Interview With Dad
“Men and women tend to grieve differently,” I was warned after the death of my first child. “Don’t be surprised if you and your husband aren’t on the same page during this process. Your sorrow may be much more intense than his, and in most cases, it will last longer. You should…well, you might want to prepare yourself for this. Just in case.”
I didn’t believe what the nurse was saying to me. Not at first. From what I could see after my son died, my husband was as much of a mess as I was. But as time went on…I wasn’t sure.
How can he go to work? I ruminated. How can he function, when…when I could barely breathe.
Of course, my husband had to go to work. He had to function. So that we could put food on our table, keep a roof over our heads, pay our bills and provide a safe home for our first-born son. But in my grief, my mind wasn’t living in reality. Instead, all I could focus on was…why is he so different from me?
And for a while, those “differences” made me bitter.
Fast forward to one year later, to a conversation with another father who, like us, had also lost his son. “I went to a social event that my wife’s support group was having,” he told me. “You know, a picnic, summer barbecue type of thing. We thought that it would be good for us, to socialize with other couples who had lost, to share our stories, maybe find some support. But while the women at the picnic eventually bonded together to discuss their losses, the men there wouldn’t engage. At least, not about the death of their children. I tried, I kept bringing up my son–because I do want to talk about it–but with everyone else that I talked to, it was just business as usual, talk of work, vacations, the weather, the upcoming football season. Plain junk. Nonsense. Like none of them had even lost a child. And the look of panic in their eyes when I’d approach the conversation of loss,” he shook his head. “I’m just so alone. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t find any male friends who are comfortable going that deep with me. I think some of them might want to, but they’re too afraid. They’re just too afraid.”
And suddenly, I began to wonder…do men and women really grieve differently? Or do we just wear different faces…different masks?
Now, about six years later, I decided to ask a male friend who’s lost several children to share his thoughts and feelings with me about his own grieving process. Through a series of interview questions, I’m jumping right to the core of things: Do men and women grieve differently?
You tell me. Read the interview below. Then…you decide.
Interview with Dad…
Me: What was the first thing you remember thinking and/or feeling when you first found out that your child was dying?
Dad: Total disbelief. Total denial. My mind kept screaming–this can’t be happening! Why? I was just engulfed with extreme sadness, as well as overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt and helplessness over not being able to save my dying son or to protect my wife from this nightmare.
Me: After it was over, after your son died, did you experience any physical symptoms due to your grief?
Dad: Yes. Extreme anxiety…insomnia…a loss of appetite, and irritability with everyone around me.
Me: How did your relationships with others change, like with family, work colleagues or friends?
Dad: I found a new level of respect for my wife, and was in awe over her resilience despite the pain and emotional turmoil she experienced.
Me: Did you cry after your child’s death?
Dad: Yes. Many tears.
Me: Describe what it was like to see and hold your baby’s body.
Dad: When I held my dying son, my emotions were all over the place. I felt so helpless and guilty that I could not help him or protect him. The ache in my heart was so great that it hurt to breathe. Yet, the love I felt for him is impossible to describe. It may sound ridiculous, but I felt grateful and truly blessed for that moment, however brief, that I was given to meet and hold my beautiful son.
Me: Did you have photographs taken of your child’s body? And do you still look at them?
Dad: Yes, many photographs were taken by a wonderful, truly remarkable staff of OB nurses. Despite the nightmare that we were experiencing, they were able to create a respectful environment that seemed to honor our dead son. It was truly surreal. I haven’t looked at those photographs for a very long time…I don’t know why…but my wife does have a few photographs of my son around the house, one of just his tiny feet, and I do look at those.
Me: Did you give your baby a name? Was it important to you to give your child a name?
Dad: Yes. We’ve lost several children, actually, and each child was given a name. We felt that by naming them, that we were recognizing and honoring their brief but beautiful existence in this world.
Me: After your losses, did you want to try for another child as soon as possible? In an obsessive sort of way? Did you believe that getting pregnant and having another child would make you feel better?
Dad: We tried again as soon as our doctor gave us permission to. After each loss, we would decide, we’re done–you know? Like, we can’t do this again. But, somehow, we would change our minds and try again. Honestly, the obsession to have another child grew stronger each time we lost. I would dream about my wife being pregnant, about my living child playing with his new baby brother or sister, and then I would wake up from those dreams sobbing, with a complete fear of going back to sleep only to relive those dreams. I don’t remember consciously thinking that I would feel better if my wife was pregnant, but the dream of having another child seemed to soften the ache in my heart.
Me: What were your dreams for your family when you believed that a child was on the way, and how has the shattering of those dreams affected you?
Dad: I have one son who is alive. I always dreamed about him being an amazing big brother to his siblings…he’s got such a kind heart. And I’ve always envisioned my son holding my wife’s hand as they walk down the street with a little girl in my wife’s other arm. I still grieve the loss of this dream, and often think…”what if?”
Me: How long did it take you to move out of “intense” grief?
Dad: I don’t know. Maybe six months? It’s very hard to say. There are still moments to this day that sneak up on me and take my breath away due to the sadness I feel.
Me: How has your child’s death changed your life, or the way you see the world?
Dad: I work in the medical field, and in that job I do a fair amount of work within the department of labor and delivery. Immediately following our first loss, it was very difficult being around happy, joyful parents–and even more difficult to be around parents who did not seem to “appreciate” the new child that they had. I almost quit this part of my job, finding the pain too unbearable. But one day, I was involved in a case with a mother who had miscarried, a scenario nearly identical to the loss of my first child, and even though her loss got me caught up in my own emotions again, I suddenly remembered the caring nurses who had surrounded my family with love and care during our experience, and so I tried to do the same thing for this woman and her family. And I could see that it made a difference so, now I try to always channel those feelings of love and empathy into my life and into my career, thereby honoring the life of my own children in the process.
Me: Did you seek professional help following your baby’s death?
Dad: No. There didn’t seem to be many options out there for dads. My wife attended a support group, but this group was geared mostly towards mothers, with very little available for grieving fathers.
Me: How long did it take before your loss stopped consuming your every thought?
Dad: I am no longer consumed with my memories, but there is never a day that goes by that I don’t think about my children, or about the fact that we will never have another child.
Me: What, if anything, has helped you to heal, to move on?
Dad: Family. My son’s smiles and laughter. My wife, who’s been very good to me.
Me: What words of advice or comfort would you give to another dad going through loss?
Dad: I believe that grieving is very important for the healing process. The ability to be strong for your family is hindered when you bury your feelings of sadness and anger. It’s healthier to face those feelings and to attempt to come to terms with your loss. The simple act of crying, for me, has been healing, and I still let myself cry whenever I need to. The other day, someone at work got me talking about my losses and, without warning, my eyes welled up with tears and I couldn’t even finish our conversation. Later that day while driving home from work, I was flooded with emotion and cried so hard that I had to pull off the road for a bit. When I recovered, I realized that my mind had cleared, and that my day at work was in the distance, and for the remainder of my car ride home, I thought about my beautiful children…and I was at peace.
Thank you to this friend of mine…a Dad from Washington state.
*If you are a Dad who has loved and lost, if you have something to add or comments you’d like to share about your own personal experience of loss, feel free to use the form below to respond. Your comments may be posted at the bottom of this page upon receipt. If interested in a full interview, like the one above, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Interview with Dad” in the subject line. All interviews will be conducted via email, or by phone.
Photo credits via VisualHunt.com