, though, the day can be one of sadness, pain, and mixed emotions.

This article will offer tips on how to work through grief on Father's Day, outline different types of grief, and provide coping techniques for getting through the day.

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Working Through Grief on Father's Day

Acute Grief

The pain of grief is usually most intense immediately following a loss, during acute grief. For those who have recently lost a father, Father's Day will likely bring up strong feelings or intensify emotions that are already present. These might include:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Longing
  • Loneliness
  • Distress

On a day of celebration like Father's Day, when many people are happy and spending time with their fathers, the feelings related to grief can become more pronounced in contrast with the joy felt by others.

Integrated Grief

Over time, the most intense feelings from grief should lessen and become tolerable. During integrated grief, you make meaning out of the loss and incorporate grief into everyday life without it feeling all-consuming. This allows for feelings of joy and satisfaction with life to return, and memories of your father to be present without causing the overwhelming emotions of acute grief.

When Father's Day takes place after grief has become integrated, the raw pain of the day is likely to lessen. It may be easier to plan a meaningful day that honors your father or father figure and even brings comfort rather than sadness.

No Right Way to Grieve

Everyone experiences grief differently, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief doesn't come in stages or phases, but rather comes and goes and shows up in different ways throughout our lives. The goal shouldn't be to get past grief, but to move through it and find meaning from the loss.

Grief and Depression

Grief brings many feelings, some of which overlap with symptoms of depression, including sadness, emptiness, and dejection. In can be confusing to experience these feelings during bereavement, but grief and depression are not the same thing. Most people who experience grief and loss do not develop major depressive disorder as defined by the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

After acute grief has passed and integrated grief has begun, it should be expected that the overlapping depression symptoms subside. However, you may have depression if a consistently down mood, loss of interest in things that used to bring you joy, changes in your weight or sleep patterns, or other related symptoms continue or develop. A mental health professional should be consulted to provide an accurate diagnosis and, possibly, therapy.

Loss of Father and Mental Health Risk

Research shows that children who lose fathers to external causes (rather than natural causes) are at increased risk of developing long-term mental illnesses like depression and should be offered preventive treatment to work through parental loss.

Coping With Grief on Father's Day

Father's Day is likely to bring up or heighten emotions for those who are grieving the loss of a father or father figure. This can be true even for those who are no longer struggling with the intense feelings that occur during acute grief. Planning and drawing from resources can bring comfort and provide healthy ways to cope on Father's Day. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Take action: Remember your father by spending the day doing something he enjoyed, whether it's hiking, cooking his favorite meal, going on a fishing trip, or something else. Or volunteer for—or donate money to—an organization that meant something to him.
  • Quietly reflect: Spend some time looking through photos, watching videos, journaling, or simply remembering your time together. Pay attention to when it's too much and give yourself breaks as needed.
  • Try relaxation techniques: If you anticipate that the day will be difficult, plan some ways to bring calmness to your body and mind. Deep breathing, meditation, and yoga are great ways to stay relaxed during tough moments.
  • Spend time with others: Social support can be a great way to feel connected and to share memories with others. Whether you plan a meaningful activity with people who are also grieving or just spend time with those who care about you, being with others can reduce loneliness and feelings of isolation.
  • Seek professional support: Sometimes, grief is too difficult to handle alone. If grief-related feelings and responses don't lessen over time, reach out to a grief therapist who can help you process the loss and work through the grief.

Notice Your Feelings

Regardless of how you spend Father's Day, try not to avoid all feelings. Ignoring the feelings that come up is only a temporary solution and will not help you work through grief over the long term. Instead, be aware of the feelings as they arise and acknowledge them without judgment.

Summary

Grieving a father or father figure is likely to bring up difficult feelings on a typical day of celebration like Father's Day. Whether the day happens shortly after the loss or months later, emotions are likely to be more pronounced if you're still grieving. The intense feelings that follow losing a father will usually diminish over time, making it easier to find joy again.

Planning how to spend the day and trying some coping techniques can make Father's Day easier to get through. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to integrate grief into normal life. In those cases, grief therapy can be helpful.

A Word From Verywell

If you've lost a father or father figure, it's normal to have mixed feelings that come and go throughout the days, weeks, and months. On a day of celebration like Father's Day, these feelings will probably be harder to cope with and may even be unexpected if you had been coping well. It's common for difficult feelings to emerge on a day when everyone else is experiencing joy.

Pay attention to where you are in the grieving process, and plan out how you will spend the day. Whether you quietly reflect, spend time with others, or keep yourself busy, try to find meaning where you can, pay attention to the feelings that come up, and go easy on yourself. Try reaching out to a grief counselor if the day feels too difficult to manage alone.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is Father's Day?

    Father's Day always falls on the third Sunday in June. The date changes from year to year, so check a calendar for the exact date.

  • How did Father's Day start?

    The first Father's Day was celebrated in the United States in 1910, and it became an official holiday in 1972. It is said to have been first celebrated by Sonora Smart Dodd, who wanted to honor her father, who raised his five children alone after their mother died during childbirth. Shortly afterward, the day was widely accepted as a way to honor and celebrate fathers.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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