Be Ceremonial

Complicated Grief and Father’s Day

William Turner Heath, a funeral director and end of life doula, shares why he’s holding grief this Father’s Day surrounding the estrangement from his father. 

My Relationship with Ritual

Every Father’s Day since my relationship with my father ended, I have created personal rituals to let out some of the anger I feel in connection with my father. These rituals are part of my spiritual hygiene to work up the confidence to do hard things. 

Over the years, I have created a Father’s Day grief altar, with photos and items that connect me to my grief. I’ve attended a cord cutting ritual, taken part in an 8 weekly grief program with an end of life doula, and worked with therapists to unpack the heartache surrounding the grief I hold in connection with my father. 

My Relationship with Ritual

I was raised by a Catholic mom and a Buddhist father, but I had no formal relationship to any organised religion until a few years ago. I’ve been searching for a connection to ritual for a long time, and in college I think I was drawn to art history to build a connection with ritual.

Rituals can be both public and private, but when you want society to recognize a significant change, there is often some kind of externalisation or performative utterance. There is no one recipe for a ceremony, but if you study enough cookbooks there is a logic to it, there are conventions we recognize, a comfort in the familiar. 

What I’ve learned about rituals is that they don’t immediately transform you. For me, I need to do something in front of an audience, like public speaking or performance art work, to acknowledge the difficult journey – and then I can do a personal ritual to signal the transition I’ve experienced. 

What is Complicated Grief?

I mourn the betrayal of my father. I grieve for my childhood self. I’m learning to move through this complicated grief.

I’m learning about the kind of grief you hold when someone is still alive but no longer in your life. I’m learning to draw on the power of ritual to support my journey. I’m finding friendship with others who are trying to reparent themselves and find acceptance within their own dysfunctional family units. 

Complicated Grief and Father's Day

In the years since my father and I parted ways, I’ve meditated on sending him Father’s Day cards that would help him understand my perspective.

I found these cards at a second-hand shop and bought all of them; I write one each year but don’t send it. This has become my ritual in connection with Father’s Day, a way to say what I need to say, for now.

Our Be Ceremonial Community

William thoughtfully guides clients with rituals and ceremonies that speak to that which is meaningful and comforting to them, reflecting the religious and family traditions they hold close. He is a member of the Be Ceremonial Village, sharing his curiosities and insights with our growing community. If you’re in our Village, be sure to say hello.

Suggested Resources

Here are some Tips To Cope With Father’s Day Grief When Your Relationship Was Difficult:

Navigating through Father’s Day after a complex relationship can be a challenging and emotional process. It’s a day that can stir up a mix of emotions, especially if your relationship with your father was marked by mental illness, addiction, or any form of abuse. This article offers some things you can do, including:

  • Creating a ritual can be a helpful way to navigate through Father’s Day. This can be something simple like lighting a candle or visiting a place that holds significance for you. It might be writing a letter to your father expressing your feelings, whether they are feelings of love, anger, or a mixture of both. Rituals can provide an avenue for expression, allowing you to symbolically communicate what you might find difficult to express in words.

William Turner Heath

William is a funeral director, embalmer and end-of-life doula. He is also an enthusiastic proponent of green burial, which guided him to relocate to Gainesville, Florida in order to work in proximity of Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery.

He is the co-founder of The Calling Hours, a production company that focuses on multimedia content in and around end of life topics. In addition to working with death care professionals, we provide individuals non-traditional legacy work, audio and video keepsakes and life review interviews. 

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