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June 12, 2013

Fatherless on Father’s Day: Hospice shares tips for coping

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

METRO DETROIT — Father’s Day is this Sunday, June 16. For many, it’s an opportunity for families to get together and treat dad to something special. But for those who have recently lost their father, the holiday can be a source of great sorrow.

Those in the hospice field know this. They serve dying individuals, making the process easier for them and their families. They know how the bereaved struggle with the death of a parent. No matter how old a survivor may be, it’s rarely easy.

Hospice of Michigan (HOM), the largest hospice in the state, has free one-on-one counseling for those suffering from the loss of a parent.

“Losing a dad is one of our hardest losses because dad is someone who has known us our whole lives and has provided unconditional love for us,” said Claudia Been, HOM’s grief support services manager for Oakland County. “Even though we’re prepared for the fact that our parents will die before us, we’re never fully prepared for that loss when it comes.”

With that loss comes a certain psychological shock. 

“When we lose a parent, either mom or dad, it makes us all of the sudden step up — we’re the next generation, the senior generation,” Been said. “If dad is the second parent to die, and mom is already gone, we find ourselves in the role of an orphan with no parents, and it makes us think of our mortality.”

Karen Monts, director of grief support services at HOM, said the other hardship faced by the bereaved might be one of regret.

“You may be mourning the relationship that never was, like, ‘I wish me and my father had been closer,’ or, ‘I wish we had gone fishing together.’ Sometimes, it can be regret over what the relationship was not, which can make Father’s Day challenging,” Monts said. “However, the silver lining is there are ways to make that day not so difficult, and to still have hope during that time, as well.”

Been and Monts said that instead of mourning the loss, reframe Father’s Day as a celebration of dad’s life.

“Sharing stories is one way,” Been said. “Getting together with other family members and reminiscing, sharing a laugh about funny things dad said or did. Another thing we often suggest is to write a letter to dad. That way, you can express your feelings, all of the things you want to say to him.”

“Talk about it with others, if you’re feeling anxiety,” Monts chimed in. “Plan with them to find a way to celebrate your father’s life. Plan a vacation together, going to his favorite location or eating his favorite meal. If he loved fishing, go on a fishing trip.”

Perhaps the best way to honor dad, they said, is to share his passion. If your dad loved gardening, try gardening, yourself. If he had a cause dear to his heart, such as raising funds for cancer research, try supporting that cause to honor his memory.

It’s all part of the healing process — something one doesn’t have to go through alone. Many bereaved individuals flock to HOM’s Race to Remember, which this year will be on the Detroit Riverfront, the race/walk starting at 8 a.m. July 13. Here, one can pay respects to lost family members while raising money to help HOM help others going through the mourning process.

“You’re with others who have lost someone, and you’re doing something fun: walking together or running together,” Monts said.

Of course, inner peace usually isn’t found in a day. HOM has grief support staff offering free services not only to members of families they have served, but to anyone in the community who is struggling with the loss of a loved one. 

“It doesn’t matter what age we are when we lose our parents — it’s still a major loss,” Been said. “But we feel good when we pay tribute to a loved one. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as lighting a candle in his memory. It brings us comfort.”

For more information on free grief support services offered by Hospice of Michigan, call (888) 247-5701 or visit http://www.hom.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.