Coping with Loss on Father’s Day, by Paula Pisani, AMFT

Father’s Day is Sunday, June 19. For many, it’s a day to celebrate the dads and father figures in our lives. But for those grieving the loss of their father — be they biological, step, surrogate, stunt double or stand-in — Father’s Day can feel like balancing on a tightrope over a tank of tricky emotions snapping at our heels.

Grief is not one-size-fits-all, and the Five Stages of Grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — often happen out of order or repeat themselves just as we thought we were in the clear. A crucial thing to remember is that there is no timeline for grief or a “right” way to grieve: It’s okay if you don’t cry, and it’s okay if you do. The key is to feel your feelings, as hard as those may be. We often tell ourselves that the deceased “wouldn’t want us to be sad,” but experiencing the tough emotions, really sitting with them and labeling them, is an important part of healing. I like to use the metaphor of being in the ocean and trying to push a beach ball under water: We shove and shove, but eventually, the ball rockets up and hits us in the face. This is what happens when we “shove” our feelings down.

You are allowed to laugh, too. Experiencing moments of joy does not mean you love this person any less or have forgotten about them. We don’t “get over” losing a loved one, but it is possible to move forward while keeping them close in our heart.

Here are a some suggestions on ways to preserve their memory while allowing you to move through the grieving process at your own pace:

  • Start a tradition this Father’s Day. Make some positive memories — maybe go to the beach, take a hike, bake a cake or do something he loved that you can look forward to each year as a way to honor him. You don’t have to sweat details. For instance, I dedicate my surf sessions to loved ones I’ve lost. It can be that simple.

  • If you’d rather turn inward, try listening to a podcast or music, reading a good book, doing some paced breathing, watching a movie, stretching, getting some exercise or taking a bath.

  • Prioritize. Go at a slower pace if you need to. Take a mental health day if you can. Do one thing at a time. (Sometimes staying busy helps, as long as we’re not trying to dodge our emotions.)

  • Give back. Did your loved one support a particular nonprofit or foundation? Ask if they need volunteers, or make a donation in your love one’s name.

I emphasize to clients the importance of taking care of their physical self to best care for their mental health. This means eating the right food (avoid excessive caffeine, which can increase anxiety), drinking plenty of water, avoiding substance misuse (substances may numb us in the moment but make it that much harder to process our our feelings), moving your body for at least 15 minutes each day, and getting quality, restful sleep. No doubt these may be difficult in the first days or weeks after a loss, so start small and build from there.

But what about when guilt tags along with grief like an uninvited houseguest? If guilt is complicating your grieving process, you could try writing a letter to your father as a type of closure. Many of my kid clients have expressed their feelings by painting a palm-size rock they could keep someplace special to remember their loved one. If intrusive guilt thoughts continue to show up, try countering them with a positive or neutral one: “I was there for him” vs. “I couldn’t save him.” Check to see whether this guilt is rational — could you really have prevented this death?

My dad died a few days before Father’s Day last year and the grief of that loss overshadowed anything else. To celebrate my dad’s memory this year, my stepmom, siblings and I are planning a video call during which we’ll likely share funny stories, fond memories and lots of laughs.

Remember: Everyone grieves differently. Your feelings are normal. Cut yourself some slack, and be gentle with yourself. With coping skills and a support system such as family or friends, you can navigate that tightrope of grief and manage those tricky emotions when they surface.

Paula Pisani, AMFT #110545, earned her Grief Counseling and Treatment Certification Training from Pesi, Inc. If you are struggling with grief or loss, call Paula for a free 10-minute consult to see if therapy can help.

By: Jennifer Costanza
Title: Coping with Loss on Father’s Day, by Paula Pisani, AMFT
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Published Date: Tue, 31 May 2022 01:48:58 +0000

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