After a father or father-like figure in your life dies, it may feel like a challenge or even a burden to continue previous traditions (Who will make the annual feast on the grill? Who will make corny dad jokes?) or create new ones without the person around to enjoy it. Is your family going to honor the holiday or skip it? We know it’s a lot to think about it and hope the ideas below make the process gentler.
Step 1: Bring up the conversation with the children in your home. Remember, it’s okay to show your sadness and other feelings to your children. Be honest; if it’s hard to talk about managing the holiday traditions, let them know. By sharing, you are letting them know it’s okay if they’re also having complicated feelings or unsure of whether to celebrate. Also, you may not be able to decide how to honor the person right away but you have opened the door for the conversation to start and continue.
Step 2: Decide if you want to continue the same traditions. If you all decide to pass on acknowledging the day, that’s fine. But if you want to celebrate, is there a new way to make the tradition work? If the person always made muffins, can you and the children find that recipe and make a morning out of baking? Do you want to make a brand new recipe? This experience will not look exactly how it used to but it can still be used to share laughs, memories, tears, and anything that comes up. Remember, crying is okay, and not a sign of whether you had a successful day.
Step 3: Try to reframe questions that heighten uncertainty. Instead of asking “Who is going to put up the lights this year?” try “How can we do this together?” Instead of “Who is going to fry the turkey?”, say “Let’s look up a recipe and see how we can all do this as a family!” Or you can ask, “Should we try something new this year?” This may go wonderfully–but it may also cause frustration and tears. It’s a learning curve, and all of these emotions are normal and you should not feel ashamed of feeling any of them.
Step 4: Ask for support. Maybe the family prepares a special dish for the holiday or goes to the person’s favorite restaurant. Maybe they have a new restaurant they want to try, or a dish they want to prepare at home. Again, it’s about finding what works for your family. If you need help preparing the meal, who can help?
If the restaurant is booked, can you make arrangements to go another day and share the memories of the person? Also, let the kids share their own suggestions for who they want to include or ask for help. You don’t have to go it alone, and they may appreciate taking ownership in the planning.
If your children do not want to talk about the holiday or explore ideas for holiday traditions, give them the opportunity to express themselves in other ways. They may need time to process the information and come back to you with how they feel. Or they may prefer to write their thoughts down or even share in an informal setting, while taking a walk or driving in the car instead of a sit-down discussion at the table.
Remember there are no right or wrong answers to how to spend this day, and you may do it completely differently next year. The important thing is to make sure everyone gets to express their feelings and share their ideas.
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While there is no right or wrong way to spend the day, here are some activities others do to honor the day that may serve as inspiration…
- Prepare the person’s favorite meal together.
- Watch family videos or look at family photos together.
- Light a candle for the person.
- Visit the cemetery or memorial site.
- Plant a tree or flower for the person.
- Donate in their memory or to their favorite charity, perhaps Experience Camps.
- Plan to volunteer in their memory.
- Run a race in their memory.
Alicia Firman completed her MSW at the University of Missouri – Columbia. Alicia has been involved in grief work since 2009 where she started as a camp counselor while completing her degree. She works full-time as a school social worker and teaches fitness classes on the side. Alicia is the Clinical Director for Experience Camps in Georgia. In her free time, she enjoys exploring new places, traveling, and being outside with her new puppy, Jasper.