The often unnoticed, or not noticed nearly enough, member of the grief process when a family has lost a child is the father.
I’m not sure I understand this fully. I’ve read articles that seem to indicate that because a mother often spends more time with a child and is more nurturing, that their grief is more visible and even more intense, therefore getting more notice or seeming to greater on some “grief scale.”
I don’t buy that.
Clearly I know all men are unique, just as all women are unique, so please forgive anything I’m about to say that feels like a generalization or a stereotype.
Here’s what I know. I know my man. I know Mattie’s father. And he grieves deeply. Today he wept over an empty laundry basket that will never hold his son’s dirty clothes again.
A man at his core has an inborn desire to fix, to care, to support and provide safety for his family.
And when a child is lost, it shakes the very core of his nature. Something has happened that cannot be fixed. Something has happened that is honestly out of his control and the safety of his family is in jeopardy. Everything is broken.
So let me speak to you from my heart, because honestly I don’t think there are enough people talking to you or sharing in your pain.
Dear Father Who Grieves,
I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry your child is gone. I’m sorry the dreams you had for the future of this precious life have been smashed before your very eyes. I’m sorry for the walks you will not take, the balls that will not be thrown, the games you will not attend. I’m sorry for the kisses that will no longer be planted on your cheek, for the tea parties unattended, for the girl you will not walk down the aisle. I’m sorry you won’t watch your child get on the bus for kindergarten, tell you about his first crush, or cry on your shoulder over a broken heart.
I’m sorry for the overwhelming sadness that sometimes cripples your ability to enjoy life. I’m sorry for the ache in your chest when you lie down at night and the punch in the gut every morning when you wake up.
I’m sorry that you are hurt and angry. You feel cheated and robbed. Life isn’t making much sense right now. And I’m so sorry for every trite word thrown at you, for every insensitive utterance that has hit your ears and caused you more pain.
This can’t be fixed and that very truth infuriates you. Things are broken, and you don’t have a single tool to put it back together. Your tool box is simply empty.
You look around and your family is hurting. You feel helpless to be strong for them all, to hold them up in your own weakness. It’s paralyzing at times. You see your wife and maybe you don’t know how to reach into her pain — maybe it scares you. She’s changed in many ways and you’re worried you won’t get her back. You get mad. Sometimes it might even come out as anger toward her, but you know deep down, it’s not her you’re mad at. It’s this unspeakable pain that has woven a thread through the very fabric of your lives that causes rage to burn. Be mad. Shake your fist at the sky for a moment.
Then grab your wife and hold her close. She’s the one who knows your pain more than any other. She doesn’t need you to fix what cannot be fixed, she just needs you to be there. She wants to connect with your heart and love you through this. It’s OK to be broken with her. Marriages fall apart under this kind of pressure. Guard yours. Be broken together, but hold tight in the brokenness and don’t let go.
You may have other children who have lost a sibling. You hold them as they cry. They ask questions you cannot answer. You’re the guy they look up to. You’re the one who’s supposed to have the answers and make everything feel better. I’m sorry you feel helpless. But you have something amazing to give — just you. Wrap those strong arms around them and simply listen. Hold them close and tell them that you understand, that you are hurting, too.
Maybe friendships you once had are barely existing. Perhaps no one knows what to say, so they say nothing. Maybe the men in your life have simply disappeared, or maybe they think you’re just find because they don’t ask or are afraid to ask. I’m sorry if you’ve lost friendships at a time when you need them the most.
I’m sure sometimes it’s hard to talk and find words for all you are feeling. Maybe you’ve never been great at that anyway. I encourage you to find your words. Write them down. Talk to someone you trust. Get your family into counseling.
Most of all, I want you to know that I notice you. I notice you as I look into the eyes of my own husband, and I’m sorry if you have been unnoticed by those around you. I want you to know that I acknowledge your loss and your pain.
Nothing trite, no poems or verses.
Simply know this: I am so very sorry.
A version of this post originally appeared on From the Heart.