I often talk about the invisibility surrounding women’s experience of losing a baby. However, I believe this invisibility is even more extreme for fathers. Their experience of grief within their social circles is often reduced down to the role of the supporter for their partner, where often the discussion with friends and family focuses on the female partner, “how she is doing” and encouraging him to “take care of her.”
Kelly Farley, published author of Grieving Dads: to the Brink and Back, will be joining us July 25 at 8pm est, 5pm pst to talk more about this phenomenon and the two years that he spent interviewing other men about their experiences of miscarriage, pregnancy and child loss. So mark this on your calendars because you are all invited to join in the discussion at www.blab.im/love-loss-project
But here’s a few of my thoughts on this in the meantime about how to support your guy through grief this Father’s Day.
THREE WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR GUY THROUGH GRIEF
- ASK HIM. Open up the conversation and explore what is important to him. How does he want to acknowledge his lost little one and his lost opportunity for parenting? Does he want to involve friends or family? Does he want to do something that commemorates his little one or his role as their father? How has his loss affected his experience of Father’s Day with his own dad? Are their family traditions that maybe need to adjust to include a little more sensitivity for the grieving dad? Maybe the usual 18 holes of golf with his dad and the guys might be a little painful this year for someone who is inevitably forced to think about their own missed opportunities for parenting and celebration with the one they lost.
- TAKE ONE FOR THE TEAM Friends and family often don’t know how to support men after baby loss. So help them know how to be sensitive to your guys new status as a grieving dad this year. Lead by example. Break the silence yourself. Talk about how to include your guy’s experience of fatherhood when making plans with family. Post a Facebook message that acknowledges your guys loss and signals to friends and family that this topic is open for discussion and support. Let them know in private discussion that “Happy Father’s Day” may not be appropriate but “Thinking of you” most definitely is and their acknowledgement matters. People often really don’t know what to do and may error on the side of saying or doing nothing at all.
- OWN YOUR OWN NEEDS. Regardless of gender, no two people are going to experience the same thing the same way. And so we need to take responsibility for what we want without turning it into a criticism of our partners. Women often tell me that they are concerned because their guy is “very quiet” or “seems to be avoiding his grief.” What this signals to me is that while mom may be concerned about her partner, she is also very much craving more connection herself, which may include more discussion about their experience of the loss, more talk about the baby and more sharing of their grief. So take a minute to explore the need under any worry or criticism so that you can take better steps to take care of it more directly
Bonus Tip: Reassure your guy that you don’t need him to be perfect, you don’t need him to be your rock all the time. In fact, you want to be his rock too. You actually crave that and value that experience. This can be hard to believe and absorb. When I do therapy work with couples, men will often tell me about not wanting to “burden” their partner with their emotions and experiences of grief. Counselling therefore can be a really great way to help the two of you navigate this new territory together and to become even closer after loss.
How will you recognize your guys experience of fatherhood this year? Did you find the perfect gift? An activity that is meaningful for the two of you? Let me know in the comments.