Father's Day can feel like nothing but a reminder of the man you lost. Dr. Vinay Saranga offers tips to help you get through what can be a very difficult day for those who've experienced loss.

By Anna Halkidis
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For anyone who has lost their dad, Father's Day can be a painful reminder of the special man who is no longer in their life. It's a well-intentioned celebration, but all those Father's Day cards and signs can bring out emotions of sadness and loneliness—no matter how much time has passed.

Meghan McCain, daughter of 2008 presidential candidate and U.S. senator John McCain, shared those sentiments in a tweet days before Father’s Day 2019.

“Anyone else out there who is dreading Father’s Day this Sunday—I feel you, and have been trying to come up with something positive to do Sunday. So, I want you to feel free to share #deaddadsclub stories on my timeline and I will share it. Maybe we will all feel less alone?” she wrote in reference to her dad who passed away in August 2018 from a malignant brain tumor.

McCain’s tweet was liked more than 9,000 times and received a slew of comments from Twitter users who could relate. 

Sad feelings like those are very normal, says Vinay Saranga M.D., a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry in Apex, North Carolina. But they can be hard to sort through, especially in the age of social media where nearly every scroll on Sunday will be just another reminder.

Dr. Saranga, who has helped patients through their grieving process, offers tips on how those who lost their fathers can better handle their emotions this Father’s Day.

Know that grief is a process

Those who lost their dad recently may have a harder time getting through Father's Day. It’s important for those grieving to know they are not alone and the wide range of emotions they are experiencing—although often overwhelming—are completely normal. 

Dr. Saranga points to the well-known five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—known as the Kübler-Ross model. “It is a natural process that you go through when you lose a loved one,” he says. 

Some go through these stages in a different order, others miss certain ones altogether, or go through a specific stage so quickly they don’t realize they went through it, he says. But always remember to "be kind to yourself through the process. How you grieve depends on a variety of factors and there’s no right or wrong way to grieve."

Welcome happy emotions

The grief process can trigger many emotions, especially ones of sadness, fear, and loneliness. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some joy. Those who have lost a loved one often feel guilty about feeling any ounce of happiness.

“They feel they shouldn’t be smiling, they shouldn’t be laughing, they shouldn’t be joking during that time,” says Dr. Saranga.

It’s necessary, he says, to give yourself permission to welcome those feelings in order to cope, especially on a day like Father's Day.

Connect with Dad again

Remembering the happy times you spent with your father or the jokes he used to tell can really help. This allows room for gratitude and acceptance.

Dr. Saranga advises looking at old photographs that bring happy memories to mind or prepare your dad’s favorite type of food at the dinner table. Parents can also share stories of their late father with their own children.

Many people, he adds, find relief by visiting their father’s gravesite. “It helps them sort out their emotions and feel connected to him once again,” says Dr. Saranga.

Practice self-care

It’s easy to lose track of your self-care routine during feelings of sadness. You may start sleeping less, eating irregular or diving into fatty foods, and not exercising. “In some folks, this can lead to depression, self-esteem issues, and sometimes worsen anxiety,” says Dr. Saranga. Stay hydrated, well-nourished, exercise, maintain a good sleep pattern, and schedule time with family and friends.

And in moments when feeling very overwhelmed or struggling even harder with the loss of your father, Dr. Saranga recommends taking a mental break by doing something simple like going for a walk or meditating.

You can even do that in the comfort of your own home for 5 to 10 minutes by using mediation apps that focus on breathing exercises. “It gives a mental time-out where you forget about all the things you are worrying about and all the negative things going on in your life and refocusing your energy and mind just on your breath,” he says. "It can be really helpful and re-energizing."

Go easy on yourself

"If you are having a difficult time with your emotions as Father’s Day approaches, take it easy," says Dr. Saranga.

Focus on activities that make you feel good and spend time with people whose company brings a smile to your face. "Don’t take on new responsibilities or add more to your to-do list until you begin to feel better," he adds.

Sort out your emotions

Stop holding your feelings in. "If you keep them bottled up on the inside, they are going to continue to eat away at you," explains Dr. Saranga. Talk to someone you trust and never be ashamed to seek counseling.

At the same time, don't ignore intense feelings. Dr. Saranga says patients often ask him to explain the difference between grieving and depression. His answer is the severity of the symptoms and the length.

“If someone loses a loved one, they will feel sad, down, have trouble sleeping, have trouble concentrating, or maybe want to keep to themselves for a couple of weeks,” he says. “When we start to get more concerned is when those symptoms get prolonged for more than a couple of weeks and they interfere with the person’s functioning." This could mean they stop socializing, even with family members, and stop going to work. In most severe cases, suicidal thoughts may occur.

In cases like those, it’s imperative a person reaches out to a professional, including a psychiatrist, counselor, or anyone trained in mental health. 

Remember love carries on

Even on a day as difficult as Father's Day, appreciating and showing gratitude for all that you still do have in your waking-life can help bring out positive emotions.

And remember, says Dr. Saranga, that your family and friends still need love from you. “The love your father showed you, hopefully you’ll be able to express it and share it with the other people that you still do have in your life,” he adds. 

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