Our Guide To Handling Father's Day If You're Grieving Your Dad

The death of a parent is typically one of the most devastating experiences of a person's life. Parents can act as living security blankets well into their children's adulthood, and when that source of ever-present comfort is suddenly removed from your life, it can leave you in a major tailspin. As you adjust to your new life without your parent, an array of reminders and challenging stumbling blocks will undoubtedly find their way into your path.


If you've recently lost your father — or even if you lost him long ago — you might find that Father's Day is one of the most difficult challenges you've faced during your grief process. There is no correct way to grieve, and the right way to approach Father's Day will be different for every person walking this path. Thankfully, while we always advocate for feeling and listening to every emotion, you can also put your feelings to work around Father's Day by embracing your father, yourself, and those around you.

Honor your dad

The fact that your dad isn't physically present doesn't mean that you can't still celebrate him for Father's Day. This might look very similar to the way you celebrated the holiday before he was gone, including gathering with your family for a barbecue or brunch. You can even buy a Father's Day card and write a message to your dad in it. Share your sentiments with your family members, or keep them entirely to yourself.


If you don't feel up to socializing, you can spend time on your own appreciating the years you had with your father and the person he was. This could include anything from watching home movies and looking at family photos to bingeing a show you once watched together, cooking yourself his favorite meal, or snuggling up with a transitional object. Any intentional action can become a new way of honoring him each year; the possibilities are truly endless and beautifully flexible. 

Celebrate other dads

Father's Day is a holiday for celebrating the art of fatherhood, no biological connection required. Have a best friend whose dad was like a second father to you growing up? A stepdad who raised you alongside your parents? A brother who's killing the gig with his own kids? Lavish a little extra love and appreciation on these men this Father's Day. This can include the father of your own children if you've become a parent.


If you're not currently close with any fathers, consider helping those you don't know by making a donation in your dad's honor. If your dad was a fisherman or an avid gardener, you can donate a fishing kit or a set of agricultural tools to a family in need via World Vision. If he was a skilled home chef, donate to No Kid Hungry in his name. While losing your dad hurts, fatherhood must live on. 

Take a self-care day

If you're really struggling to imagine yourself socializing this Father's Day or even celebrating the holiday at all, don't force yourself to participate. This may be the perfect opportunity to spend a day taking care of yourself. Self-care isn't all about bubble baths and wine; this is a chance to practice your coping mechanisms. Take a moment to notice how the arrival of Father's Day makes you feel. Is your neck tense? Your chest tight? Your breathing slightly more shallow than usual?


Try using somatic breathwork to regulate your nervous system and switch your body out of fight or flight mode and back into rest and digest mode. Box breathing is a great place to start. Take a seat in a quiet area, close your eyes, and inhale for four counts. Softly hold the breath in for four more counts, then slowly exhale for a final four counts. Repeat until you feel your body relax. 

Plan a distraction

You might already know that you're not ready to acknowledge Father's Day in any form this year, and that's perfectly okay. Just plan out your day ahead of time with the goal of keeping yourself distracted. Any activity you can fathom can work to get you through the holiday; just make sure it's something you really want to do. Of course, you could plan something that your father also loved, but if you truly want to distract yourself, choose something that's inherently you.


If the weather is nice, plan a long hike, a day of lawn work, or a road trip with your dog. Teach yourself to draw, hand letter, French braid, or crochet using online tutorials. All you need to do is get through the day without being reminded of Father's Day or your grieving process. Avoidance is okay for a day; just make sure you get back to moving through your emotions in a healthy way once the holiday has passed.

Seek understanding company

If you'd like to acknowledge Father's Day but aren't sure how to do so without becoming overwhelmed by grief, it's time to seek out support. Others who are on the same journey can understand exactly what you're going through and share their own tips for coping with loss. If you happen to have a friend or family member who has also lost their father, reach out to them. They will most likely be as grateful as they are helpful, especially on Father's Day.


Grief support groups, both local and online, are incredibly helpful and underutilized sources of support for those navigating the grief process. If you haven't yet looked into this support format, you might look into ones like GriefShare or Grief in Common to find a group that appeals to you. No one except a person who has shared your experience of losing a parent can understand what holidays like Father's Day truly feel like after a loved one has passed. 

Assess your progress

Grief is a process that you're meant to progress through; it's not a permanent state. As time goes on, the pain and yearning you feel over the loss of your father should become more tolerable and less paralyzing. If you feel like you've barely made it through the past few Father's Days, for instance, and you're still acutely triggered by the thought of the holiday occurring this year, it's time to assess your progress.


You don't have to live in acute distress for the rest of your life. If you feel stuck in your grief, reach out to a professional for help. Entirely online services are available through BetterHelp, for example, and you can find local practitioners who are covered by your health insurance plan by checking your insurance provider's website. Ultimately, you deserve to honor your father and move on with your life at the same time.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website