Holding Space for The Many Faces of Grief on Father’s Day

A lot of blog posts and articles about grief and special days tend to focus on how to navigate these moments when our loved one has died. Often these articles of grief also talk about the ways we have deeply loved or cared for the person who has died.

Grief is a natural response to when we lose someone or something we have had a connection to. So what happens for the grievers who have had a not-so-loving relationship with the person who has died, or has experienced an estrangement?

I’ve heard folx sitting across from me talk about how surprising it was to experience a surge of emotions after finding out their father died after being estranged for half their life. Another person talked about how frustrating it was to hear others ask them why it didn’t seem they were grieving, and that they “should” be more tearful because their father had died, however, these people did not know how difficult their relationship with and to their father was when he was alive. Someone else shares how hard it is to carry the grief of deciding to estrange themselves from their father.

To those of you grieving and/or approaching this Father’s Day with complex feelings and memories of a not-so-loving relationship: you are not alone. We grieve because we have had a connection – and a connection can be filled with many things. Love may be part of these connections in our life, but so many other complex emotions, and situations can be part of these connections. People are complicated. Love is complicated. Grief is also complicated.

We can grieve that we did not have the relationship with the person we needed, grieve the parts of the person we miss, or even grieve for a future where perhaps we may have been able to repair the rupture in our relationship.
Grief can feel even more complicated when we have a complex relationship with the person we are grieving. It can make us feel even more isolated. Disenfranchised Grief is any type of grief where society has denied the griever’s right, role, or capacity to grieve. When a relationship has been not-so-loving we may hear well-intentioned people telling us ‘You shouldn’t feel grief because X was not a good person or not a big part of your life’. Our society also tends to prioritize grief experiences through death, and not non-death losses like an estrangement from a parent.

Whether your father has died and you had a complex relationship with them, are grieving the living relationship with your father you never were able to have, or grieving an estrangement from your Father your feelings are valid. Grief is not just one emotion, but is a natural response that can have many different emotions depending on the person. It’s okay if you feel anger, frustration, regret, guilt, and even relief. Special days where all we hear and see are advertisements talking about Father’s Day can bring up extra waves of grief as we near this date.
Here are some gentle reminders if you are moving through Father’s Day this year and have a complicated relationship with your father, or paternal figure in your life:

  • Give yourself permission to write a letter to this person, expressing the things you never have been able to say. It can be a place to put down all those thoughts and feelings that you can then release. Feel free to rip this letter up into a tiny pieces, flush it down the toilet, or even safely burn the page.
  • Spend time that day however you need to and with people who support you.
  • Our biological family is just one connection we have, but we also create our own “chosen family” of close relationships. You may feel compelled to send a card or write a note to someone you feel creates a paternal presence in your life like a good friend, mentor, or another relative.
  • Allow yourself rest as you move through the day as grief can be an exhausting experience on our minds and bodies.

Maybe you’ve lost your father or father figure to death, or you’ve lost your father figuratively because of dementia, or you’ve lost your father in your life because of his unacceptance of your lifestyle. In whatever case, you’re not alone.

However you navigate this day, know this:

  • If you feel happy, that is okay
  • If you feel sad, that is okay
  • If you feel angry, that is okay
  • If you feel a roller coaster of emotions, that is okay
  • If you feel nothing, that is okay
  • If you don’t WANT to feel anything today, that is okay

The reality is that no one can tell you how to feel about your situation.

Your feelings are valid. However you choose to be, honour that, honour you.