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Children / fatherhood / Holidays / Motherhood / Single Parents

Father’s Day: An Emotional Day When You’re Celebrating Without A Father

Father’s Day is not what it used to be.  I’ve gotten used to many of the milestones I have faced since I became a widow, almost 4 years ago.  I can jolly us through Christmas and be thankful on Thanksgiving.  I can even look at his birthday as a celebration of his life.  But Father’s Day is a day devoted to celebrating fathers.  And the fact that my kids have lost theirs…well…that can’t be glossed over.

Many widows will tell you that during a certain time of the year, they find that their milestones are clustered.  Their spouse may have died near the holidays or near their wedding anniversary.  It’s really weird how that happens.  And I’m no different.  Father’s Day starts my “cluster.”  After that, my birthday, the anniversary of his death and our wedding anniversary (2 days after he died) come at me in rapid succession, all within 30 days of each other.

It’s like being bombed by grief with no where to hide.

I’ve gotten into a routine with most of it.  I can grin and bear it on my birthday.  I spend the anniversary of his death with friends.  And by the time my wedding anniversary rolls around, I’m usually so drained by all of the milestones that that day is very anti-climactic.

But Father’s Day…that’s different.

We usually spend the day up in Buffalo Creek, CO, where he is buried.  The cemetery is set in the woods, overlooking the Platte River and I can honestly say that my kids enjoy going.  It’s become just another outing and they love running around and exploring, throwing rocks in the stream and looking for mud to track into my car.

I remember the first Father’s Day we celebrated without him.  I knew it would be hard and I tried to prepare myself the best that I could for such an emotional day.  He had died almost a year before and I really thought I had gotten past most of the shock of him being gone (I would find out later that that shock would revisit me again and again as the years passed).

But I wasn’t prepared for actually sitting at a headstone, while my children, who were 6, 4, and 2 at the time, played and ran around through the woods.  One thought kept running through my mind over and over again.

“I can’t believe we’re here.  I can’t believe this is how we’re celebrating Father’s Day.”

Even though I’ve come to terms with a lot of how my life is now, Father’s Day will never be easy.  I have that same shock, year after year.  That same feeling of how utterly unnatural it is for my children to be visiting their dad in a cemetery…instead of watching him burn burgers on the grill.

After 4 years, I can’t believe that’s how we spend the day.

I’m so fortunate that my kids don’t look at it with the same grief that I do.  They hop in the car, excited to pick up balloons to release to their dad and ready to try and build a dam in the slow moving part of the stream.  Later in the day, we’ll celebrate with my own dad and brother-in-law and it’s just become a normal part of their lives that their dad isn’t with us.

That sense of normalcy for them is something that I’ll always be grateful for.

I wanted to share this with you, not to bring a depressing thud to your own Father’s Day, but to really make you think about what Father’s Day means.  You can give your husband a card.  You can give him gifts.  But really, truly try and celebrate it in your heart.  Be grateful for his partnership, his parenting and his support.  Do your best to overlook the times he played “Angry Birds” while you loaded the dishwasher or watched football while you bathed your kids and put them to bed on your own.  Remember the times he patiently tried to explain to them how to fish or sat with them for hours trying to teach them the “new math” that even you didn’t understand.

I’ll be remembering those good times too.  And wishing we had more of them.

Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. Along with being published in several books on grief and renewal, Catherine is also a humorous motivational speaker who focuses on ” finding joy in a life you weren’t expecting.” She is also a volunteer speaker with the Donor Alliance of Colorado.

Author: Catherine

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  1. Love love the final paragraphs. You’re right. It truly is a celebration of men who are wonderful fathers and partners. I’m so glad for your reminder but sad for the way it came about for you. Peace this Father’s Day….

  2. Catherine – what a beautifully written story that reminds us all to be thankful for the people in our lives. You never know what tomorrow brings. This will be my 2nd Fathers Day without my dad. It’s hard to think that I don’t need to get a card or plan the day with him. I’ll be thinking about you during your tough month of anniversaries.

  3. Catherine-
    Agreed. Loving and remembering the remarkable things that our husband’s do everyday is one the things that makes Father’s day survivable without him. I miss him and grieve the wonderful gifts he didn’t have the opportunity to share with them. I am with you through our widowed solidarity and will be thinking of you and all of those celebrating and remembering our husbands this weekend.

  4. Thank you both so much for your comments. Susan…I can’t imagine how difficult Father’s Day must be for you. I am so close with my own dad, it would be beyond hard to face that day without him. For me, it’s just something to be faced and usually the anticipation of the day is much worse than the actual day. I hope that you both have a wonderful day…both with the fathers in your lives and remembering the ones who can’t be there.

  5. For me Fathers day is the end of my SAD CLUSTER. I am worn out of emotion and just want it over. I took my ‘then 1 yr old’ grandson to visit my dad in a cemetery deep in the woods in Fla a long time ago. the memory of my now ‘forever 2 yr old’ eating his first watermelon makes my memory sweet of my Dad. Thanks

  6. This will be our second and it was the first anniversary of his death monday, but I find it even harder that it is norm for the little ones that he isnt here…that really hurts as I dont want them to hurt, but I want them to miss him and remember just how special their daddy was and that he is irriplaceable. Last year fathers day was hell and I am absolutely dreading this year, suggestions would be great as it is also my first fathers day without my father who died at christmas.

  7. We’re not a year out yet and my children are older (10 – 17) so they are experiencing their loss differently and very much the same. We’re making plans to remember and celebrate my husband / their dad. I hope in the years to come we’ll have similar memories as those you’re creating with your children. Bless you.

  8. thank you.

  9. Your post hit its mark. I spent Father’s Day counting my blessings.

    My experience with grief (infertility) is similar to yours in that it seems to be shaped like a spiral. It does get less sharp over time, but it also tended to circle back around unexpectedly.

    Here’s to building little dams in slow-moving streams. Love that.

    • Thank you, Lori. And I can only imagine what a difficult journey infertility can be. I guess we all do our best to blaze our own trails the best we can, don’t we?

  10. Thank you for writing this. My husband died two years ago, and my children, now 4 and 2, have yet to understand Father’s Day but it’s been hard on me. And the whole anniversary dates are depressing – I didn’t know it was so common. He died two weeks after my birthday, and after the birth of our second child, and the day before our anniversary. By the time Father’s Day rolls around, I’m too tired to come up with anything creative to get us through it. So this year we’ll be celebrating with my dad, their grandfather, our hero!

  11. This wil be my first fathers day without my dad. He passed away last August of two types of cancer. This year has been the toughest year of my of my life. Very lonely, I miss him terribly would love to call him tell him about my kids my husband, his great gandaughter but cant. Dont know what i’m going to do yet for fathers day yet but i know will miss him terribly. My last fathers day was so special with him that is what i have to hold on to. I was so close to him, adored him so much,my hero my trusted best friend. I know he is my angel know. Love yah dad i will never forget how u shaped me to be the best mom and all that u taught me.

  12. This is truly excellent. I commend and admire how you’ve reinvented the day and made it a special memory for yourself and your kids.

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