By definition a parent is described as a mother or a father. If you helped to create a child with your DNA and/OR you are a primary figure raising them (holla step parents and adoptive parents!) you are a parent right? SO, why don’t we think more about the DADs who have lost their children? Its not that we ignore them, we may offer condolences, check on them, but not in the same way we console a grieving mother. But we should….. here’s why:
Dads are actually doing twice the work, maybe even three times…… When a bereaved mother falls apart who is often her rock? Her husband/baby’s father. When a bereaved mother works to recover from the physical trauma of giving birth, who is looking after her? Who is looking after any other children? Who is going to work to keep up with the bills while the mother recuperates? But who is there to take care of the bereaved father when the bereaved mother can’t? Yes, I realize this is not always the case, but more times than not, it is. Fathers are so busy looking after the mother, their grieving time is either cut short, or long long delayed. That is no good for them.
Do we really expect grieving fathers to suck it up and be so stoic to pretend like it doesn’t hurt him just as badly, simply because they didn’t carry the child in utero? I never did, but my husband took care of me and all the other stuff just the same. Sure, we discussed our feelings and we sobbed together at times, but he just did all the other stuff, because someone had to. For me, I simply couldn’t handle taking care of anyone else. Period. Its not that I didn’t care about his feelings, I did, but my emotional availability for anything or anyone else was zero. Its rude to turn that around and expect the same from him, and I was lucky that he somehow found a way to do that, but I am sure it could not have been easy, and I’m sure it would’ve been easier if there was another person for him to lean on more through it. Luckily we have a couple who we’ve known since college that had experienced losing their own baby so I know that our friend reached out to my husband often enough just as I cried to my friend (his wife) when I needed to….. I wasn’t privy to their conversations but I am thankful that he was there for my husband.
Sometimes taking care of others is how people cope with loss…. go through a day of “normalcy”, albeit on auto-pilot, or because they have to for no other reason than avoiding more financial obliteration. But sometimes I fear men feel like they have to “be a man”, be strong for the woman….I won’t go too much into gender stereotyping here, but we all know its out there. But I ask the question again, is that bereaved father still a parent? Absolutely. So don’t they want the same support that is so accepted and freely offered to the mothers? I think so. Don’t they have stories to share or pictures to show of their child? Don’t they want their loss acknowledged? Aren’t they still angry at such an unbelievable atrocity?
My husband was right to know that I couldn’t fathom trying to do anything more than breathe for awhile to make it through a day in my own sorrow. I am thankful for that, please don’t get me wrong, but I’m ashamed to admit that I forgot for a little bit that he was grieving too, in his own way. Bereaved mothers are in middle their own catastrophic inferno so don’t expect them to speak up and remind others to talk to their significant others about the situation as they are processing their own. However, wouldn’t be great if those of us on the outside looking in would try a little harder to offer the same opportunities to share and support the fathers throughout the experience? Don’t only ask about the mother. Six words: “How are YOU coping with this?” And if you know them well enough, you will know how to spot the obligatory answers from the truth.
There may be ways that you can help them without being all “kumbaya” if they’re not up for that too, just don’t forget to ask. Even if they’re not in a talking mood…… they may feel like breaking stuff, going for a run, grabbing a beer and sitting in silence, offer to watch their other kids so he can do something that makes him happy…..whatever it takes. They need to get out of their own head sometimes too.
All people grieve differently, and some may not want to share, sometimes “okay” is simply all you’re going to get, but you can always offer to be there for the grieving father when he feels like talking about his child (so say so- as long as you truly mean it and are willing to have that conversation, as uncomfortable for you as it may be). Or you can pass this little tidbit along: it’s a site dedicated to dads who have been through loss (for dads by a bereaved dad).. http://grievingdads.com/
So there it is folks, my PSA for today. Don’t forget the fathers.