What to do for Father’s Day when your dad dies

It doesn’t get easier, but you become better at dealing with it.

If you’ve found this article because the headline fits your current situation, I’m sorry. This is my third Father’s Day since my Dad passed away and, to be completely honest, time hasn’t made things easier; in fact, it’s made things harder. Time has allowed me to get better at processing the loss and the emotions but it has only highlighted the growing list of missed celebrations, milestones, and everyday joys.

The first two Father’s Days I spent isolating myself from my life and the emotions the day stirred up. Before his death, Father’s Day was a well-celebrated occasion in our household, and I genuinely thought I’d never feel the same way about it again. The first Father’s Day without him brought to light everything I had ever felt for my Dad and everything we had shared. This year, after a lot of therapy, I can say I’m actually looking forward to honouring him in my own way.

For those on their grief journey, I hope these little tips provide a starting point for you to, once again, celebrate Father’s Day.

My Dad and I when I graduated university. Supplied

It’s tempting to leave the day unstructured, hoping to “see how you feel.” Nope, scratch that. My first two Father’s Days were spent in serious denial, pushing away everyone close to me. The results? Depression, mixed emotions, unexpected triggers, and loads of anxiety.

This time around, I’ve made plans. Nothing elaborate: an intentional lie-in bed rot sesh, a beach walk, a leisurely late lunch, and an evening listening to my Dad’s favourite songs. The aim? Stay occupied, dodge the emotional potholes, and create positive vibes around the day.

If you are not ready to celebrate or commemorate…no judgements. Let the emotions flow and plan to do absolutely nothing. It’s therapeutic, trust me.

It’s okay to feel everything: happiness, sadness, anger, relief. Don’t shy away from these emotions. This day might bring up a cocktail of feelings, from a twinge in your heart to sobbing sessions. Lean into these feelings, and then take a moment to relive the sweetest memories. Sure, there are tears, but they’re often followed by uproarious laughter as you remember the terrible jokes or the time he spilled the beans on your “surprise wedding” plan—or was that just my dad?

My dad died one month before my wedding, so our dried flower arrangements turned our home into a bit of a ‘dad shrine’. He had a very healthy opinion of himself, so we laughed about how much he would have loved this level of attention. Supplied

Honestly, this has helped me more than I’d like to admit. Talking about your dad, sharing stories, or just feeling understood by others who’ve been there can be so healing. You might not always be in the mood to share, or it may feel weird to do so, but it gets easier the more you do it. And in doing so, the weight of your grief feels less burdensome. Your grief will become empowering.

If you’re anything like me, my biggest grief triggers are father-daughter dances at weddings, grandfathers holding their grandchildren for the first time, and seeing beautiful tribute posts on socials every Father’s Day. In the first two years, I couldn’t share or appreciate my friends’ joy; it caused me too much pain. I took each Father’s Day tribute post personally as a stark reminder of what I no longer have. I’ve come to realise the importance of being present and avoiding social comparison. Even if you’re not feeling overly emotional, a digital detox can be like a refreshing cleanse for the soul. No distractions, just pure, unfiltered you-time.

Buy a Gift for Someone Special

My love language is gift-giving, and each year I took immense pride in selecting the perfect gift. After his death, every Father’s Day marketing email reminded me that I no longer have that opportunity. Year three brought a revelation: buy a gift for someone else special in my life. It could be your mum, a sibling, a friend who’s always had your back, or even yourself. The act of choosing and giving not only fills you with warmth but also reminds you of the love that’s still abundant in your life. This year, I took great joy in buying all my fave products from Adore Beauty. Treat yourself, always.
We both won clip-on moustaches from the Christmas crackers. Supplied

It may sound clichéd, but it’s therapeutic. Every Father’s Day, write your dad a letter filled with updates, achievements, and worries. It’s a beautiful way to feel close, as if he’s still part of the journey.

Loss looks Different for Everyone

I understand that this article primarily addresses those who had great relationships with their dads and doesn’t speak to those who had poor or no relationship at all. I can’t begin to imagine what Father’s Day must feel like for you. Having loved and lost, I feel privileged to experience the grief that I do. Whether you celebrate or not, I hope you find ways to commemorate the special people in your life long after they’ve gone.

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