- Personal Stories
Dealing with Grief on Father’s Day
Father’s Day is June 21, 2020. While for most this is a happy day, for fathers who have lost children it can be a difficult reminder of their loss. Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say and what not to say to a grieving parent. Follow the list below for guidelines written by parents of children who died from flu.
What to say to a grieving parent:
- Use the child’s name as this helps keep their memory alive.
- Be genuine in your communication and don’t hide your feelings.
- Acknowledge the situation that this must be a hard day for them.
- It’s okay to say “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.”
What not to say to a grieving parent:
Below are some common statements that people may think are helpful, but are best not to say.
- “I know how you feel.”
Instead of attempting to put yourself in their shoes, it’s best to recognize that you are not in their position and thus cannot know how they feel. Instead, say, “I’m sorry, I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.”
- “Look at what you have to be thankful for” or “At least you have your other children.”
This statement is not helpful because while parents know they have many things to be thankful for, they are still missing their child. Additionally, the presence of one child certainly does not replace another.
- “He’s in a better place now.”
Unfortunately, it’s hard for any parent to believe that there is a better place for their child than with them, especially when they witnessed their child die from a preventable disease.
Joe Marotta lost his 5-year-old son, Joseph, to flu in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic. Joe nows works to dispel myths about flu and improve flu vaccination rates as a board member of Families Fighting Flu. You can read his son Joseph’s story here.
Joe offers his advice to grieving fathers: “It’s OK to let yourself get emotional. You do not have to hold anything inside when you have lost a child. Showing your emotions will show your family and friends that it’s acceptable for them to grieve as well.”
Joe Lastinger lost his 3½-year-old daughter, Emily, to flu in 2004. Since her death, Joe has been an advocate for flu vaccination through serving as a board member at Families Fighting Flu and by working with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to expand the influenza vaccination recommendation to include all individuals ages six months and older, which went into effect in 2010. You can read more of Emily’s story here.
Joe shares how families can work together through the grieving process: “Generally speaking, there are very different resources for moms and dads who have lost a child. Together as a family, we focused on our surviving children exclusively, since that is what mattered. We wanted to protect their future and potential despite losing Emily.”
While Father’s Day is meant to be a happy celebration, we should also keep in mind the fathers who are struggling every day, including Father’s Day, from experiencing the loss of a child. View additional resources on the Families Fighting Flu website here for more information on how to support grieving parents.