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Coping with Father’s Day grief when you’ve lost a child

Dad grieving alone on a bench on Father's Day

For many dads, Father’s Day is a day for quality time with their kids, or an excuse to kick back and relax. But for fathers who have had to say goodbye to their child, it can be a painful reminder of what they’ve lost.

After the death of a child, Father’s Day and significant occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas can bring back the worst feelings of grief and loss. It doesn’t matter if this is your first Father’s Day after losing your child, or 20 years since they died – it’s okay to feel sad, angry or low.

On Father’s Day this Sunday, if you’re struggling to cope with grief, these tips may help you get through the day.

Mentally prepare

Bereavement charity The Compassionate Friends supports grieving parents and families after the death of child, no matter what age they were when they died. It recommends that grieving parents try to mentally prepare for special days that can be harder now.

It says whenever there is a family gathering of any kind, there will always be a member of the family missing, and we will have an underlying feeling of sadness at these events. Planning ahead can help you cope.

From cheerful posters in card shops, to seeing happy families celebrating together, there will probably be a lot of things that remind you of your loss. Being aware that you might be affected by these things might help you prepare for any emotions that resurface.

Find a way to commemorate your child

You might feel as though you want to ignore Father’s Day as much as possible. For some people this works, but for others it is more helpful to acknowledge that you are remembering a son or daughter on Father’s Day.

Calum Ross of The Lullaby Trust, which supports bereaved families affected by the sudden and unexpected death of a baby or young child, explains that commemorating your child can be a way to cope with feelings of grief.

“On difficult days such as Father’s Day, when we know that you won’t be able to celebrate with a child who has died, please take some time to remember your baby or child,” he said. “Some people use the day to celebrate the joy that being a father brought for even a short time, whereas for others it is a time to reflect and remember.”

Doing something as simple as writing a card to your child, or visiting a place that was special to you, can help you acknowledge that they are still a part of your life and express any emotions you are feeling in the process.

Express your emotions

“Men have many ways of avoiding talking about their feelings,” notes TV presenter and grief coach Jeff Brazier in his book The Grief Survival Guide.

“It often feels easier and less painful to bottle up problems rather than bare your soul and empty your heart to someone.”

Although high-profile celebrities such as Rio Ferdinand and Prince Harry have opened up about grief, men can still feel that they need to ‘stay strong’ and keep their emotions hidden.

“Society generally expects men to be strong and supportive, and many men assume that this is their role,” says SANDS, which supports parents after stillbirth and neonatal death. “But this can mean that the father’s needs and feelings tend to be ignored.”

If you find you’re experiencing a lot of emotions on Father’s Day, remember that it’s okay to express them. Staying strong often only delays grief and acknowledging that you aren’t okay is an important first step to coping with whatever you are feeling. There’s no shame in admitting that you still love and miss your child.

Try talking to a close friend or member of your family. If you feel uncomfortable opening up to someone, there are different ways to express feelings of grief that could work for you.

Find support

If you feel that you can’t talk to your friends or family about how you are feeling, there are bereavement support organisations that can help.

The Lullaby Trust has a peer-to-peer support programme for bereaved families to help them cope after their child’s death.

“The bereaved dads who are trained by us to give support to other bereaved dads are being used increasingly more, which is a great sign of the fact that some dads can, and do, offer support,” says Calum.

“We would encourage all bereaved dads to talk about their experience and feelings as much as they can. We know it can be difficult to do this by phone, but do consider emailing or using other types of web support; The Lullaby Trust has an online forum and In Memory site, where you and your family can post photographs and stories about your baby.”

The Compassionate Friends also has an online forum and private Facebook page for grieving parents to connect and share their experiences.

The Child Death Helpline offers a free, confidential service for anyone grieving the death of a child, no matter how old the child was, or how long ago it happened. Their trained volunteers are parents who have also experienced the death of a child, so you’ll know that they understand what it’s like to lose a son or daughter. They are there, first and foremost, to listen to whatever you have to say. Call them on 0800 282 986, or 0808 800 6019 from a mobile. The helpline is open Monday 10am to 1pm, Tuesday and Wednesday from 1pm to 4pm, and every evening between 7pm and 10pm.

The Rosie Crane Trust has a 24-hour listening helpline which you can call on 01460 55120. Calls to the centre are relayed on a mobile phone system, so there is always a volunteer to respond, night or day.

Help is also available through Cruse Bereavement, whose helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays), with extended hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings until 8pm. Call them on 0808 808 1677​.

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