I still remember that first Father’s Day after my husband’s death. I didn’t know what to do.
As the day grew closer, I felt more and more paralyzed about how to prepare for the day.
I was invited to an out-of-state wedding. Despite my guilt in leaving my three daughters behind with grandparents, I knew I needed to go. It would be good for my soul.
My girls enjoyed that Sunday celebrating their Papa Doug and visiting with their Uncle Paul and cousins.
As for me, I woke up early that Father’s Day morning. I had some time alone in my hotel room to let the grief wash over me. I ended up writing a reflection about how my late husband had been a father figure to so many. He invested deeply in our three daughters, but also in friends and orphans in Haiti.
Deep in my soul, I felt the weight of his absence, but also the strength of his legacy. I also felt compelled to thank all the family friends and fathers who stood in the gap for my girls and me in our grief.
Father’s Day, like many holidays, can be filled with mixed emotions. Maybe some of you have a daddy in heaven like my girls. Maybe some of you will feel the ache of separation from your father because of divorce, deployment, imprisonment or a job that takes him out of town.
Sometimes Father’s Day is complicated because grief mingles with joy as we celebrate fathers who are alive, but also long to remember our daddies who have died.
The following are some ideas compiled with the help of some of my widow friends on how to remember and celebrate Father’s Day when a daddy is gone. I have found it’s important to make plans ahead of time, but to hold them lightly and cover ourselves with grace on the actual day.
- Write a letter to your father. Even if you can’t deliver it or mail it, the act of writing a letter can be healing. Include some special memories, perhaps some things you wish you could say today, or a description of how you are feeling today.
- Take a picnic to the park. Pack a lunch and spend some time sharing as a family. My daughters love having me tell stories from when they were little or trips we took with their dad.
- Go to a special place like the ocean or the cemetery and allow kids to release a balloon in honor of their dad. There’s something sacred about letting go and watching these balloons float to the heavens.
- Make a reservation for Dad’s favorite restaurant and take the family out in his honor. Use your time together to talk about his legacy.
- Look through photos together and compile a “Best of Dad” collection to print in a photo book. Many of our pictures are digital now, which means we seldom take time to curate our favorites. Perusing and selecting photos can be a meaningful time of remembrance.
- Write thank you cards to the father figures in your circle. Take some time to thank the men who have influenced you, loved on you, and nourished you through the years.
- Buy ingredients and make you dad’s favorite dessert. Talk about some of dad’s favorite things as you eat the dessert together.
- Do simple art project together. Paint a photo frame. Pull out some markers or crayons and color together. Make a collage of things that remind you of your dad and his legacy.
- Take a sunset walk together through the neighborhood or at a local park. Give yourself space to share if you want to or to simply hold space for remembering your father.
- If it feels overwhelming to see all the fathers at church on Father’s Day, plan your own special devotional time for your family. Read a favorite Bible story or from a family devotional. Pray together.
Here’s the bottom line: There’s really no wrong way to celebrate Father’s Day. Be gentle with yourself as you make space to remember, to be sad, to experience joy, to laugh, to grieve, and to celebrate.
I am reminded of these words in Romans 8:15-17: “And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
What a gift that we are adopted into God’s family. We are not fatherless. We are his children, His co-heirs. I’m learning to cling to this truth and hold the weight of it.
Grief and glory are always co-mingling. May our Father God meet you in your grief and comfort you there this Father’s Day.
**Dorina hosts The Widow Mama Collective, a support group on Facebook designed for widows who are navigating grief and still mothering kids at home. Join Dorina and friends here or pass this on to a friend who might need it!
*I am an affiliate for Dayspring at no extra cost to my readers.