October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month. Today, Oct 15th, is the day especially set aside for remembrance.
When I first started researching Summer Symphony I found little to help men deal with the pain of losing an unborn child. At the very end, when nearly all the final edits were done, one of my beta readers came across Grieving Dads. It is one of the only online places we could find where men were able to connect and share over the devastating losses they suffered. I asked the host of that forum, Kelly Farley, to stop by and share a little insight with us.
To My Knees
I was lucky enough to live 35 years without having to deal with any adversity in my life. Yes, there were the normal bumps in the road that most people go through, but nothing that brought me to my knees.
In 2004 and right before my 36th birthday, my luck had run out when I lost my first child and daughter Katie. The death of my daughter dealt a blow that was staggering. However, due to my upbringing and how I thought I was supposed to respond as a man, I refused to allow myself to feel the impact that had been inflicted upon on me. Instead, I stood back up as quickly as possible before someone saw me in a moment of weakness.
I made a consciences decision to keep my pain and emotions hidden from others, but in order to do that, I had forced myself to bury them somewhere deep inside. I thought that if I could suppress them long enough, they would just go away. This strategy worked, for a while, but not without paying a high cost. I had no idea that I was teetering on an emotional collapse, complete with anxiety, depression, despair, anger, guilt and profound sadness. These were all emotions that I had never experienced before, but there I was burdened with all of them at one time and without a clue on how to deal with them.
Shortly after the arrival of these new unwanted emotions, the unthinkable occurred again, the death of my second child and son Noah. Almost 18 months after losing my daughter, I stood face-to-face with the nightmare of burying another child. This time, I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of ignoring a pain so acute that the thought of dying sounded like a pretty good option. This pain was so profound that words cannot explain it to someone that has not experienced it.
Although this pain would not be ignored, that did not mean I didn’t try. I spent several months after the death of my son trying to figure out the right way to handle these losses. I was not equipped to deal with this pain. I had been taught my whole life by society that as a man, I was expected to “toughen up” and deal with it. I tried to carry on like a good soldier, but soon realized I was going to have to find another way if I had any hope of surviving.
I was slowly dying, I could see it in my eyes and in the way my body was changing. I had become a skeleton of my previous self because I stopped eating. I had no appetite and when I tried to eat, I couldn’t keep it down. On days I could get out of bed, I would stand in front of the mirror and give myself pep talks. I was trying to convince myself to shake it off and move forward. Within seconds of my pep talks, I was holding my head in my hands bawling while I was patronizing myself for being weak. I refused to tell anyone of the nightmare I was living because I was embarrassed by my inability to control the situation.
To be honest, my response to these losses scared the hell out of me. I felt out of control — because I was out of control. I couldn’t change the fact that my children died. I couldn’t stop hurting. I didn’t just cry — I physically wept inside. There were times when there were no tears, and it felt like I was convulsing internally.
All of this scary stuff started to pile upon me and I had finally gotten to a place where I knew I needed help. I just didn’t know where to look and what type of help I needed. I started a frantic on-line search for help, but I discovered that I was in for a surprise. Almost all of the resources I could find on the subject of grieving for a child were directed either toward women or “parents.” I put “parents” in quotation marks, because in my experience, most of what I read for grieving parents was written by mothers, for mothers. If I did come across something aimed at grieving dads, it was usually advice about how to comfort their wives.
So there I was, wanting help but unable to find any answers. It was on me to take control of my recovery from the aftermath of losing not one, but two children. I made a decision that I was going to find help somehow, someway. I reluctantly started to tell my story to counselors, my family doctor, child loss support groups and strangers. I realized the more I told my story, the better I felt. A burden was lifted off of me each time I told my story. I got over being embarrassed to cry in front of others. I really didn’t care what anyone thought anymore, I was doing this for me and my wife.
Once I started to seek help and the pain started to ease, I realized it was part of my responsibility to help other men through this horrific journey. In response to that realization, I created the Grieving Dads Project and wrote my book Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back as resource for grieving men and the people that care for them.
I have spoken to hundreds of grieving dads and the one thing I have learned is people need to tell their story. Not only do they need to tell their story, they need to be allowed to share their emotions while telling their story. I often hear from not only grieving dads, but also their family members or care givers who want to know how to help these men.
A few ways to support a grieving dad:
- Encourage them to talk about what they are feeling and thinking, even the really dark stuff. Some men may not feel comfortable with sitting and sharing, so be creative in finding environments/activities that may be more conducive to them sharing. Find a local counselor that is skilled and experienced in working with bereaved parents.
- Remind them that they are not alone in their pain. Although they may feel this way, there are thousands of dads that are at various points along this path.
- Do not try to solve their problems. It is human nature to want to help others and we often offer unsolicited solutions as a result. There are no solutions to this problem; they have to process this in their own way and in their own time.
- Be a good listener. If you don’t know what to say, say nothing. There is healing in silence, so it is better to sit quietly and listen than to fill the air with words that are not helpful.
- Encourage them to find support groups for men in order to connect with others that are dealing with life adversity.
- Do not push them through their grief. Allow them the time to process what has happened to them and their family. Dealing with the death of a child can take years.
- Allow them to turn to or away from their faith as needed.
- If they start to cry, let them, it helps cleanse the soul. If they try to apologize for crying, tell them no apology is needed.
- Let them know you are there for them any time of the day; and mean it.
- When they are ready, encourage them to find a purpose to honor their child. This is a key point in the healing process, but it may take time for them to build up the strength to get to this point.
Keep in mind that people that are grieving are ultra-sensitive so it is important to think before you speak. Understand how your words may be interrupted by the receiver.
It is important to deliver the message of “you are not alone.” They need to understand that other men have walked this path and survived it. If you can, try to find other grieving dads willing to work as “mentors” to the guys that are stuck or new to this journey.
Society needs to understand that is its okay for a father to grieve the loss of a child. Society should not expect men to react differently than women. If we can get society to understand this, more men will start to open up about it, which will help others not feel so alone.
Author – Speaker
Author of Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back