As Father‘s Day approaches, Abi reflects on Father’s Day 2011 – her first as someone bereaved of their Dad…
Abi Pattenden is Manager of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors, which has been based in Horsham since 1855. The company prides itself on its excellent levels of service for people throughout West Sussex and beyond, both in giving care and dignity to those who have died but also in their sympathetic and professional service to people who find themselves needing to arrange a funeral. Here, Abi shares some personal reflections on Father’s Day, following her own experience of being bereaved of her father ten years ago.
I am almost definitely mistaken in feeling that 2011 was the year that Father’s Day was heavily marketed and ‘big business’ in the UK. Growing up, neither Father’s Day nor Mothering Sunday were big occasions in my house, as I know they can be with many families. Once I was living away from home, I’d make a card and buy my mum flowers or a plant, and my dad a tie (when he was working) or chocolate (once he’d retired), but it was dealt with very informally by everyone, entirely by mutual consent.
However, in June 2011 – less than three months after my dad had died – Father’s Day seemed to explode. Every shop (not just the obvious ones) seemed to have huge displays of cards and gifts. Companies whose products were only tangentially connected to either fathers or gifts suddenly seemed to be finding Father’s Day an excuse to email me – I almost feel that I am making up that a women’s clothing company sent an email suggesting outfit ideas for Father’s Day lunch.
What is interesting to notice about this is not that these things happened but how I felt about it. It seemed to me that these were things that hadn’t happened before, certainly not to the frequency I was now witnessing them. Of course, shops had always sold Father’s Day cards and I had probably always had emails with gift suggestions, but they hadn’t had the significance that they took on that year.
Many people will be aware of the concept of ‘frequency illusion’, which is sometimes called the ‘Baader-Meinhof phenomenon’, even if they don’t recognise it in those terms. Simply put, it is a way that our brain works in making us notice things we are aware of more than things we are not. A straightforward example might be that your friend moves to a town you hadn’t heard of and suddenly that town seems to be mentioned in every newspaper you read. The frequency has probably not altered, but your attention to it increases because of its new resonance to you.
It’s therefore unsurprising that, just a short time after my dad died, I was feeling sensitive about the concept of fathers generally, and an opportunity to say ‘Cheers Dad!’ (or similar, as the greetings cards always seem to have it) in particular. I remember taking it personally and feeling that this ‘sudden’ interest in their dads by others was somehow a bit of a dig, although of course that wasn’t true.
For me, there were several exacerbating factors around my feelings for that Father’s Day. The concept of ‘firsts’ being hard after someone dies is quite well recognised. The year after someone dies is full of firsts: the first one of their birthdays after they have died, and yours without them; the first Christmas or other special time of year; the first local event they aren’t there to take part in after many years. This culminates with the anniversary of their death and subsequent funeral.
That Father’s Day was the first of my firsts – my dad died in Spring and we all have autumn birthdays, and Christmas was nine months away. In fact, my parents’ wedding anniversary had taken place a few days after he had died but this had been understandably overlooked – this was contributed to by the fact that anniversaries also weren’t a major celebratory event in my family. Also, Father’s Day is the same date for everyone so has a wide focus towards it in the same way that personal anniversaries don’t. Coinciding with this was the fact that two of my closest friends had new babies and their families were celebrating Father’s Days in those units for the first time. It wasn’t their fault, and I would have hated for them to be what I would have said was ‘too sensitive’ to my bereavement, but it did feel a bit like things were coming at all sides.
This is all a long time ago and my feelings about Father’s Day are far more nuanced now. The number of companies that seem to acknowledge that it’s potentially a difficult day, and so send opt-out emails seems to have increased this year, catching up with how they have been acting for several years around Mother’s Day (although I look for these things more now, so perhaps that’s frequency illusion again). This would have been lovely for me a few years ago but doesn’t feel so necessary now – I think that, as with many people, my experience of being bereaved is that over time I am less sensitive than I was and grief feels less raw as it becomes less fresh.
As people continue to talk about death more, they hopefully see that all of us are different. I am completely comfortable discussing my dad’s death and it sometimes makes me sad but I don’t think I am in grief any more, while some people would be still not healed even many years after being bereaved. It’s important that people understand that our responses are our own and not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
The message that I would like people to take from my experiences is the extent to which it’s important to understand our feelings – and those of others – are valid. For example, it doesn’t matter that Father’s Day was difficult for me that year because of frequency illusion and the timing. It matters that it was difficult. Instead of trying to ascribe a certain set of behaviours or processes to ourselves, or others, at hard times such as when we are bereaved, we need to understand that our responses can only be controlled to a certain extent. In fact, I’d argue that placing expectations on ourselves and others can be counter-productive – the idea of ‘keeping strong’ if you want to cry or, alternatively, feeling compelled to dwell when you are inclined to try to get on with things is not going to help you at all.
Different people respond to similar situations in different ways – for example, I’m willing to bet that there is someone out there whose first Father’s Day after their dad died was full of joy and celebration which sustained them in a hard time. This may sound strange, but I’m sure it’s true and I hope that, wherever that person is, they didn’t feel that this was wrong.
Above all, we need to remember that we never know what strangers are experiencing. Someone could be having a tough time for all kinds of reasons and we may never know – but we can make allowances for the fact that they might be, exercise empathy, and try to be kind.
Tel: 01403 254590
If you have an urgent query, please call 01403 254590. This number is answered by one our staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the quickest way to reach us.
Tel: 01403 785133
25 & 27 Brighton Road
Tel: 01293 540000
126 High Street
Tel: 01273 831497