Holidays are hard on bereaved parents’ hearts.
Even though our children are always on our minds, holidays act as megaphones, amplifying the missing, sorrow, grief and lost opportunity to build more memories.
So it’s particularly helpful when friends and family step up and step in, showing extra support on and around those extra hard days.
Here are seven ways you can bless a bereaved dad this Father’s Day:
MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE IN THEIR GRIEF
Sometimes friends and family let their expectations of how parents should grieve and for how long influence the quantity and quality of the help they’re willing to give. I can’t emphasize enough that no one outside the child loss community really understands how very, very difficult and how very, very much time it takes for a parent to even wrap his or her mind around the fact their child is truly gone. Instead of pushing or pulling a grieving dad forward, simply accept where he is, meet him there and let him take the lead in conversation, activity and whether or not he can join in a Father’s Day celebration.
LET YOUR FRIEND KNOW YOU’RE THINKING OF THEM
This is probably the most important and the simplest way to make a difference in a bereaved dad’s life! I know we all get busy and let days and dates slip by. But set an alarm on your phone if you have to as a reminder. Send a text or make a call. Tell him you haven’t forgotten he will be missing his child and wishing his family was complete this Sunday, especially.
SAY THEIR CHILD’S NAME
As the years go by it is often more and more unlikely for a parent to hear their missing child’s name spoken aloud. Yet it’s something we all long to hear. Sometimes friends and family are afraid that mentioning the child will make a dad “sad” or “remind him” the child is gone. Trust me, “sad” is something he feels often and he never forgets. Knowing someone else is willing to remember too is a great blessing.
SHARE MEMORIES OR DO SOMETHING TO HONOR THEIR CHILD-IF YOUR FRIEND IS READY
Not every grieving parent wants to talk about their child though many do. And even if they are ready, they may not want to talk about him or her right now. Pay attention and let them lead. If a bereaved dad is receptive, share a memory or photograph you might have of his child. Write a card and include details of how his child influenced your life. There are many ways to honor a child’s memory on important dates: make a meaningful donation, place a book in his honor, add to a foundation or scholarship that bears her name or send a small token that speaks of a child’s interests or personality.
SUPPORT SURVIVING SIBLINGS
Surviving siblings can be forgotten mourners. Grieving parents are frequently caught between their own needs and the needs of the children still with them. Child loss changes everything-for the whole family. So when friends come alongside and encourage and care for surviving siblings it helps everyone. Our family’s first Mother’s and Father’s Days were spent in company of friends of our children. It took a huge load off me and my husband to know the day was still special without all the focus being on us.
Grief from child loss is so overwhelming that often parents find themselves in a downward spiral where self-care is practically impossible. Even parents years into this journey sometimes say holidays and milestone days bring back the intense feelings of those first days. When that happens we need friends and family outside our immediate grief circle to help us find a path out of the darkness. Father’s Day is a great opportunity to offer a dad a healthy meal, take him on a hike or fishing expedition, or just sit and watch a ball game.
STAY IN THE PICTURE
Everyone gets busy and it’s completely natural that over time people forget days and dates. But Father’s Day doesn’t necessarily become easier for bereaved dads over time. So don’t assume because it’s been years that a dad isn’t still in need of extra support. Commit to checking in and helping keep his child’s memory alive.
Sometimes we just don’t know what to do for a grieving friend and often they aren’t able to express what might be helpful.
I hope these seven suggestions encourage you to try.