Father’s Day Void
I spent two years interviewing men that have experienced the death of a child. As you can imagine, I heard a lot of heartbreaking stories. All were different, and all were bad. I also learned a lot about my own pain and suffering caused by the aftermath of burying two children. Those interviews, and my own hard lessons, are captured in my book Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back.
I’ve tried to become an advocate of sorts for grieving dads. My goal is to make sure these men feel like they have the permission to grieve, to feel the impact and express their pain without society trying to hush them because the topic of a child’s death is uncomfortable for those who haven’t experienced it.
Because of my book and my advocacy, I receive a lot of requests to write Father’s Day articles about the dark side of the day from the perspective of the guys who have had to bury a child. Is the day harder than most? Yes, but to us grieving dads, it’s not much different than the holidays, birthdays, and death anniversaries. They are all difficult to navigate, and each one stirs similar, but different, emotions.
There isn’t a day that goes by that we do not think about our absent child. Regardless of the circumstance of their deaths, we miss them deeply. However, there are days where we feel this pain more acutely than other days. Days like Father’s Day remind us that they are not here. We are keenly aware of their absence every single day, and on days like Father’s Day, the hole they left grows a little bigger.
We feel a sense of emptiness on Father’s Day because there is an obvious void that tends to suck the air out of the day, creating a difficult space that we do not know how to navigate. We try our best, but it is hard to explain our feelings to those that haven’t lost a child. It is not fair for us to expect you to understand; you’re one of the lucky ones that have never had to walk in these shoes.
Most of us will try to keep our minds occupied with other living children, or by filling the day with busy, mindless tasks. It’s a defense mechanism that helps us to hide from the harsh reality that lurks in the darkness, seeking our whereabouts. It’s a constant battle that we often lose in the early years. Yes, I said years.
This isn’t something that goes away after a year. It’s a burden that weighs heavy on our souls for the rest of our lives. However, the weight lightens dramatically as time moves forward and we continue to process our loss. The death of a child becomes who we are. It doesn’t define us, but it certainly changes the course of our lives and destroys the naivety we once had.
Regardless of the day, most people will not bring up the fact that your child died because it is too awkward for them. They are not sure if they should acknowledge this day. Let me resolve this confusion: you should acknowledge Father’s Day.
It certainly isn’t a “Happy” Father’s Day. So, what should people say or do?
Try saying something like, “I know this must be a difficult day, but know I am thinking about you.” This statement, or a variation of it, goes a long way with the men that are on the receiving end of it. It might trigger a visible emotion, but know the emotion constantly lurks just below the surface regardless. Though you just don’t see it, it’s just waiting for an opportunity to escape.
I wish all fellow grieving dads a peaceful Father’s Day. If you know a grieving dad, pay them a visit or make that phone call to tell them that you are thinking about them and their child.