When you’re missing a loved one, holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries can trigger overwhelming feelings of loss. This is especially true the first time a special occasion or anniversary occurs after a loved one’s death. For people who have recently lost their father, the first Father's Day without Dad can be painful. Reminders in advertisements and stores can trigger new feelings of loss. For some, the complex relationships we may have had with our fathers add another layer of sadness to the situation.
On such a heavy day, it’s important to be gentle with yourself and respect your need to grieve. Choosing how to honor parents who have passed is a personal, emotional decision, and only you know what’s the best way for you to do this. Below are some ideas on how to remember and celebrate your dad on your first Father's Day without him — we hope this helps inspire you as you make your plans.
Be kind to yourself
No matter what you do on your first Father’s Day without your father, make sure you are looking after your mental well-being. Self-care means different things to different people. Perhaps you recharge by going for a long run or by relaxing with a spa day. Maybe you’ve been yearning for quiet time with a new book. Catching up with an old friend may do your heart good.
You may worry that by doing things you enjoy, you aren’t demonstrating grief in the “right way,” but wouldn’t your dad want you to do what makes you feel good? Looking after your emotional well-being honors your grief by allowing you time and space to process it.
Write a letter to your father
Journaling is often a cathartic way to express emotions, and writing a letter to your father can help you work through some of those feelings. You can write about what’s been happening in your life recently or share some favorite memories of him and what you’ve been missing since he’s been gone. If it feels good, this is a practice you can do often, whenever you want to feel that connection.
Do things your father enjoyed
Spend your first Father's Day without him by doing his favorite things. Take part in his favorite hobby. Sit in “Dad’s chair” and smile, thinking about all the times he kicked you out of it over the years. Eat his favorite meal. Read a book by his favorite author. Have lunch with his friends, who probably miss him, too. Volunteer for a cause that was important to him or donate in his name. Take a nature walk in a forest, and remember what he enjoyed most about the outdoors. Engaging in things your dad loved will help you feel like he’s with you.
Spend time with a grieving friend
Unfortunately, it’s likely that you have a friend or family member who also misses their father. Or, you may know a father who has lost his child. The grief may be different, but Father’s Day without his child is probably very painful for him. Get together and talk about those you’re both missing.
Spending time with someone who’s also grieving may make you more comfortable expressing your emotions since you know they can relate. This time together can be cathartic for you both. Being emotionally present for someone who needs support — just like your dad may have done for you — is a beautiful way to celebrate your father after he’s gone.
Create new traditions
If you had a special Father’s Day tradition with your dad, following your old routine may be too painful now that he’s gone. Father's Day without him will never be the same, so consider starting a new tradition to honor your father instead. This could involve extended family, his friends, or your children and will help everyone celebrate your father’s memory. Whether it's doing one of your father’s favorite things or trying something new, it will be a nice way to remember Dad on Father's Day.
Many people like to use social media on a day like Father’s Day to brag about their awesome dad and the many reasons they love them. This may be a great option for you, too — writing about your dad may bring you peace, and you may enjoy reading comments from other people who loved him, too.
However, scrolling social media on your first Father’s Day without Dad can trigger unexpected painful feelings. Seeing posts from friends celebrating with their fathers may make your loss feel more pronounced. If you aren’t ready for the “social” part of social media, another option is to create a memorial website for your father. You can post your favorite photos of him, lists of things he loved, and write blog posts about what he meant to you and the lessons he imparted.
How to help someone deal with grief
If someone you care about is grieving their father, one of the best ways to help is by simply listening and following their lead as to what kind of support they need. A child grieving their father also needs special care and attention.
Whether you are helping an adult or a child, being present and demonstrating that you care will help them know they aren’t alone. Sometimes, just showing your unconditional love is the best kind of support you can give to someone who’s grieving.
However you choose to honor your father and your grief, know that it’s perfectly acceptable to do what’s best for you. Grieving and loss look so different for each person and there is no right way to grieve. If you feel like you would benefit from therapy, reach out to a counselor for more help through the process.
Read more: How to grieve the first death anniversary of a loved one