It’s a sad fact of life that most of us will lose our parents at some point. Living life without Mom and Dad to go to for support, advice, or (let’s be honest) money, is a scary prospect in-and-of itself, but we all think it’s going to happen later; when we are finally grown-ups ourselves, have a spouse to lean on, and somehow are more emotionally prepared to deal with it. So when it happens far too early, not only do you not have a clue in hell of what to do, but there are these “gap” years. Years that you are supposed to have that parent around for, and you don’t.
I’ve been living in that chasm for the last four years, since my father passed away suddenly. When you lose a parent at a young age, you run the full gamut of emotions when things happen that would usually fill you with joy. You get jealous when you see your friend dance with her dad at her wedding because you’ll never have that moment. That picture your friend posts on Insta of her dad holding her new baby fills you with a painful sadness because your dad will never meet his grandkids. You get irrationally mad when your baby brother graduates because your dad should be there. And then, of course, the guilt that you have about feeling angry or envious or sad, because you should be happy for the people having those beautiful moments. But while that rollercoaster of sentiments is quite excruciating, there’s something that’s almost worse: the yearly reminder of your loss that is Fathers’ Day.
It might not be so bad if Fathers’ Day was one day that came and went, a day that I could spend hiding from the world under a blanket with a whole pizza and Netflix. But instead, it begins in mid-May, with the “Gifts for Dads and Grads” emails that flood my inbox for the next few weeks, a daily stab to the heart/reminder that I no longer have a dad to buy a gift for. There are even days I forget for a moment and click, thinking “Oh, Dad would like this.” Watching TV live is a danger zone, because this is the season of sappy dad-and-daughter commercials that made me cry before my dad died, and now reduce me to a sobbing pile of daddy’s-girl-without-a-dad. And then for every sadness you discover, there are the pitfalls you don’t even see coming. Mine happened when I went to purchase a birthday card for a friend and accidentally turned into the Fathers’ Day card aisle at CVS, leading to a public meltdown of epic proportions. BTW, thanks again to that lady that broke into the box of tissues she was buying to hand me a few, while I tried to convince her I wasn’t a complete lunatic.
Now, I don’t tell you all of this so that you’ll feel bad for me, although if you were to send me a giant box of chocolates, I wouldn’t turn it down. Instead, I’m sharing this because most of you fortunately haven’t gone through it, but yet almost all of us have a friend who has, and we don’t have a clue how to be there for them during these annual reminder days. Lord knows, I didn’t know what to do until I was on the “other” side, because in no place does the phrase “you don’t understand until it happens to you” apply more than to the death of a parent. It’s like the worst club ever, the no one wants to be a member of.
So how do you support a friend who’s lost the man she’d want to celebrate this Fathers’ Day? Don’t ignore it, or try not to mention it around her. She’s not going to forget because you didn’t say anything. Instead, do the small things. Take a moment out of your day with your own dad and just send her a text to let her know you are thinking about her. Invite her to your activities, but don’t push when she says she’d rather stay home. Show up at her place after you’ve spent the day with your dad with a gallon of mint chocolate chip, a box of wine, and your Netflix password. I’m incredibly (and non-ironically) blessed to have a group of friends that have done these things for me for the last few years, and they make the dark day just a little bit brighter.
So if you have a friend who has lost her dad, try and do something to brighten her day. Or if you’re a member of this crappy club, feel free to slide into my DMs, we can commiserate and remember our dads together..
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