I try not to look at social media on Father’s Day.
I know I’m not alone. A lot of widows purposefully avoid social media on these fraught days – and there are many fraught days. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving…the list could go on. Because here’s the thing about social media on days that are celebratory: people post photos of their smiling and (usually) intact families. They sing the praises of the fathers in their children’s lives. This is great, and yet it is all a brutal reminder to me that my own family does not look like it once did.
Father’s Day is probably the hardest of all of the holidays for me. Yes, I’m thrilled that my friends love their dads, and their husbands, and all the men in their lives. But damn if I don’t feel insanely jealous on Father’s Day. It’s a day when I’m really sad – for me and for my kids.
My kids aren’t on social media yet (thank goodness) and this shields them from a lot of the comparisons they might be making on a day like today. But I still worry about them, because how can they not miss their dad on Father’s Day?
That said, my kids don’t grieve in the same way that I do. I think much of this is because they can’t really imagine what their lives will be like in the future. For me, thinking about their future without Shawn is immensely sad. It’s not that I worry as much anymore about how they will fare on a day-to-day basis. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be okay. It’s that I worry about Shawn’s absence at Tommy’s high school graduation, and Austin’s first day at a full-time job, and Claire’s wedding. I worry about the far-away future, a future they can’t even imagine.
Since Father’s Day is even more fraught than most days, we started planning weeks ago. The kids wanted to do what we’d done last year – go to the cemetery and the toy store and out for pancakes at our local diner. But of course we can’t do all those things this year, so we settled on a loose plan to visit the cemetery and take a bike ride.
As the weekend approached, I could feel my anxiety rising. I was nervous about how the day would go with my kids. They wanted my partner Chris to come with us to the cemetery and on the bike ride, so I discussed it with him. He wanted to do whatever was best for me and the kids. (Because of course he did. He loves us.) But what would it be like for us to visit the cemetery all together?
Basically, the plan I devised last night was “wing it.” It seemed appropriate, as that’s what we’ve been doing for the past two and a half years for pretty much every major holiday. So this morning, we got up, had pancakes at home and then headed to the cemetery.
The kids directed Chris to their father’s grave. We all stood around it for a minute, and then Austin asked if he could go run around. “Sure,” I said, and all three of them took off.
I stood there for a long while, watching them. I remembered when their father’s body was put in the ground, and how they’d run around the cemetery that day with some of their cousins, happy to be free of the church pews and car seats. “They miss their father,” I said to Chris, “but the cemetery isn’t a sad place for them.”
He squeezed my hand. He knew it was still a sad place for me.
Maybe it’s especially sad on Father’s Day because I see my kids getting bigger each year, knowing that one day, they won’t run around the cemetery because they will be too old for that. Knowing that one day they will be grown, and that they will live so many years without Shawn. Knowing that he will have missed so much of their lives.
But they don’t know that yet. They can only really see today.
“Come see the new path we found!” Claire shouted at us from across the cemetery, and then all three of them came running.
We followed them, over the hill and past the graves of people who had lived to be 80 or 90. Tommy turned around, laughing at something and then ran to keep up with his siblings. They were all smiling with the kind of childhood joy that proclaims, “I don’t know what’s coming next, but I think it’s going to be something special.”
They led us into an area of the cemetery I hadn’t ever seen, and we did some exploring. As we walked back to the car, they held hands and excitedly talked about the bike ride that was next. I took a minute to watch them from the top of the hill, thinking about their lives, both past and future.
I realized that I have spent years grieving the future they won’t have.
But they haven’t been grieving their futures. They miss their father, and they certainly miss him on Father’s Day. And yet, they believe in a future that is full of possibility, wonder and joy.
I think that – more than anything – is what would make Shawn truly happy.