On the Heels of Mother’s Day and in Anticipation of Father’s Day

Father and Son
Tuesday, June 9, 2015

This month I would like to start with a thought provoking question. Was Mother’s Day more difficult than expected, joyful, disappointing, stressful, or fun and fulfilling? Do you have anxiety about Father’s Day and the anticipation of its arrival? There are countless adjectives that describe our experiences.

I have heard countless people say, “I hate Mother’s Day,” or “I hate Father’s Day.” Some make the statement after the day has passed because the activities they engaged in were painful or less fulfilling than expected. This begs the question, “Do we sabotage the holiday before it is here?”

Why do so many people have negative thoughts about these holidays?

Some of the many reasons Mother’s and Father’s Day may be difficult include the following:

  • No memory of their biological parent
  • Strained or abusive relationship with a parent
  • Recently lost their parent
  • Lost a child before birth and, thus, lost the opportunity to become a parent
  • Guilt over giving up their child
  • Lost their child

Most of us are optimistic people and believe these holidays should yield joy and happiness. However, through these scenarios we can see that the intended celebratory holiday might be anything but joy filled or happy for many people experiencing various levels of distress from grief and loss. As a result, the holiday can become a stark reminder of who is missing.

These holidays can even make us question our own identity: Am I still a mother/father if my child has died? My answer to this is a resounding, “YES; you will always be a parent.”

It is common for parents who have lost a child to pose the question, “What do I say when someone asks, ‘How many children do you have?’” Your child may not be with you physically to care for, but you are the care taker of their precious memories. You will always be a parent. Your role has changed to one of keeping his or her memory alive.

So how can we best navigate Mother’s and Father’s Day?

The holiday may present you with new, fresh grief without some careful planning. If you wait for others to decide what you need to feel better, they may miss the mark and leave you more disappointed. Anticipation can be worse than the day itself. Remember it is only 24 hours, eight of which you may be sleeping.

I invite you to work as a family to plan ahead as Father’s Day draws near. Once you develop a plan, you can use the tools you put into place to help you plan for Mother’s Day next year. Take what worked and remove what did not to make a better plan.

Your plan can include an activity that might yield some joy, peace, comfort, laughter, or fond memories. You may consider celebrating Mother’s and Father’s Day by inviting others to talk about your lost loved one and share their favorite memory. It can also include strategies to avoid situations you anticipate will be difficult or stressful. It should involve communicating your desires and expectations with others.

I recently interviewed a couple who lost their only son many years ago. I inquired what has helped them through the years after losing him. The mother stated they avoid church on Mother’s Day as there is always an acknowledgement of mothers; they do the same on Father’s Day. Instead, they take flowers to their son’s grave honoring the love they still share and watch a baseball game remembering what a stellar athlete their son was. They also take their own parent out several days before the holiday to avoid being reminded by other families of what they are missing. This plan leaves time for their parent to be with other family members who have children.

Avoid what stings and find what feels good. If doing nothing and nurturing your sorrow and lack of energy is your choice that day, allow yourself this indulgence. What you are able and willing to do will morph and change over the years. You will often discover what feels right by trial and error.

What I know is that without a plan there is the risk of facing triggers that may be difficult to handle. I encourage you to make a plan so you can celebrate those you love in life and in death.

Please feel free to share some of the ways you deal with these holidays in the comment section below. Knowing we are not alone and sharing our coping strategies is very powerful.

Linda Coughlin Brooks is the SUDEP Institute Bereavement Support Facilitator; she contributes regular articles as part of our bereavement support services. You can contact Linda at sudep@efa.org. Watch for future articles and learn more about our support for bereaved.

Authored by: Linda Coughlin Brooks RN, BSN, CT on 6/2015

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