Grieving on Mother's Day and Father's Day

There are certain times of the year that stick out as predictable triggers for grieving people: birthdays, anniversaries, and/or the (sometimes dreaded) end-of-the-year holidays. And then there are those that fly under the radar and pop up when we are least expecting them. 

Mother’s and Father’s Days take on a whole new meaning after a death. These can be emotional days both for children (young and old) who have experienced the loss of a mother or father or a parent grieving the death of a child. These days can also be tough for those who experienced the death of the other parent – for example, maybe a child always made Mother’s Day breakfast with their dad who died.


You may be at a loss for how to spend your time on these pseudo-holidays. Here are some ideas for the whole family:


Stay in:

Cook or order in your person’s favorite meal. Play their favorite board game. Watch their favorite movie or sports team. Do a craft in memory of your person. Talk with your family about what you wish you could be doing with your person that day.


Get out:

Visit your person’s favorite restaurant. Go shopping and buy the gift you would have bought them if they were still alive. Consider spending some time outside in nature. Go for a walk or a hike and bring a picnic. Go to a nature preserve. Visit the cemetery or place you scattered their ashes.


If you have plans with others:

Do what feels right to you in the moment. Love cooking? Bring a homemade dish. Hate cooking? Nothing wrong with store-bought. Can’t bring yourself to go grocery shopping? Show up empty-handed. Not feeling like being around other people? Kids not cooperating? You have the right to bail at any time. Need a break? Slip away for 5 minutes. Lock yourself in the bathroom. Listen to music. Practice deep breathing.


Past Traditions:

There is no right or wrong way to spend the tough days. Try talking with your family in advance about how you want to spend it. You can uphold the traditions you’ve always had or make new ones. You might not all come to a consensus, and that’s okay, too.


Remember that sometimes the anticipation of a day can be worse than the day itself. It’s also okay to completely abandon any and all plans for a day in, spent sulking. Allow yourself some grace to feel your feelings.


As a support person:

We can sometimes feel helpless as family or friends of grieving families. Try to be understanding and flexible if they change plans at the last minute. Reach out to a parent whose child died – let them know you are thinking of them. Children might want to do something special for their parent on their important day, but they used to do this with their deceased parent and don’t have the resources to do so on their own. Consider taking the child(ren) out to buy some flowers or that special tie. Help them make breakfast for their surviving parent.

For those of us grieving during the upcoming holidays, remember; There is no right or wrong, and nothing required of you for these days. And for those supporting those navigating their grief, the most important thing is to take the lead from the person grieving.