“If you had a good dad, then Father’s Day can be sorrowful and maybe even bittersweet as you remember good times. If you had a more difficult relationship, the day can bring up feelings of loneliness and sadness. Or if you’re a father suffering the loss of a child, it can amplify those feelings of loss and bereavement.” “Walter Carter Funeral Home”
We move gently, easily, in this season we call summer. Father’s Day is a part of every summer. Remember, as children, the gifts we made for our dads? Cards smeared with glue, ash trays (okay, let us all remember that I grew up in a time when everyone smoked) made with love, even dandelions picked as his special bouquet.
We all got a bit older and the gifts became store bought and, maybe, a bit more sophisticated. I remember saving money to get my dad a special picture for his desk. After he died, I found it tucked in his desk drawer with the card I’d gotten. “Gosh”, I thought, “what a hideous work of art.” As some of us married and had children of our own, we often had to squeeze some of those Father’s Days or extend them out a bit to include extended family. We all lived intensely in the moment.
One day, we expect to have our dads die ahead of us. For me, being 27 years old, my dad died way too soon. He was only 61 and died of emphysema. When my dad died, I remember 2 close friends saying how much they envied the fact that I had my dad for “so many years.” One had her father die when she was 7. The other was 10 when her dad died. They envied the fact that my dad was able to walk me down the aisle and to see his grandchildren.
The very things that I was to be grateful for are the same things many of you have never had. Fathers who died way too young by ending their own lives left daughters who had “others” walk them down the aisle. They left sons who never knew them except through stories and pictures. Wives who had husbands die way too young, by their own hands, had to explain to public school teachers, Sunday school teachers, and others who worked with their children that “Father’s Day” needed to be expanded to include “an important male” in their young child’s life. Making a gift for a father that no longer was alive is a difficult time for a child. “Make it for your grandfather, or your uncle, or a special neighbor,” teachers learned to say.
When Father’s Day arrives, it is a difficult day for many. How often do we hear at our meeting that parents of a child who died by suicide have to “put on a happy face for our other kids” while their heart breaks over that absent, now deceased child? How often do we hear wives stressing out, surviving children stressing out, and siblings stressing out over this holiday? All of us “mourn for the loss of what was but also for what will never be.” Eventually, we “gently, lovingly let go.” “Accept that he is gone” a now ex-friend told me when I faced my first Father’s Day without dad. That was 2 months after he died. June, in fact, was one difficult month for my mom and I since their wedding anniversary was also in June.
I can remember turning red in the face and sputtering to this now ex-friend, “I don’t have any choice to accept that he is gone. THAT is not my issue. MY issue is that he IS gone, and I don’t like it.” (I would also like to mention, in a petty way, that her large intact family had just gotten back from a trip, paid for by her dad, and were about to gather at her brother’s for their usual Father’s Day tribute which actually went on, each year, all week-end).
You and I are grieving what we had. You and I are grieving what we can never have again. You and I are grieving what will never be. I know that for those of us who are many years past the death, we have gently, lovingly let go. Or…if you’re like me…I didn’t so gently, lovingly let go. Always, always, always, we will hold on…even just a bit…to what we can never have again.
Guess what? That’s okay. Let us all be especially mindful of those facing their first Father’s Day without their dad, child, uncle, brother, husband… My dad did not die by suicide. That is the “extra” painful piece that holds its grasp over many of you. That “extra” painful piece is mine to own at Mother’s Day. The fact is, however, that no matter how “they” died, we miss them.
Carry your memories with you….think of them…speak of them…whisper their name…shout their name. We meet this month a week before Father’s Day. Bring your fears, your concerns, your stories. Just remember this one thing: If you are able to do this, take a few moments, and go off by yourself.
Think of your loved one and, if you are able, give thanks that they were in your life. Think of their face, their voice, their smile. Remember something happy and celebrate the life that was…If you are able to do so, don’t let their final act define who they are/were for you…We love them still…