The Grieving Father

It is often said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  This appears to be true in not only matters of life – but in matters of death.

I remember being visibly pregnant with my daughter Jana while my husband and I went to an auto dealership to look at station wagons.  The salesmen noticing my pregnant belly asked the simple question “is this your first baby?”  Just small talk for him.  The most dreaded question to answer for us parents.  “Yes,” my husband answered. “No,” I answered.  “Do you two even know each other?” he asked.  “Our first baby died.  His name was Gregory.” I replied.  The air in the room felt immediately different.

“Why couldn’t you just say you were pregnant with our first child.  Why did you have to make this man feel bad and force a conversation about Gregory’s death when we were just looking at cars.” “I’m sorry, Gregory was our first child. He lived.  He died.  But he was still our first child. I am not going to deny his existence for that stranger’s comfort” was my reply.  Yes, men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

Parents who have lost a child all agree that this is the hardest question to answer.  It changes the mood in the room – the flow of the conversation. Should you worry about making the person asking the question feel uncomfortable by not talking about your child who died. It is an especially difficult question when your only child has died.  You are still a parent, but with no living child to parent.  There is sort of a displaced identity. I felt this way in the two years between the time Gregory died and my daughter was born.  A mother with no one to mother.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day become especially hard days.

A father’s grief is just as real as a mother’s grief, but men tend to handle their grief in a very different way.  Often times, there are so many tears flowing from their wives that they don’t want to allow their own to flow.  Many have been brought up in families where crying was just not acceptable behavior for a boy – let alone a grown man.

I remember the morning fifty five years ago like it was yesterday. As we ate breakfast, I saw my mother’s red eyes – saw the tears she was trying to hold back.  After breakfast, my mom and dad sat us down in the family room and told the four of us that our little brother Ronald who was born three months premature and weighed less than two pounds at birth had died at the hospital the night before.  It was the first time I had ever seen my dad cry.

They buried him at George Washington Memorial Park, the same cemetery where Gregory would also be buried one day.  Years earlier they had bought a plot for themselves.  When our family all went to the cemetery so they could make that purchase, I remember thinking that we were going to build a house there overlooking the pool.  They said they were buying land.  I just assumed, we were building a house and moving there.

My dad was the physically strongest man I have ever met.  At a party one night he gave my father-in-law a bear hug because he liked him. He cracked two of my father-in-law’s ribs with that hug.  He could take hot trays of food out of the oven without pot holders because his hands were so calloused from doing electrical work all his life.  Ronald’s death devastated him.  He drank when he was sad.  He cried when he drank. He was 5 7″ 240 something pounds.  He was a big man.  He cried big tears.  It took twenty four years for my parents to finally come to terms with Ronald’s death enough to purchase a gravemaker.  One year later Gregory would be buried in the children’s section, and two years after my daughter’s birth a placque would mark my mother’s resting place next to her fifth child, Ronald.

Many men find their escape from their grief in work, in alcohol, in drugs, in silence.  They are created to be fixers.  They pride themselves in being problem solvers.  This is not a situation they can fix. This is not a problem they can solve.  Many are afraid tears will come, because they feel if they cry that first tear, they may never stop crying.  They want the grieving period to have a certain ending.  Okay, it has been a week, a month, a year, five years -I must not allow myself to cry any longer.

It hurts men to know their wives are in great emotional pain – so they turn their backs and pretend they are asleep when they hear their wives crying in the middle of the night.  They stay late at the office where it is safe and easy.

Grieving father when your wife cries in the middle of the night reach over and wrap your arms around her and hold her as she cries.  That might not seem like much to you, but it will to her.  Share how you are feeling.  What you miss about your child.  Go to a support group meeting with her.  Talk about your child on his or her birthday – on the day your son or daughter died.  But most of all pray with your wife.  “Father God we ask that you unite us in this time of grief.  We ask that you comfort us and guide us and give our life meaning and purpose.”

If you are a man of action, take action in the name of your deceased child.  In l981, John Walsh was a partner in a hotel management group in Hollywood, Florida.  Following the abduction and tragic murder of his son, Adam, he created the Adam Walsh Child Resource Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to legislative reform. This organization later merged with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  He later created the show “America’s Most Wanted” to help find and imprison child murders and rapists.  He did this for Adam.

Florida State Representative Irving Slosberg created The Dori Slosberg Highway Safety Foundation in memory of his fourteen year old daughter who died in a car crash while not wearing a seat belt.  The foundation is a not for profit public service organization dedicated to traffic safety. It has been instrumental in promoting highway safety in Florida through programs including Staying Alive on 95 and Surviving the Drive. In 2009, he was instrumental in passing “The Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law” which gives police authority to cite drivers for not wearing a seat belt.

If you miss throwing a football with your son, playing a pick up game of hoops or fishing at the local pier, you might want to consider doing those things with the son of a single mom from your church or work. There are so many opportunities to mentor other boys in the name of your son.

You may want to pray about becoming a foster parent or even adopting a child.  If you don’t have the time or resources to be a foster parent on a full time basis, substitute foster care parents are needed to help relieve full time foster care families so they can have a day or a weekend to relax and decompress.

The world is going to hell in a hand basket – literally and figuratively – because boys don’t have dads to help make them a men.  Although nothing can change the loss of your son or daughter or the feelings you feel about that loss, ask for guidance and direction to move forward fully functioning in the role of husband and father to your living children.

“God, we ask for your healing for the grieving fathers.  The ones whose tears won’t fall, and the others whose tears won’t stop falling.  May they feel the loving arms of Jesus wrapped around them like they have never felt before.  May they have a renewed sense of purpose.  May they be led by you.  May they have the peace that only you can give.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.”