Looking for help on what to do: Anniversary of my dad’s death

This is going to be a short post. Because I’m asking for your help and I don’t want to blather on and on.

This weekend is the second anniversary of my dad’s sudden death. And I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’m not sleeping. I’m starting to panic. I don’t know how to mark the day or what to do. Or what not to do. I can’t do nothing and act like it’s a normal day. But I’m at a loss.

I think last year was easier in some ways. My husband and kids and I went to my childhood home and hung out with my mom. We went to my dad’s favorite restaurant and had a nice dinner. My mom and I made a beautiful planter for his grave.

It was hard, of course. Really sad. But being at places that had my dad in them – his house, the restaurant, even the cemetery – gave me a tiny amount of peace.

This year I am not going to be there. I am hundreds of miles away.

My mom will be alone. I feel horrible about that.

I was hoping to spend the day at home, outside, gardening in the shade garden my dad created for me. But it is going to be cold and raining.

The only thing I can think of is going shopping for garden things for the shade garden (a bench, a fountain, something like that) but that doesn’t feel quite right.

I can’t go to church. I will spend the whole time bawling and everyone will stare at me and I don’t want that.

I don’t have siblings to connect with. Well, I have a half-sister, but that’s another story.

I feel lost. I am getting very anxious. I don’t know what to do.

I am dreading the day and afraid I am going to spend it sobbing, hiding from my children, aching for the 24 hours to pass.

Do you have any ideas on what I could do this Sunday? Have any of you lost a parent? What do you do on the tough days like the day of the parent’s passing or birthday?

Any ideas would be most appreciated, whether you’ve been in this situation or not. I’ll reply to your responses in the comments (something I normally do but I’ve been overwhelmed lately and falling behind).

Thanks so much – JD

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36 Replies to “Looking for help on what to do: Anniversary of my dad’s death”

  1. First, huge hugs to you. I do not know the loss of a parent. However, my brother and wife lost their 4-year-old son three years ago. Each year he has celebrated the day by doing something he wanted to be able to do with his son. This past year he went kayaking on a river. He said it was very peaceful. He also writes a letter to him each year on the anniversary. He has his anxiety ridden moments, but overall, its a day for him.

    Again, I am so sorry for your loss.

    1. Thanks, Mel. Maybe I will cook. My dad loved to cook for us. And one of my fondest memories was the first and only time that he and my mom came here for Christmas. I made a big meal and he looked me straight in the eye and told me how amazing it was. Not something he was prone to do, so it was a big deal for me.

  2. My parents are both living so I am not in your specific situation. However, my youngest sister-in-law Jennifer died suddenly in a tragic car accident several years ago. She was a single mother, and her two-year-old son was in the car with her but survived (he now lives with another sister-in-law and her family).
    The only advice that I can offer is to do whatever feels right in your heart. If you want to sit in your shade garden but the day is cold and rainy, then put on extra clothes, a poncho, and an umbrella and sit in the rain. If you want to take your kids to a movie, bring ait box of kleenex and go to the movies. If you really just want to spend the whole day in bed crying, then do it. But call your mom first.
    *hug* Good luck to you. The anniversaries haven’t stopped hurting for me yet, but the have gotten easier as the years have passed. Remember it is ok to be sad. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to be strong and push through it. You need to do what is right for you.

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your SIL, Kari. Thank you for the ideas. It is very hard for me to feel ok being sad. I don’t want to panic my very sensitive daughters. Though I am a bit of a loner when I am sad, so maybe I will go to a garden center and get plants for my dad’s garden. Just hang out, drink coffee, and just be.

  3. I think we spend a lot of time trying to do what we think our now passed loved ones would have liked. But the reality is that, if they knew we were struggling though these somber anniversaries, they would want us to stop struggling.

    I think I spend most of my anxious moments planning to confront these dark times out of a sense that having a plan is a way to manage the feelings. If I’m lucky, a way to avoid them. Sometimes it even feels like a reenactment, and maybe this time, if I have the right plan, my emotional outcome will be different.

    My first c-section was the easiest because although I was hyper-nervous in the minutes before surgery, I had no idea what to expect. I was scared when I needed to be scared, worried when I needed to be worried, and relieved when I needed to be relieved. The second time, however, I spent weeks growing more nervous as the surgery drew near. I was trying hard to plan for it from an emotional standpoint. And then, the day of the surgery came and went and all that energy spent planning turned out to be moot. It proceeded both as I expected and not at all like my first c-section.

