Written by Clara Hinton
When child loss occurs, for some reason most of the sympathy expressed is pointed in the direction of the mother of the child. Maybe the feeling is that mothers mourn losses more deeply, or perhaps the reasoning is that fathers are the stronger ones. The reality is that fathers grieve the death of their child, too, and they need support during this difficult, lonely time.
Because of the differences between men and women, men cry less often and less openly than women. That one fact often attributes to the thinking that men grieve less. That is so incorrect! Men will work through grief in a different way than women, but the pain of losing a child can run just as deep for a father as for a mother.
A husband wants to be the strong supporter of his wife during the painful months following child loss. There comes a time, though, when a man must do his personal grieving. Often a man will pull away from his wife during this time, telling her that it is time to move on in her grief. This can be very hard on a relationship. Very rarely will a husband and wife grieve together on the same level and time frame.
Because men by nature are the ones who “fix” problems, fathers look at grief as a fixable problem. A man will often withhold his feelings of pain, and will instead work long hours away from home, or he will think of work projects to keep his time occupied. His wife will often interpret this as a lack of genuine caring. There needs to be a much greater understanding among people about the differences in male and female grieving!
Where does a father find support when child loss occurs? Men are not as social as women, and therefore do not seem to need as much social interaction as women. Men also do not seem to like the idea of support groups or counseling as much as women because of the uncomfortable feeling of expressing their deepest emotions to others.
Many men can find it a great support to privately journal their feelings when child loss occurs. What is found to be so difficult for a man to verbalize can often be easily expressed on paper. Journaling thoughts can be a great support to a father during the personal emotional adjustment to child loss.
Something not often talked about is a man’s desire to be sexually intimate with his wife as a means of working through his grief. Many times a father will feel stripped of a portion of his manhood when a child dies, and by expressing himself sexually he can work through some of the deep feelings of loss. A wife can misunderstand this, as she might not at all be ready for sexual intimacy. Husbands and wives need to be aware of their differences in grieving! Sex, to a man, is often a very real, very basic way of expressing his feelings.
Finding a work project can also lend support to a father. Many men have the ability to “build” using a hammer and nails. A father might choose to do something positive such as to build a special photo box or bookshelves that will hold pictures and other remembrances of the child who has died. This “hands on” work is a positive way of working through the grief of child loss.
A father needs support through his grief, but it will often come in ways very different from a woman's support. Men need to be given permission to grieve in their own way!