Preparing for Father's Day (and other grief triggers)

by Christi Neville, LPC

As Father’s Day approaches, not everyone is deciding which tie to get Dad.  For children who have lost a parent, they feel their loss magnified amidst other friends celebrating around them. Although our Kids Who Care group consists of many different kinds of losses, all of which are equally challenging, a majority of our young members have lost a dad. That inspires me to offer some helpful hints not only for this upcoming holiday, but which can be applied to any grief-triggering holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries that our children encounter in the face of their loss. So for those who have lost siblings, grandparents, or other family members, the following tips are equally as applicable.

Plan for Connection, Not for Perfection
Since anticipation can be worse than the actual holiday itself, the best remedy is usually to face it and plan what would be most healing. Planning decreases anxiety around the holiday, so involve your children and help them to make a simple plan, depending on their age and needs. Ask if there are special activities they want to do to honor their loved one. You may want to introduce a couple of ideas to get their creativity going, but then it’s important to follow their lead and honor what they want.  Keep it simple, especially for young kids!  It’s more important to do one simple thing that helps your child feel connected in the process, rather than to expect perfection in the end result. 
Help Your Child Find Meaningful Ways to Honor Their Loved One’s Memory

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Start a scrapbook together to honor their loved one. Time spent together on a project can deepen a mutually fulfilling connection between you and your child.*  Cook (or go out for) their loved one’s favorite meal.

*  Play their loved one’s favorite music.

*  Decorate a frame for their favorite photo of their loved one.

*  Ask other family members about their memories of their loved one.

*  Make a “memory box” and use it to add some special objects in the loved one’s memory throughout the years.

*  Release balloons to the sky in loved one’s honor, with a special note attached. (Latex balloons are biodegradable, mylar balloons are not.)

Model “Good Grief”
Allow space for the difficult emotions that may come up, and reassure your child that any emotion, big or small, is important to honor.  The surviving caregiver can model for their child how to handle emotions. For example, if sadness or tears come up for a grieving mom, she can reassure her child that it’s OK to feel the feelings, but that together, as a family, you all will all get through things.

A Self-Care Day
In grief, people often forget to take care of themselves, especially grieving caregivers who are also caring for grieving children!  A day of self-care can be a big mood lifter…..Go out for a dessert together, take a day trip for a change of scenery, or enjoy exchanging backrubs with your child.

Focus on Celebrating Their Loved One’s Life 
While allowing for the grief, it’s also important to focus on celebration and hope. Working to make the day a little more positive will pay off, and those grief triggering holidays may just get a bit easier with each passing year!


Christi Neville, LPC has led The Christi Center’s Kids Who Care group for children ages 5-12 since 2015. She has a career-long passion for working with grieving adults and children, and sees clients in private practice. Her blog can be found at www.aresilientheart.com.