    I think reliving grief is like that. You brace for things you expect to feel: some you do, some you don’t, and a few new emotions might pop up along the way.

    I buried my father 15 years ago this October. If possible, and I know it’s not always possible, try to let it go a bit. Wake up on Sunday and do what gives you comfort, what feels right that moment, knowing that your father would have wanted that for you more than anything else.

    1. Nicole, thanks so much for your thoughts. I am so sorry about your dad. He must have been very young. Too young. Mine was 65, which seems ridiculously young.

      I am an avoider. I have been avoiding the sadness all week but it creeps in at night, when I’m trying to sleep. I keep replaying the day he died in my mind, his last moments … too awful for words.

      Yes, I will do what gives me comfort on Sunday. I think what works for me is being alone outside with plants. Even if the weather sucks. And eating a lot. My dad loved to eat good food.

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss. I suddenly lost my dad nearly 8 years ago, when I was 20 y/o and he 42. I understand where you are coming from. Unfortunately, I don’t have any words of wisdom or some secret to share that will make the day any easier.

    Honestly, no matter what you do, it’s going to be a hard day. You’re going to cry. You’re going to be mad (because it’s never fair when someone’s taken from us so soon). You’re going to miss your dad, you’re going to miss your mom, who is so far away.

    But you’re also going to be loved. Very, very much loved. By your girls. By your husband. By your mom, even though she’s miles away. And by your dad.

    Because although he might not be with you anymore, his love for you never ceases. It’s in every memory you have of him. It’s in your girls, who carry a part of him. It’s in your reflection.

    So my advice (and apparently after school special – sorry about that, BTW) is to rejoice in everything he has given you. He helped give you life, so enjoy it. I’m not telling you not to be upset, I’d be worried if you weren’t. I’m just saying, as many others probably have, that your dad wouldn’t want you to be this anxious or spend the day in tears.

    I’m done with the creepy advice and just want to add that I really do hope that you end up doing what YOU feel like doing. Whatever that may be.


    1. Aw, Karine, your advice isn’t creepy. I’m so sorry you lost your dad at such a young age. My college roommate lost her mom at that age, too. I had zero concept of what she was going through. I think back to that time and I’m horrified how little I understood what pain she was going through.

      Thanks for all your sweet thoughts. You’re right, my dad wouldn’t want me to be depressed and anxious.

  5. Oh, JD, I really feel for you, I do. This June will mark the second anniversary of my sweet Joey’s passing (my 6 year old). And as you know, Sunday is the day he was diagnosed three years ago. I keep thinking we need to do something – it’s Earth day, he loved nature. We may plant a tree, but it feels so forced. And that’s the thing…you must do what feels most natural to you – sit in your garden, cry, call your mom and just sit in silence with each other. I think you’ll know when you wake up. For me last year, on his “crapiversary,” I needed to have a Joey party where our families gathered and we looked at Joey pictures and told Joey stories. I felt like I needed to be with everyone and feel like he was there too. I’m not sure what we’ll do this year. I am sending you hugs as well and will say a little prayer that it’s a peace-filled day for you.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I think you’re right – I think I’ll know when I wake up on Sunday. Last year I was at my parents’ house so I, like you, surrounded myself with dad stuff and felt the need to be around people who knew him. This year I just want to be alone. Not sure why. I’ll think of you this weekend and hope your day goes by as peacefully as possible.

  6. First, I would say talk to a therapist. It doesn’t sound like you have a normal rhythm to any part of your life right now because you’re so bothered by this anniversary. If you don’t have one, ask around. Maybe there’s a number you can call for advice? I wish I could help more on this. I find talking to a therapist really helpful, because they have tools – and I’m not talking meds – to help us cope with these things.

    Death is tangible to me, and sometimes it does feel overwhelming and I can’t stop thinking I Don’t Want To Die and I start acting just like you are. It’s really uncomfortable (<– understatement). I try to focus on what's in front of me, what is lovely and alive and worthy of my thoughts. Distract with a movie. Exercise – HARD – for an hour or two to help process it (this is a tip a therapist gave me after 9/11, and it really helped me), then wash it off and move onto happier thoughts. Let yourself have a long, ugly cry in the shower, then scrub it away.

