Of course, Americans recently celebrated Father’s Day, a day on which we recognize our Fathers with a gift and/or a carefully-selected or hand-made card. Across the country, children of all ages made a special effort to spend the day with their father, many of them engaging in Father-Son/Daughter activities like fishing, going to a major-league baseball game, or just hanging out.

But for many of us, Father’s Day is not so fun-filled, and the days and weeks leading up to it can be difficult. I vividly remember the first Father’s Day after my own father passed away 23 years ago. I took my then 1-year old daughter and 3 1/2-year old son to the local Hallmark store to pick out cards for their dad. Of course, neither of them could read and my son especially wanted to find the perfect card, so we discussed our strategy on the way to the store. The plan was that I would show first my daughter and then my son various cards, each would choose one, and I would read what it said aloud, repeating the process until both had chosen a card. We made our visit on a Monday morning, a time I thought the store would be less crowded and my reading cards out loud would be less of a distraction to others. It was a good plan.

It was also a huge failure. The store was empty except for us and two employees. We all greeted each other, and my children and I went to the massive Father’s Day cards display. I scanned the cards, looking for the section marked “From Daughter”. And then it happened. My chest grew tight, my eyes began to tear, and I was overcome by sorrow over the loss of my father just 3 months before. Long story short, tears began flowing and I was furiously wiping them away  in hopes of not ruining this outing for my children; excited by the prospect of buying something for  Daddy, they were oblivious. One of the employees — an older woman who had no doubt witnessed previous melt-downs around a holiday —  was not. She came to me, touched me lightly on the shoulder, and handed me a kleenex. She then quietly offered to show and read cards to my children. She told me that I could sit on a bench right outside their shop window and watch so that I knew my children were safe. I gratefully took her up on the offer. Fortunately, each succeeding Father’s Day was less difficult.

For the past four Father’s Days, I’ve approached the holiday like a soldier entering a field that might contain IEDs and enemy snipers. No mention of the holiday to my children while being alert to any distress on their part and avoiding stores and malls with their banners and signs shouting “Don’t Forget Dad this Father’s Day”. As if any of us could.

I don’t know whether or not my strategy is a healthy one, and I don’t even know if it works. Both of my children, while talkative with me and each other normally, are fairly stoic; my daughter has always preferred to express strong emotion privately (or on facebook) and my son continues doing his best to be the man in the family, strong for his sister and I. I know, though, that the day is difficult for both of them; a mother always knows.

Two days have passed since the big day. We survived another one, and we’ll make it through many more in the future. Some day, both of my children will (hopefully) have children of their own, and Father’s Day will once again mean Mom helping little ones pick out cards and Dad receiving cards signed with small handprints and crayon scribbles. But I’m sure that even in the midst of the love and joy of the day, their thoughts will return to their own father and to his absence.

Holidays and special days — with their focus on family and on spending time with loved ones —  can be very difficult, and my thoughts in recent days have been with widows as they mourn the loss of their children’s father and, possibly, their own father and with widowers who have lost their father.