I don’t remember much about holidays as a kid, but I do remember the first Father’s Day in our home after my young sister Carmella died. My dad was never the touchy-feely type of dad. In fact, getting a hug from him was a very rare thing. I can remember two times when I got a hug from him. He hugged me at my wedding, and he hugged me when I was pregnant with my first child.
This particular Father’s Day was going to be rough. As a kid of sixteen I knew it. I saw how terrible Mother’s Day was for my mom, so I was already bracing myself for what the day would be like for my dad. As kids we were taught that home-made things were always better than store bought. I know part of the reason was we were dirt poor. The other reason is that it’s true. Gifts from the heart mean so much more than something you can go buy at a store. On this particular June day decades ago, I remember wanting to write something from my heart to my dad. Not only did he not give hugs, but he didn’t shed tears, either. I saw him cry two times in my entire life. The first time was when he went bald almost overnight. His black, curly hair fell out by the fistfuls and he cried.
The second time he cried was when my sister died. I can still see him now sitting on the footstool in the corner of our dining room, his head buried in his hands sobbing. I was so afraid. I wanted to rush over to him and hug him, but I was too afraid so I didn’t. Can you imagine being too afraid to hug your own father? That’s just how it was back then. Emotions were so guarded.
I went to my bedroom and began writing a poem straight from my heart. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but I know I tried to comfort my dad. I tried to tell him that somehow life was going to get better for us. I told him something that I only told him very few times in my lifetime. I told him that I loved him. Those three words, “I love you”, were never spoken in our home. Today, I think back with sadness about that. How terrible that we didn’t speak those words freely to one another!
My dad took the card on Father’s Day morning and read it and never said a word. He turned and walked out to the chicken coop and did whatever it was he had to do that day on the farm. He never, ever mentioned that poem that I wrote him and I always wondered if my outpouring of love that day meant anything to him.
Years later when visiting my dad I saw that he had saved my special Father’s Day poem in a pile of his special papers. For years I had wondered if my dad knew how much I loved him and how much I hurt when he was hurting.
I finally had my answer. My words from the heart meant something special, and that made me feel so good inside!
Life has moved on. My dad is no longer here on this earth. And, now I am a bereaved parent who knows many, many bereaved fathers. I understand more completely the pain that fathers feel when a child dies. Dads carry such a burden of guilt because they weren’t able to fix this. They couldn’t save their child. They often feel like such failures because of their inability to keep their child safe.
Do you know a grieving father who is facing Father’s Day without his child? Are you wondering what to do or say that might give a bit of encouragement? How about beginning with the words, “I love you, dad. I love you so much. I know you’re hurting, and I’m hurting with you. I wish things were different, but we’re going to make it through somehow. I don’t have the answers, but I can tell you that I’m right here with you and I think you’re the greatest dad ever.”
We don’t have to give elaborate gifts. A gift from the heart is always best.
And, may I suggest another gift? Someone just wrote me today and said, “Your book is a life saver. I’ve decided to get several copies to hand out at church on Father’s Day. We have several fathers grieving losses. It’s the one thing I can do that shows how much I care.”
Maybe you don’t have the words, but you can give a book that does. I urge you to promise me one thing. Please don’t let Father’s Day go by without saying or doing something special for the grieving dad in your life. Even if he doesn’t thank you now, believe me when I say your gift from the heart will remain with him all the days of his life.
My love to each one,
PS You can order “Child Loss: The Heartbreak and the Hope” here. Thank you so much for giving the grieving dad in your life a gift of hope!