    As for an actual activity, why not teach the girls about your dad? Make a photo album together, even if it is simple, make of printed out photos you already have framed or in other albums, a scrapbook of sorts that the girls can refer as Their Grandpa Book. Skype with your mom to show her the result. Make Dad's favorite dish for lunch (even if it was something totally gross…which will add humor to it all), do something with the kids you loved doing with him. Find out what your husband loved about him, have him talk to the girls while you go get a massage.

    It's going to be a tough day, but there's people out there who can help you, and want to help you. It's awful to lose someone so quickly, but I'm guessing your dad would hate to see you like this. For him, for you, I'm glad you're reaching out. And I hope you find a way to flip this into something more comfortable to wear this weekend. Take care, JD.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Kim. I do see a therapist every other week, but it just so happens this is school vacation week and she is not here. But I will see her next week and talk about the day and the aftermath.

      I like distractions, too. After reading what you said I think it’ll be okay if it’s awful weather on Sunday. Being in the cold, digging and planting and putting in a lot of effort, then showering it away … that sounds like a good idea.

      I am not quite ready to talk to my girls about my dad yet. They – especially my 6yo – are super sensitive and I think it would rattle them to see me break down. I can’t talk about him right now without crying.

      But I *can* cook a meal he loved. That I can do. Good idea.

      Thanks for being one of my most helpful and kind bloggy friends.

  7. I’m sorry that you’re struggling so much with this. I agree with Ninja Mom. Do something that brings you some comfort. Go for a walk. The biggest gesture we can offer someone who has passed is to keep him in our hearts. Think about him. Talk about him. Take the pressure off yourself. I don’t think you need to devote a day’s worth of activities to commemorate it. Why not tell stories about him with your family? Light a candle and explain to your kids that you’re lighting it in memory of your father and you’ll have it burn all day so you can remember him all day. Retelling funny stories will have you laughing, which I think is such a cathartic way to deal with grief.

    There’s no right way to feel or act. No right thing to do. There’s no wrong thing either.

    1. Thanks, Allison. I agree, I need to do something that brings me comfort. I am not ready to talk about my dad with my girls – it’s still too hard – but I will do things that distract me and bring me comfort and also remind me of my dad – gardening and cooking. I was going to not garden because of the weather but unless it’s pouring sheets of rain, I do think being out in the dirt is the best thing for me.

      Thanks for your kindness. Can’t wait to see you again – BlogHer will be fabulous. I wish it was sooner.

  8. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this right now. FIrst, I think reaching out to your blog friends is a good first step. One, you will see that you’re not alone in feeling this way. Two, it’s an outlet for you.

    As for what to do on Sunday, I have a few ideas. Piggy backing on what Kim said, why don’t you and the kids make something in memory of your dad to give to your mom on Mother’s day. That way, you’re honoring your mom and dad through the same activity.

    If you’re really feeling need to garden, why don’t you mane an potted herb garden that you can do indoors. They you can move it outside when the weather gets nice.

    And I love the idea of cooking your dad’s favorite meals. Maybe each meal of the day, do his favorite and eat together as a family.

    And lastly, allow yourself to feel sad and anxious. It’s okay to feel this way. Don’t fight your feelings. Just know that you are feeling this way because of the day. You will be back to feeling yourself next week. Don’t be afraid of feeling those emotions. Come here to share how you’re feeling with us. We’ll be here to support you.

    1. Thanks, Stephanie. I knew if I said something on my blog, people like you would try and help. I really appreciate it.

      I love the idea of making something in memory of my dad for my mom. We have a pottery painting place nearby that my girls love. I don’t think I can handle that on Sunday but I could do it in time for Mother’s Day. Lovely idea.

      I know I’m going to feel sad a lot over the next few days. Today I felt eerily the way I felt in the months after he first passed away – ready to cry at the drop of a hat, just kind of moving through the day, getting distracted, then getting sad again as it hit me again that he’s gone.

      Thanks for your kind words. I really, truly appreciate it.

