I Found a Way to Enjoy Father’s Day After Losing My Dad

When I was a little girl, I remember buying my father Old Spice cologne for Father’s Day. He was so excited; you would have thought I’d bought him a gold watch.

Wearing a silly grin, he held the bottle to his cheek. Then, he opened the top and inhaled like the Old Spice smelled better than anything he’d ever experienced.

Someone else bought him other, expensive cologne that year, but every time I walked into the bathroom, he’d slap that Old Spice on and marvel at how much he loved it.

I’m not sure if he did love it, or if he just wanted me to feel good about my gift. It doesn’t really matter, because thoughts of Old Spice always make me smile. When I smell it, I think of my dad and the wonderful parts of his personality.

[Our Stuff Is Filled With the Souls of Those Who Touched It: Mourning the Loss of People and Things]

My father died fifteen years ago. For years after he passed, I absolutely dreaded Father’s Day. Each time it came around, I would promise myself that I wouldn’t get sad, but I always did. No matter how hard I tried, that day pulled me down into a sea of pain and underscored the fact that I couldn’t buy him Old Spice, or anything else, ever again.

I didn’t make plans on Father’s Day. Instead, I set the day aside for some good old-fashioned lamenting. My Father’s Day swan dive into an isolated movie and pizza marathon always made me feel worse. Sometimes I’d call my brother and we’d ruminate on our loss, which also made me sadder. At the time, I didn’t realize that my Father’s Day rituals weren’t helping me move through grief.

On one particularly bad Father’s Day, I called my friend Kim, and went on about the hole in my heart left by my dad. I compared myself to other people who had a father, and could do fun things like barbeque and watch the basketball game with him. That’s when my friend gave me something to think about.

“Why do you have to make today so big? Don’t you think of your dad every day? Why does today need this gigantic spotlight?” She was right.

[Embrace Loved Ones Who Have Passed to Have a Rich & Fulfilling Present]

It didn’t make sense for me to turn Father’s Day into my own personal sinkhole, year after year; especially since I had a second dad (my best friend’s dad), a stepfather, and a brother. All were awesome men–people I could barbecue and watch basketball with. I could also hang with my mom or friends that day as well. I could go fishing in honor of my dad, or not.

The point is, I had choices and didn’t need to set myself up for so much focused melancholy. I did think of my dad all the time, so that day didn’t need to be any different. Using Father’s Day as an excuse to hurt myself with negative thoughts and actions wasn’t serving me, so I stopped.

This Father’s Day, I will spend the weekend with my second dad and the rest of the family, cooking chowder and playing on the beach. I think this choice sounds a tad more appealing than hiding in my house with Walter White and a medium pepperoni.

Today, with social media, it is incredibly easy to fall into comparison oblivion. Last year, I forgot it was Father’s Day and opened my Facebook to find dozens of pictures of friends with their dads. I started to feel sad and jealous, so I popped right out of there.

[I Created ‘Grief Yoga’ Because the Body Remembers the Pain We’ve Felt]

  • Social media can be fun in many ways, but on Father’s Day, for some of us, it’s better to stay out.

I know this last thing is really difficult to do, when sadness is brewing hot, but writing a gratitude list really helps, too.

  • Instead of focusing on the lack, I write down all the amazing people I do have in my life, who would love to spend Father’s Day with me.
  • If I’m feeling up to it, I also write down everything I appreciated about my dad. Acknowledging the plusses, instead of the minuses, always puts my life in a more healthy perspective.

I’m not going to lie and say grief isn’t the shits. Losing a parent rocked my world. In my experience, the grieving process is deeply personal. Meaning: you are in charge of exactly how you choose to grieve.

If you’ve recently lost your dad, maybe the first couple of Father’s Days just simply will involve drawing the shades for some cheesy bread and a marathon of Peaky Blinders. It’s a great show.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ essay]

My point is, it doesn’t always have to be so sad. There are options and a way out of making Father’s Day bigger and more catastrophic than it needs to be.

What I’ve learned:

  1. Be kind to yourself, no matter how you feel and react to Father’s Day.
  2. Reach out for support and plan a little something, if you are up to it.
  3. Build a gratitude list, even if you can only think of a couple of things to write.
  4. Know that it will get better and feel better, eventually.



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