Navigating Grief Around Father’s Day with Planning, Support and Connection

People Attending Self Help Therapy Group Meeting In Community Center

In our commercial world, we’re subjected to displays of gifts, candy and cards for weeks ahead of a holiday. With technology today, there are even targeted ads on our phones and social media platforms that show us memories from past celebrations.

For someone struggling with grief, these aren’t always friendly cues to prepare for the holiday. They can be triggering reminders of how a loved one isn’t here anymore.

“We know significant dates like anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can be a challenge for those grieving the loss of an important person in their life,” says Merrin Bethel, a bereavement coordinator with Emmanuel Hospice. “Holidays like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can be especially difficult after the loss of a parent.”

Parents are often the first to love and care for all of us. It can be painful mourning that unique relationship with someone who has known you since you came into the world. Around days dedicated to honoring parents, there can be multiple, conflicting emotions.

“You may be angry at the world for celebrating a day that highlights just how much the person you love is missing from the picture, all while wanting to be a part of the laughter and joy around you,” Ashley Huisman, another Emmanuel Hospice bereavement coordinator, explains. “Remember it is OK to feel more than one thing at once and none of these feelings are wrong. Give yourself the space to ride the roller coaster of emotions the day may bring.”

Quite often the anticipation of the day can be worse than the day itself. To help prevent anxiety, Huisman recommends making a plan A, B and C – or as many as you need – to find a sense of peace that whatever happens, you’ll be ready.

“Take a good inventory of yourself, your emotions and what you need out of the day,” Huisman says. “Maybe plan A is to be with friends and family, sharing memories and participating in planned activities. Maybe plan B is leaving the gathering early or skipping a part of the day all together because being with others may be a bit overwhelming.”

Acknowledging the day with a remembrance activity is another healthy way to cope.

“It’s common for people to wonder if the holiday should even be celebrated or observed after the loss of a loved one and what that should look like,” Bethel adds. “We invite people to do whatever feels best for their family.

“It’s great if you want to get birthday cake on your dad’s birthday or go out to dad’s favorite restaurant on Father’s Day. It’s healthy to continue finding ways to stay connected with a person we’ve lost.”

After the loss of a loved one, it’s also important to find support in family, friends and sometimes even the help of a professional to navigate what you’re experiencing.
“If possible, find a friend or other supportive person you can talk to honestly about the day,” Huisman says. “Let them know when you are having a hard moment or when you want to share a memory. Remember, you are not alone.”
For more information on coping with grief, Emmanuel Hospice is hosting topical three-session workshops through end of August. Held at 401 Hall St. SW in Grand Rapids, the in-person grief support events are free and open to anyone in the community regardless of whether they have a prior connection with the nonprofit or hospice care.

The organization also provides individual support to anyone who has suffered a loss. For more information or to RSVP for a workshop or group, email or call 616.719.0919.

Emmanuel Hospice Can Help You Navigate Grief During The Holidays

You’re hurting. And you’re not alone.

Embracing the above pain can serve as an important step toward reconciling your feelings during the holidays – days that our culture insists should be spent in joyous celebration, but that in truth can provide special challenges to those who have suffered loss.

“Grief can surface especially when the holidays come around, and it can be triggered by a whole host of elements that aren’t usually present in our everyday lives,” says Merrin Bethel, bereavement coordinator for Emmanuel Hospice. “It can be tough to manage.”

But not impossible, she emphasizes, especially if you are able to acknowledge the potential for rough roads ahead, and consciously take steps to prepare for grief that tends to get in the way.

Compounding the situation these days is the ongoing pandemic, which can add more layers to the grieving process because of social distancing and the threat of COVID-19 itself.

“We’ve lost routines and a sense of normalcy, and this can be especially traumatic at the holidays,” Bethel says.

So, how does one cope?

“Planning ahead of time is something we really encourage,” Bethel says. “And that means having open and honest conversations with yourself, as well as people in your close circles, including those with whom you might be gathering at holiday celebrations.

“Maybe you’re supposed to show up with a certain dish, or expected to host an event, but you aren’t comfortable being in that role. When you’re dealing with loss, it’s OK to take stock of what you can and cannot do, and then express that to others, explaining that you’d rather do one or two meaningful things instead of everything.”

