For children who have lost a parent, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can trigger intense feelings, even years after a death. Parents grieving the death of a spouse or partner also may experience intensified feelings of loss and isolation, as well as increased anxiety as these “loaded” holidays approach.
Here are six tips for coping with Mother’s Day or Father’s Day that many grieving families have found helpful.
Talk with your child/children about how they might like to spend the day. There is no right or wrong way. Do what works for your family. You might want to plan an activity or ritual in memory of the parent who died. Some families choose to plant flowers, prepare their loved one’s favorite meal, light a special candle, or visit the cemetery or a favorite spot of the person who died. Be creative and do what feels most comfortable to you.
Recognize that every family member grieves differently and experiences the loss in his or her own way.
The understanding and meaning of loss vary according to age and developmental stage. Try to respect and honor individual needs and desires.
Connect with others.
Reach out to family and friends to share memories and stories of the deceased parent. Even in this time of physical distancing, virtual connection can reduce feelings of isolation and lessen pressure on the surviving parent. If you and your children decide that reaching out to others feels more burdensome than supportive, honor that. Do what feels best to you.
If your plans don’t feel right at the last minute, don’t be afraid to change them.
Practice self-care and self-compassion.
As you support your children, don’t forget to nourish yourself. Take a walk, write in a journal, listen to music. Do whatever feels comforting to you. Even five minutes of deep breathing while hiding in the bathroom can help! Use this as an opportunity to model for your children the importance of identifying and tending to their own needs.
Consider what worked well and what didn’t. If some things were difficult, what might work better next year?
Remember, there is no one best way, only what works best for your family. Some families find that the anticipation of the holiday can be more difficult than the day itself. You may even find some unexpected joy, and that’s fine too!
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About the author
Wendy Paramore, LICSW, is a per-diem bereavement counselor at Care Dimensions. She facilitates a "Raising Grieving Children" portion of our family group for parents/caregivers. Wendy has worked with children and adults facing loss in a variety of settings, including home hospice, oncology units, and grief centers.