Go in with a plan.
In the week leading up to the holiday, make sure you’re getting ample sleep and exercise, said grief expert and therapist Claire Bidwell Smith. “When we’re in a good physical state, we can better regulate our emotions,” she said. Research has shown that poor sleep can take a toll on your mind and body and that exercise can improve mental well-being.
Mr. James has noticed that he’s uncharacteristically irritable on holidays that remind him of his daughter. “Set expectations with the people in your life about what these days mean to you and why you may not be yourself,” he advised.
Think carefully about how you want to spend the day, Ms. Soffer said. “Do you want to be invited to something, or would that be too hard?” If your friends will be busy with their own families on Sunday, “ask if you can hang out on Saturday so you still feel like you have a support system.”
There’s no reason you can’t still honor someone who’s passed, said Ms. Bidwell Smith, who still writes her dad a Father’s Day card, even though he died in 2003. Kristin Luna, 39, a writer in Tullahoma, Tenn., lost her father unexpectedly in January. She has started setting a place at the table for him on special occasions, with an Auburn University balloon in honor of his alma mater.
Celebrate however you want — or not at all.
Kacie Reed’s father was recently diagnosed with inoperable Stage 4 cancer and this Father’s Day “will probably be his last one,” said Ms. Reed, 30, a stay-at-home mother in Greenville, S.C. However, because of their differing political opinions, “he’ll barely speak to me anymore,” she said. On a day that lauds idealized father-child relationships, Ms. Reed is unsure how to navigate a troubled one.
She’s not alone. A 2020 Cornell University survey of more than 1,300 people revealed that 27 percent of respondents were estranged from a family member, with the most common fracture (10 percent) between parent and child. “When we expect that a family is forever, or that parents unconditionally love their children and vice versa, it can be hard when that doesn’t manifest in our actual lives,” said Kristina M. Scharp, a professor at the University of Washington who studies difficult family transitions.