  9. In Judaism, that anniversary is called a yartzheit.
    You light a candle that burns for 24 hours, and some people fast during that day.
    In my family, we play whirley ball. I know that it sounds awful, but we do. When my grandma died, we all spent the day of her death talking about what she had loved, our fondest memories of her… I learned that before I was born, before she became too obese to manage it, she was a TERROR in bumper cars. It seemed that the allure of getting back into a bumper car to terrorize her sons was the only thing that could get her to even THINK about losing weight. So the day after the funeral, we all played whirley ball. Now it’s something of a family tradition- whenever somebody dies, or on somebody’s yartzheit, we play whirley ball.

    I doubt that helps, but it’s what we do.

    1. I had to look up what whirlyball was! It sounds like SO much fun! And what a great way to get some aggression out, huh?

      So yeah, we don’t have whirlyball here and I doubt my dad ever heard of it, but point taken – you did something that reminded you of your grandma. In my husband’s Irish family, it’s called an Irish wake. 😉

      Thanks for your thoughts – it means a lot.

  10. Do something your dad would have liked with the girls. My mom told me once (and it thoroughly freaked me out in all honesty to hear her talk like this) that if she died before I have kids she wants me to take take them to Disneyworld for her. Because that’s her favorite thing to do with little kids. I’m supposed to talk about how much she loves it and why and how she’s watching us have so much fun.

    Even if it’s something small like a trip to get ice cream, picking out a few flowers to plant, baking a cake, or painting together – do something together and create a happy memory. Talk about why your dad loved whatever you’re doing.

    1. You know, the last time my dad was with my girls, he and my husband took them to a playground while my mom and I went to a baby shower. He had a blast watching them swing, climb, show off. We won’t be able to do that on Sunday but tomorrow we’ll be outside, and I’ll think about how my dad loved to watch the girls. I’ll also cook a meal he loved on Sunday and the girls can “help” with that. Thanks, Rachel. I really appreciate your ideas and comments.

  11. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent, so I can’t speak from experience, but we did lose my little sister when she was 3 (it’s been 22 years). For years I remember my mom celebrating her birthday every year by getting a cake and little gifts for us that had her name on them or something that would bring her to mind.

    1. Oh, Mercy, I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s so sad. But that’s also a very sweet way for your mom to carry on your sister’s memory.

      I am going to the garden center in a few minutes to pick out some plants for the garden my dad created for me. My girls both like to garden – they got that from both my parents. When they are digging and planting things, I think about how happy it would make my dad. 🙂

  12. i’m late on this post, but i still want to comment anyway. i lost my dad 2 yrs ago at age 57, when my oldest was 25 months and just as i was getting preggo with my youngest. on both of the anniversaries of his death, i’ve sent the kids to the sitter & spent the day watching my dad’s service, reading sympathy cards, and bawling my eyes out. it sounds dark, but i love the tradition, because i find it really really hard to grieve with young kids. hope you found something that made the day special & tolerable. 🙂

    1. Mamak, I am so sorry you lost your dad. I find it hard to grieve with young kids, too. I did my share of crying at night, in my own bed, with Hubs hugging me.

      I ended up 1) indulging in some retail therapy at the mall and 2) going to a garden nursery in the pouring, cold rain with a hot coffee and picking out some beautiful plants for the garden my dad created in my yard. I can’t plant them yet – still seeing what’s popping up out of the ground – but they are ready to go. 🙂

  13. I understand how you feel. I lost my Dad very suddenly two years ago this May. I troed to re-susitate him but it was not meant to be-my Mum was at work. I am 38 no children but married, my Dad was everything to me my best friend and my Dad. Last year I survived on panic and white wine, this year just blind panic. I try to be strong for my Mum as we are close and I am an only child. The only advice I can give you is just do what you need to do to get through it, do not let others tell you what you should or should not do. Draw strength form your firends and family and remember that he loved you and will always love you. X

