Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Grieving fathers

"...When a child dies, very often the focus is on the mother. There is a special bond between a mother and her child, and people automatically respond to that by offering the mother comfort, condolences, hugs, shared tears and shared stories. A woman’s typical response to child loss—crying, wanting to talk, wanting to be with others who share her sorrow, lends itself to having others gather round in a circle of support.

The father’s experience may be very different. After his son died, a friend wrote, “It didn’t take long to realize that grief for the father of a child was going to be different. When the first people started coming to the house after the death of our son, the question seemed to ring, Where is your wife? How is she doing? In their minds they realized she had lost a son. She would be grieving the loss. She would be having a hard time, but as for me, the father, they seemed to think I wouldn’t miss him at all. There seemed to be a consensus that the mother suffers the loss but the father doesn’t. Neighbors would walk by me on their way to see my wife. They would comfort her. ‘We are so sorry,’ they would say. ‘Is there anything we can do? How hard this must be for you.’ All this time I stood there too.”

...After the initial overwhelming sorrow, often accompanied by tears, he accepts the obvious fact that their child is gone. He may struggle with overwhelming guilt—as the protector, he perceives that he has failed. His child has died and he did not prevent this from happening, but instead allowed this terrible grief and loss to touch his family. Unrealistic as this is, it can be an overwhelming burden, driven home by the constant tears and grief of his wife. He wants her to understand that he did not mean for this to happen, and he may redouble his efforts at supporting his family, caring for them, working long hours and being the best possible provider, all the while knowing that nothing he does can bring the child back...

Men often express their love and grief through projects, whether or not related directly to the lost child. He may build a fountain in the yard, or finish the deck where his child had so looked forward to playing. He may be interested in joining an effort such as a benefit run to help defeat the disease that took his child. If communication is open between parents, common ground can be found where both can work together on something mutually healing, thus drawing them closer together. Communication is the key that allows everyone to grieve in their own way while being supported by the rest of the family..."

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