Less than a month before Father’s Day, which falls on June 21 this year, our Vice President Joe Biden lost his son, Beau, to brain cancer. Beau was the Biden’s oldest son. He served as Delaware’s attorney general and was only 46 years old. As the Biden family mourns their loss, thousands of other fathers who have lost children will face a holiday meant to celebrate being a dad. How do you cope with the grief that sometimes seems unbearable?
Grieving as a Father
Losing a child is one of the most devastating types of losses anyone can experience. No parent expects to outlive his or her children. It feels unnatural and wrong. A parent having lost a child may feel empty, lost and as if the grief is too much to ever overcome. Some parents may feel guilty and wish they had done something differently. They may be angry, and they will probably never fully get over the loss. Mothers and fathers grieve and feel the loss of a child equally, but often differently. Men are typically expected to keep their emotions in check, while women are allowed to grieve openly. A father is sometimes neglected in grief when it comes to the loss of a child. He may feel he has to remain stoic and strong, but on the inside he is hurting as much as the mother.
Grief Amid Celebration
For a father, facing Father’s Day after the loss of a child can be extremely upsetting. This is especially true when the loss is new, but the pain of the day may never cease, year after year. If a dad has been coping with the loss in a healthy way, it will give him a leg up on surviving the holiday. Healthy ways to cope with grief include sharing feelings with a trusted loved one, attending therapy, journaling, joining a support group for grieving parents and other similar healing strategies. Here are some tips for the grieving dad in your life to help him get through the holiday:
- Spend time with your kids. If you have other children, spend the day with them. It may hurt to be with them and without the child you lost, but finding joy in the children with you is a powerful way to cope with those negative emotions of loss.
- Include a tribute to the child you lost. Just because you lost that child does not mean that you are not still a father to her. During your celebration, include a remembrance or short memorial service.
- Surround yourself with loved ones. The pain of losing a child is going to be strong on certain days, like Father’s Day. You may want to hide away and be alone, but resist that urge. Spending time with people who care about you will be more helpful.
- Keep busy. Always living in a state of distraction from your grief is not healthful, but on particularly difficult days, it helps. Stay busy on Father’s Day by getting chores done, working on a project or helping others.
- Spend the day with peers. If you do want to face the grief of the day head on, face it with other fathers. If you belong to a support group, get together to help each other on this most difficult of days.
Grieving the loss of a child is an experience that colors the rest of a parent’s life. You can’t escape it, and on days like Father’s Day, the grief may seem too much to handle. Time will never heal the hurt, but it will make it more bearable, as will these suggestions for coping on Father’s Day.