By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor
Woodland Hills Church
I can recall exactly how many years it has been since my dad died. Why? I’m glad you asked. A couple years before my son was born, my dad crashed his motorcycle after trying to avoid hitting a dog in the road. It resulted in a broken clavicle and a totaled motorcycle. While in the hospital, the doctors realized my dad had a lump between his esophagus and stomach. He had dealt with issues related to acid reflex and struggled with swallowing certain foods for a while, but no one had ever found a source. While he was glad to find the problem, the solution was not very appealing, either. He had a chunk of his esophagus removed and underwent chemo and radiation therapy. After several long months of recovery, he was cleared of cancer and working again. Fast forward almost a year later, and symptoms returned. Once again, cancer was discovered, but this time it had spread. The treatment was not successful the second time around, and by Christmas, the doctors suggested hospice for him. Meanwhile, my wife and I had begun the adoption process and received a call from a social worker wanting to find a loving home for a new baby. We quickly packed up and traveled to Tennessee to meet our new little one. In the midst of this amazing week, my mom asked us to travel home and be with Dad. I helped set up hospice care for him, and, once he was settled, we introduced him to our son. He expressed his happiness for us with a few words and a desire to have his picture taken with his only grandson. I believe this picture was a way of passing on a little bit of himself to my son. After taking my wife and new baby home, I returned to the home of my parents. A few hours later, I watched my dad take his last breath while surrounded by family and friends. I believe he was just waiting for my return before leaving permanently. But in the midst of suffering and death, there was joy and new life.
Grief affects everyone, yet we don’t all grieve the same way or on the same timetable as others. My young family and new baby distracted me during a time when my siblings and mom were struggling. It wasn’t until 6 months later, Father’s Day, that I realized I didn’t have a dad to honor anymore. As my kids celebrated their dad, I was overwhelmed with the sadness of knowing my dad was gone and they had lost a grandpa.
Father’s Day can be a time of sadness for children and adults alike. Being reminded year after year that your dad is no longer a part of your life is painful, whether he left, remarried, is deployed, or passed away. This pain is expressed in different ways depending on a number of factors, including age.
So, how do we help kids deal with a missing dad on Father’s Day? I wish it was a simple step-by-step system, but it doesn’t work that way. What we can do is be sensitive, compassionate, available to listen, and a voice of encouragement. We can encourage children to express their feelings of loss and help them give voice to all the things they miss about their dad. Tell them stories about their dad and his love for his little ones. Share memories of their experiences together and celebrate all the ways that he was a good dad. If their dad has never been in the picture, then introduce your child to our Heavenly Father. He is a dad that never fails, never stops loving, is always present, always faithful, always trustworthy, and His love is unconditional, sacrificial, and provides life.
Not having a father on Father’s Day hurts. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lost a good dad or never known him – your pain is real and valid. Grief is necessary and healthy. Honoring the memory of your dad when possible and immersing yourself in the love of our Heavenly Father provides a way to transition from grief to peace, from pain to healing, and from focusing on death to honoring life.