After a father’s suicide, a family grapples with Father’s Day
The first Father’s Day after we found out he’d killed himself was just eight weeks after his funeral. My kids and I spent it with friends on a boat in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to distract us. How the boat stayed afloat with that huge elephant on it, I’ll never know. Still, I’m forever grateful for the friends who chose to be with us and let us bring our elephant along. There was laughter and sunshine . . . but still . . .
The icing on the chaos cake of that first Father’s Day was the phone call that my children’s beloved Grama Ginny, his mom, was very close to death. She died a week later. Cancer accelerated by a shattered heart. I cannot even fathom her physical and mental pain.
First he left, then she left. The funerals were six weeks apart—two huge losses for my children in rapid succession. And, as much as I tried to deny it, huge losses for me, too. Compounded grieving . . . but still . . .
The second year, we went back to Door County, Wisconsin, during the same time that we’d always go as a family in the before. Before our family exploded apart. The kids wanted to go. I wasn’t so sure. But if my kids needed to be there, I would take that journey with them. I would help them contain the memories. I would help them confront the ghosts. It sounded like a good idea at the time . . . but still . . .
As my children grew, they created their own traditions over these last six Father’s Days. One year, they spent the day together over brunch and virgin Bloody Marys as a toast to him. Without me. He was their dad, not mine. Their memories, not mine . . . but still . . .
It’s nearly impossible to avoid the commercials, print ads, numerous reminders of the day and “Perfect gift for Dad!” everywhere you go. Seriously, there was one in the bathroom stall at a brewery I went to! “Give Dad the perfect brew for Father’s Day!” In the bathroom.
For me, the important lesson learned has been allowing my kids to celebrate, or not, in whatever way feels good and right for them. Some years, the day was harder and the celebration quieter. Other years, we would sit and reminisce about the barbecues, golf games, and silly cards given about farts. Time truly does heal. The pain dulls and the good memories sharpen. Laughter increases and tears decrease . . . but still . . .
I’ve no doubt that fathers are important. My children are forever changed. I am forever changed. And, yet, we are still here. Thankfully, Father’s Day is only a day. It comes and goes in the blink of an eye in whatever form it needs to take from year to year. It never goes by unnoticed. His impact on our lives is never overlooked . . . but still . . .
Maybe we Solo Moms should celebrate ourselves on that day. Celebrate the amazingly hard job we have in trying to be both father and mother every day. Celebrate the house repairs we’ve learned to do. Celebrate the ability to provide for our families—alone. Celebrate the gaps we’ve had to fill. Celebrate the emotions we have learned to contain for our children in their grief. Celebrate the huge impact we have on our children because we are still here. Celebrate the incredible resiliency we have modeled for our children.
Let’s call it Warrior’s Day and give ourselves all the love and credit and applause that we have earned. And we certainly have earned it.
So, Happy Warrior’s Day, my Sisters! Celebrate all that you are. And let Father’s Day be whatever it needs to be this year. You are amazing. Every day. Of every year.
A certified professional life coach and professional singer, Nancy Jo Nelson lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Her nest is emptying, as her daughter, Jillian, lives in the city and attends North Park University. Her son, Sam, still lives at home, along with Winnie the Wonder Mutt and Bolt the Mighty Chihuahua. Her first book, Lessons from the Ledge, is available on Amazon.
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