That takes no small amount of self-compassion, a gift you might need to surround yourself with in order to move forward. For many, that’s an important part of the grieving process, which can be messy and complicated. When you practice self-compassion, you “speak” to yourself as you might to a good friend – being forgiving and supporting, and without judgment.

Is there a chance someone in your circle will bristle at your reluctance or inability to be all-in? Surely, says Bethel. In which case you simply tell the truth gently, “This may sound awkward,” she suggests saying, “and I hope this doesn’t jeopardize our relationship, but this is where I’m at, and I hope you can respect that, same as I respect where you’re at.”

At the holidays especially, sights and sounds and even tastes and smells can send us into a tailspin, and sometimes we just need to walk away, Bethel says.

To those who wonder why you’re bowing out, you might need to acknowledge your vulnerability, and perhaps answer them with: “I’m hurting right now. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m doing my best to cope with some of the things I normally would enjoy during this season.”

Another strategy for coping with grief at the holidays is to turn it inside-out and try channeling your feelings into caring for others. But it’s important that you not suppress your own grief in the process.

“It’s all about being purposeful with the way you navigate your feelings,” Bethel says. “Keep the lines of communication open and be real when it comes to expectations.”

For more information on coping with grief during the holidays, Emmanuel Hospice is hosting several sessions entitled “Handling the Holidays” in the first-floor conference room of 401 Hall St. SW in Grand Rapids:

  • 10:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Dec. 7
  • 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14
  • 10:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Jan. 11

The grief support events are free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to wear a face covering and practice physical distancing. Those who are interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP to or 616.719.0919.

Emmanuel Hospice to Offer Free ‘Handling the Holidays’ Grief Support Groups

Emmanuel Hospice will host free grief support sessions to help community members cope with grief and loss during the holiday season.

The events are open to anyone in the community regardless of whether they have a prior connection with the nonprofit organization or hospice care. They are designed to help those who have experienced the death of a loved one continue their grief journey with support during the holidays, a time when so many are celebrating.

“Navigating grief can be challenging at any time, but the added stress of the holidays and the ongoing pandemic can be especially tough to manage,” said Merrin Bethel, bereavement coordinator for Emmanuel Hospice. “These free sessions will help individuals who are struggling connect with an understanding community and learn how to manage expectations this season.”

The upcoming “Handling the Holidays” sessions will be held in person on:
Monday, Nov. 22 from 11 a.m.-noon
Tuesday, Dec. 7 from 10:30 a.m.-noon
Tuesday, Dec. 14 from 6-7:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, the organization will host a session on planning for the New Year amid loss and grief from 10:30 a.m.-noon.

All the events will take place in the first-floor conference room of the 401 Hall St. SW office building. The entrance is through the southwest corner of the building.

Attendees are asked to wear a face covering and practice physical distancing. Those who are interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP to or 616.719.0919.

In addition to leading support groups, Emmanuel Hospice provides support through counseling, education and referrals to community resources to help individuals cope with all stages of grief. The nonprofit makes personal calls, coordinates workshops and shares inspirational materials that give comfort and encouragement. More information is available at

About Emmanuel Hospice
Emmanuel Hospice is a faith-based nonprofit provider of compassionate, person-centered hospice care to patients and families in West Michigan. Serving the community since 2013, the organization is a collaborative effort of St. Ann’s, Clark, Porter Hills and Sunset designed to complete the continuum by providing end-of-life care to those inside – and outside – the walls of these organizations. For more information, visit

Beyond Flowers: Employers Must Take Extra Care Dealing with Grief in the Workplace

“When you think about it,” says Heather O’Brien, “most of our waking hours are spent at our workplace, where we’re surrounded by people who get a lion’s share of our time.”

And yet, says the Director of Psychosocial Services at Emmanuel Hospice, some of us can feel uncomfortable about approaching a co-worker who has experienced the loss of a friend or loved one, and likely needs the support of fellow employees.

Clearly then, it’s in the best interest of everyone connected with that workplace to embrace strategies and protocols honoring the journey people embark on during an emotional crisis.

