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Ways to Care for your Heart When There is No Escaping Hallmark Holiday Grief Triggers

father loss grief grieving daughter Jun 07, 2022
grieving heart and man's tie

By Ilana Shapiro Yahdav

Navigating Grief Triggers on Father's Day

There can be many hidden grief triggers in our everyday life. A smell. A song. A laugh…each can remind us of our loss. We can’t always anticipate what may be triggering for us, even the dates that we can plan for: deathaversaries, birthdays, etc. 

Those of us card-carrying members of the #deaddadsclub may find days like Father’s Day to be a trigger. I know it was for me for a long, long time.

I sometimes wonder why it is because, after all, it is a commercial holiday that Hallmark does an incredible job promoting. Every. Single. Year. At. The. Same. Time. It’s not as if it’s a surprise when Father’s Day rolls around every June.

It's not as if I am not aware that my dad is gone on the other 364 days of the year. 

It's not as if all the emails announcing big sales remind me anymore (or less) of my loss. 

No, it's more the in-your-face, 'look what could have been’' jolt when you were not thinking about your #DeadDadClub membership dues. ⁣

(Note: this day can be difficult for other reasons as well - for those estranged from their dads, or who wish they were a father, or fathers grieving children, or partners grieving due to divorce or death of their person).

A popular misconception is that a person can actually be reminded of their loss, thus implying that they forget. When you experience a loss, you don’t ever forget. Sometimes it’s not at the forefront of your consciousness, but it’s always there, nestled deep within. You could go minutes, hours, or days even without consciously thinking of it, but you don’t ever, ever forget it, even if you wanted to. This is all to say that you can’t possibly ‘remind’ someone that their person died. 

Sometimes people find themselves not saying anything out of fear of reminding someone of their loss. This is not true. It is possible you could upset them, sure. Some people don't want to talk about their loss. Some people want the option to NOT talk about their loss but to know that others acknowledge their loss. It is nice to reach out as you don't know how they will react. Better to reach out than maintain radio silence.

The fact of the matter is that regardless of what was or was not said, it was literally impossible for me to ever forget that he was gone. 

Nowadays, I love hearing stories about my dad, and the big difference now - 15 years later + lots of my own grief work - I LOVE talking about my dad, the more questions the better. The bigger the audience, the better. 

But, back in the early grief days, I was still learning how to breathe. I couldn't handle any unplanned mentions of my dad. I had to pretend that Father’s Day didn’t exist just to get through. (I did send my grandfather's cards!) Once both my brothers became fathers, I did strive to acknowledge the day. And through lots of grief work, the charge is not overbearing. 

Fast forward to last year, Father’s Day has once again morphed. My husband is now a father. We have a beautiful little girl and I want to celebrate her wonderful daddy with her. I want this to be a joyous day for my husband, who is an amazing first-time daddy, and for his princess.

As his wife, it’s his day to feel special and I want him to have that.

But as a grieving daughter, I want to curl up on the couch and zone out (or take a nap. That may have more to do with being a tired new mom, than grieving, but it sounds heavenly just the same).

I'm working to find the balance in all these new uncharted emotions. So much joy tinged with so much pain. So much I have gained alongside what I have lost. 15 years without my dad and the grief wave still crashes hard.

Grief and Self-Care Tips For Difficult Dates

Since there is no real way to 'escape' Father's Day, short of not going on any form of social media, not watching television, checking your email, or leaving your house, here are some father's day self-care tips that have helped me over the years:

  • Let yourself have SPACE to feel the emotions that come up. There may be many. Observe them and Acknowledge them.
    • Know that it's normal to feel a bazillion feelings and emotions all at once.⁣ Consider writing these feelings down, and maybe even sharing them with a trusted confidant who you know can listen without judgment or comment.
    • Avoid censoring yourself - if is ok to be angry that your person is not here, or that you ‘need’ to celebrate this day when you wish you could hide. 
  • Give yourself permission to care for yourself.
    • If you need alone time, take it. If you need to back out of brunch, do it. If you need to stare at the wall and eat Nutella in your PJs, do it.
    • Do what YOU need to do for yourself.⁣
    • If you need a 'stay on the couch, binge on COMMERCIAL-FREE Netflix' day (or whatever that day looks like for you), take it.⁣
  • Plan something that "fills your cup": exercise, get a massage, journal in your favorite spot, meditate, have lunch with a safe and caring friend/relative, read a book for fun, paint, or color.⁣
  • Enjoy a social media detox. Social media can be triggering for many reasons, so this may be a perfect opportunity to spend some time away from it.⁣
  • Be gentle with yourself. Both now as well as after Father's Day

And most important, please remember: it is okay to feel what you're feeling. You may be feeling a ton of different things and that's totally normal. You are not alone. <3