  14. Glad you mentioned this post on your facebook page. My step dad( Dad who raised us since I was 10) passed away on 12/9/2011. My aunt passed away on Thanksgiving last year and my uncle passed away near halloween last year. Another uncle passed away this September and our great Aunt (who was our family matriarch and correctly compared to Mother Theresa-but with a wicked sense of humor and tons of smiles) passed away in January of 2012. It has been an extremely hard year for my family and I. Thanks to you and all your readers for some good ideas. Since thanksgiving is not the same day every year My Aunt Kathy’s death day is different of course, but thanksgiving will still be hard. I was thinking about things to ‘do’ for my Dads crapiversary (love that BTW- so fitting). He loved to cook too, so maybe Ill try a dish he loved to make. ( i am not that great of a cook, lol) My husband built us a Poppy’s Pond Too. (fish pond in our yard with materials he was going to use to extend/enlarge his exsisting one). So even though its simple maybe we will go get a new fishy with the kids. They are twin 4 yr olds and a 6 yr old. Anyway once again thanks for being you and sharing your most tender self with all of us(me)!!

  15. I lost my Dad almost a year ago. I think I know the anxiety and sadness you are feeling. I have been falling apart since Thanksgiving knowing that this day (12/11) is coming. If I could not go to my Dads hometown I would probably do something he loved to do or be in an area he loved. My Dad loved to fish, so I might go fishing or take a trip on a ferry boat. I would also buy and share the foods he loved. I might write a letter to him, light candles, look and handle his material things that I have kept. I don't know if any of this will help but I hope it will. I know how devastating the loss of a parent is, because I watched my father die from cancer and was with him when he left his body, and my heart aches every day.

  16. I was in the same situation. My dad passed away about 8months ago and Im not sure what to do for his 1st year of death on top of that a month before his death aniversary its his birthday so im kinda stuck myself on what to do. My dad also died of cancer and i as well as my family was there when he passed away and took his last breath. and I hurt just as much. so it goes to show that were not the only ones out there hurting. 🙁

  17. I never comment on stuff like this, but I came across this looking for guidance on what to do on the 1 year anniversary of my father’s death tomorrow. He died after a long battle with cancer, 3 days after his 54th birthday, Dec. 13, 2012. I was 27 and my brother was 18. I held his hand as he took his last breath, and felt his pulse in his wrist cease. I am sad. I feel lost. I am married with two small kids, and a full time job. I don’t have time to sit around and cry, or lay in bed, but that’s what I want to do. I really don’t KNOW what I want to do. Reading some of these similar comments have brought me some peace in reminding me that people go through this everyday. Thank you all for sharing…

  18. I’m about to be 18, and my dad’s death anniversary of 12 years is coming up in about a week and I use to be in the same boat as you. I moved away from home when I was 11 and the only way I could cope with his death anniversaries after that was doing crafts to keep my mind off it. But after a while, I started making crafts FOR him. It nice, and it gave me a sense of peace. I’m praying for you, and I’m so sorry for your loss!

  19. I lost my Dad 8 years ago this coming up wednesday, March 12th, to be honest for some people it doesnt get any easier. the way your feeling now is what i go through every year.. i too cannot be there at his grave this year because i moved away as well.
    my dad was everything to me, thats why i cant let it ruin me even more.
    this year, since i cant go see his grave im making a video slideshow for him, and will be posting it on facebook. (could show you if youd like) little things like that, show your father that your as strong as he expects you to be. Talk to him and think of him everyday. gardening is a great idea, when i start thinking about my dad i listen to his favorite music, make his favorite dinner, and pray to god that hes still watching over me.
    As the years go by, everyone develops their own coping skills. for me personally i haven't found any that make things better, but i believe you will.
    Do things your father loved, or do things hes always wanted to do.

  20. Very sweet Morgan. You know I lost my daddy about 18 months ago and I can't visit him on special days so I do things that he loved or we did together. I don't believe the pain ever goes away, we just have better coping days then others. I wish you had more time with him, but not many of us have angels looking over us at a young age either. Love u. 🙂

  21. First time I'm putting this out there. My father passed on the 4th of July last year. I don't know what to do. I am a hairdresser and have to do a family wedding and attend it. I'm going to see him at his grave. He loves the song war pigs from black sabbath so I hope to go and play that for him. It's a scary day to be approaching. My dad was the person I could talk to about anything. He is now my angel is is always with me. I'm sorry to all the people that feel the never ending pain of losing a parent . Made me really realize I need to live my life to the fullest . He was only 54. I never thought I'd lose my dad at such a young age. You never know what this life will throw at you. God bless you all who know how this feels , it is the most terrible feeling I've ever had. Wish me luck

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