As longtime grief counselors, O’Brien and her staff work on a case-by-case basis in efforts to help managers and their employees understand the intricacies of that grief, how it can manifest itself and how it might be assuaged.

Managers, she says, need to lead in ways that create empathy and transparency around the loss. And employees need to be proactive in ways that allow for interaction without trespassing on a hurting person’s privacy.

In moving forward, it’s important to be sensitive to that employee’s needs, and recognize that as a result of their grief, they:

  • Could become distracted at work, leading to a loss of efficiency.
  • Might need more time off than another person, since we all grieve differently.
  • May need opportunities to share their story with others.
  • Are sometimes likely to experience indecisiveness, fatigue, irritability and a wide range of emotions.

Some employees may retreat inwardly and shouldn’t be criticized for not wanting to express details, says O’Brien. Conversely, others might be reaching out in ways that express a willingness to engage with others over what they’re enduring.

O’Brien says that managers “need to check in with that person” so they can convey the best way for employees to proceed. Often, it means going beyond sending flowers or a fruit basket. In some workplaces, O’Brien has witnessed people taking up a donation or providing meals or putting together a memory book for their co-worker.

In any case, it’s important not to make judgments or assumptions. Saying “I know how you feel” or “You’ll heal over time” can ring hollow to someone in the midst of grief. Better to say “I’m here for you” or “I’m not sure what to say, but I’m here to listen.”

With the advent of social media, O’Brien says that using e-mail or Facebook to express your sentiments should be weighed carefully against options like sending a card or handwritten note or connecting face-to-face. Go with what feels right – and with what you would prefer if the tables were turned.

A savvy workplace, says O’Brien, will have plans in place to address all manner of grief for the wide range of people it employs, and part of that should be providing external resources. Those might be issued through an Employee Assistance Center, or an organization like Emmanuel Hospice, which provides support to grieving adults at no charge.

How Social Media Impacts Grief

It’s natural that we want to share both triumphs and tragedies with our family and friends – and that includes posting online. However, it may be prudent to take a breath before deciding when and where it is appropriate to share grief and loss.

“People have the best intentions and mean well when they share an online tribute,” said Sara Lowe, executive director at Emmanuel Hospice. “For some, these notifications feel comforting and supportive. But for others, each ping of the phone is another reminder that someone close died.”

Lowe said the most important factor to consider before sharing news on social media is allowing the family to contact everyone before the announcement is made public. Everyone processes grief differently, and the family may be waiting to let the news sink in before sharing.

If you learn of the death right away, take the lead from immediate family members before turning to social media.

“We want to avoid family and close friends learning of a death on Facebook,” Lowe said. “Let the person closest to the deceased family member take the lead. It’s always best to hold off sharing your post until that person makes a public announcement.”

The circumstances surrounding the death can also impact how you should react on Facebook.

“With prolonged illnesses, families will often set up dedicated Facebook pages to keep extended family and friends updated,” Lowe said. “Often a death announcement will be made there, rather than on someone’s timeline.”

When it comes to posting online, keep your thoughts authentic and positive. Sharing a particular memory cannot only be therapeutic for you, but for the family as well.

Some other tips include:

  • Stay positive: Avoid sharing stories that could upset or offend anyone.
  • Do not over-share: Be considerate in how many posts you share. Sharing too many can complicate the grieving process of others.
  • Avoid tagging: If you regularly tag someone who has died, it can trigger complicated emotions for family and friends.
  • Unfriending: It is OK to “unfollow” or “unfriend” someone who has died. When you are grieving, constant reminders can be difficult, so do not feel guilty about this.

Social media can be a powerful way to build a community that helps during the grieving process.

“Social media is a powerful tool to support each other,” Lowe said. “There are many online support groups dedicated to very specific kinds of loss. It’s a great way to find strength and connect with a community.”

Lowe encourages using social media to make positive connections, but cautions against stopping there. In the end, it is important to reach out to the family personally, she explained.

“The challenge with social media is that everyone feels so connected, it’s easy to skip that personal connection,” she said. “Don’t allow Facebook to let you forget what people need in a real life – a phone call. A visit. A hug. “No online tribute can replace these human interactions.”