Tips To Cope With Father’s Day Grief When Your Relationship Was Difficult

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: June 6, 2024

Navigating through Father’s Day after a complex relationship can be a challenging and emotional process. It's a day that can stir up a mix of emotions, especially if your relationship with your father was marked by mental illness, addiction, or any form of abuse.

For me, my stepfather had bipolar disorder, a condition that brought an array of highs and lows to our family dynamic. I loved him dearly, and still do, and always will. However, the relationship wasn't always easy, particularly the way he treated my mom. The memories of the good times we shared were sometimes overshadowed by the storms we weathered. Yet, it's in acknowledging and accepting both the good and the bad that I've learned to heal.

A few weeks ago I went to the beach where his ashes are scattered along with our dog, Brandy. Over a decade after their death, I realize I am at peace with events I once felt were "unforgiveable". 

It took me time to reach a place where I could hold the complex tapestry of emotions in balance. I want to encourage you to have patience with yourself. This journey is not linear, nor is it uniform. Your feelings may fluctuate and evolve, and that's okay. Don't rush yourself or force yourself to feel a certain way.

As we approach Father's Day, you might be wondering how to cope, commemorate the day, and take care of yourself. Whether you're struggling with grief, anger, confusion, or a mix of all these feelings, this guide offers some suggestions on how to navigate through this day.

1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

You have permission to feel whatever you're feeling. Your emotions are valid, even if they don't neatly fit into societal expectations. It's okay to grieve the relationship you wish you had, the father you hoped for, or the past that you can't change. You might feel relief, anger, or confusion, and that's okay too.

2. Practice Self-Compassion

Recognize that you're not alone in your struggle. Everyone faces difficulties and challenges. You're not less deserving of love, respect, or compassion because of your complex relationship with your father. Offer yourself kindness and understanding, just as you would a close friend in your situation.

3. Create a Meaningful Ritual

Creating a ritual can be a helpful way to navigate through Father's Day. This can be something simple like lighting a candle or visiting a place that holds significance for you. It might be writing a letter to your father expressing your feelings, whether they are feelings of love, anger, or a mixture of both. Rituals can provide an avenue for expression, allowing you to symbolically communicate what you might find difficult to express in words.

4. Self-Care is Vital

It's essential to prioritize self-care on this day. This might look different for everyone. For you, it might mean spending time in nature, curling up with a good book, spending time with loved ones, or treating yourself to your favorite meal. Whatever it is that nurtures your soul, make sure to engage in it.

5. Journaling Your Thoughts

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can provide an outlet for your emotions. Journaling can be a tool for exploring your feelings around your father and your relationship with him. You don't have to worry about making it neat or structured; just let your thoughts flow freely. It might surprise you what you learn about yourself through this process.

6. Meditate for Peace

Meditation can be a soothing way to find peace amidst the emotional turbulence. It allows you to center yourself, be in the present moment, and find calm amidst the storm. Try a guided meditation focused on healing or self-compassion, and allow yourself to sit with your feelings without judgment.

7. Honor Your Personal Journey

Finally, remember that everyone's journey is unique. Your process of handling Father's Day after a difficult relationship with your father will look different from someone else's—and that's okay. Honor your journey and give yourself the space and grace to handle this day in your own way.

Even amidst the pain, you can find peace. With the right approach, Father's Day can become a day of healing and self-love, even as you navigate through the complex feelings around your relationship with your father. Trust your journey and know that with each step you take, you're nurturing your own strength and resilience.

8. Reach Out for Support

Connecting with others who understand your experience can be a great source of comfort. You may find solace in support groups, whether online or in person, where you can share your experiences and feelings. Remember, it's okay to seek professional help as well. Therapists and grief counselors can provide valuable tools for navigating through this difficult time.

As you navigate through this journey of complex emotions and memories, you're invited to join our online grief support group, Awaken, at We understand the nuances of experiencing Father's Day with a heavy heart and we're here to support you through it. Join us for our special Father's Day Grief Support Gathering, where you'll find understanding, compassion, and shared healing in a safe, nurturing space.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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