It's taken me a few years to be able to see beyond my own grief. For three and a half years, I've been so terribly broken that I have only been able to care for myself and my teenaged son. My pain is his pain and we have moved forward as well as any couple could hope to. But when it came to support, we found ourselves in separate corners, unable to truly support one another; only for lack of energy, not for lack of love.
If you're a grieving mom, you probably know what I mean.
As time has gone by, some healing has occurred. Our abilities to share our grief has changed and we feel stronger and better equipped to support one another. It's uncanny how we seem to take turns being strong and being broken so that one of us can always pick the other one up and keep our little family on the healing path.
When I wrote my book Journey to HEALING: A Mother's Guide to Navigating Child Loss, I wrote it from a grieving mom's perspective because that is all I knew. My book reaches out to women in an effort to support them through the worst thing that can happen to a human being.
The first thing my husband said after reading my book was "why didn't you include dads in your book?". The answer seemed obvious to me - I'm not a dad, so how could I write about the pain a man feels? But it was clear he felt left out.
I watched my husband and the other men I've met on this journey return to work, try to remain strong, and push their grief deep down inside. We live with this notion that men should hold their families together and carry the worst of any burden, so that's ultimately what they try to do. My husband seemed so much more able to carry his pain, but I realize now he is just as broken as me.
While I believe that mothers have an exceptional connection to their children because of pregnancy and our nurturing tendencies, I believe the pain men experience after child loss is just as intense. They loved (and still do love) your child just like you, yet society tells us that their grief isn't as great as ours. I can only imagine how hurtful that must feel to our partners.
Men aren't as likely to seek help from a support group or a counsellor as women, leaving them more vulnerable and struggling to find hope. Friends of bereaved dads are well-meaning but rarely engage in helpful conversation. I think the path through child loss for men must be exceptionally lonely.
We must change our thinking and support systems and remember the men who are grieving too. Our husbands, partners, and spouses are hurting and broken.
This Father's Day, have a heart-to-heart with your child's father or a dad you know who has lost a child. Acknowledge their grief and really try to understand it. Spend some time reading about the myths of grief and child loss. Remember to ask how they (the dads) are feeling since their child died and really listen. Let them know that you recognize that they must struggle extra on a day that celebrates being a father and that someone is missing. Let them know that you truly care and know that grief will last a lifetime. Heartfelt words of kindness and concern are important for men to hear, too.
To all the men who have lost children:
We see you and we support you. Never be afraid to reach out for help. Our arms and hearts are open.
Not sure how to best support your husband or spouse? I suggest reading Journey to HEALING and talk about each chapter. Use the discussions questions in Appendix A to start your conversation and just keep talking.
And have him check out this Facebook group created just for grieving dads: https://www.facebook.com/grievingfathers/ Every little thing helps.