Thursday, June 16, 2011

Helping a grieving dad this Father's Day

How many times have you thought or asked the following questions after your child died about the father of your child who has died…

  • “Since our little boy died my husband fights the tears and holds them back?”

  • “Our child died but my husband finds it so hard to express his emotions?”

  • “I know my husband loved our child, but I don’t understand what’s happening with him – either he’s done grieving or he just can’t deal with it..

  • "I don’t understand him? AndI don’t think he understands me either…?”

There’s no doubt that each of us different and that includes the way in which we react to and grieve for our children, but studies show there are most likely genetic differences in the way men and women handle grief and I'm sure it's also environmental, in the way in which we’ve been conditioned since childhood. We all know that typically it's much harder for men to show their emotions and this is no different when it comes to the way in which they grieve.. I do think however that this has changed a little for the better with the younger generation of men…

It is so important to encourage the men in our lives to accept their true feelings as normal, bypass role expectations, and give themselves permission to grieve.

I read an article recently in one of The Compassionat Friend websites addressing this issue and they spoke of the variolus roles that men are conditioned to play or be and no doubt these roles can and do impact the grief process for dads and men in general:

One role is that of MACHO-MAN, a role which begins during boyhood (Big boys don’t cry) and is reinforced by the media and females indoctrinated with the same conditioning. On an unconscious level, men usually accept the macho role.

After the death of a child, fathers as well as mothers have a desperate need to express the emotions of grief. Feelings of sadness are triggered by the obvious absence of the child, family events, memories, pictures, and holidays. Society will accept a father’s crying at the time of his child’s death or at the memorial service or funeral, but not long afterwards.

Because a man is less able to verbalize his pain, he and his wife may have difficulties as they attempt to support and understand each other. Unless they can understand and discuss their different grief responses, they may have additional problems in an already distressed marriage.

When dealing with the death of a child, a father can feel a sense of failure in his role as PROTECTOR. (Men assume quite naturally the role of protector of wives, children, and property.) He begins to ask himself why he didn’t do something that would have prevented the death. He fails again in this role because he cannot protect his family from the pain of grief or shield them from the devastating effects of his own grief.

The role of PROVIDER commonly causes a father to return to work very soon after his child’s death. He may have problems at work or he may reinvest himself in his job, attempting to forget his loss. Because at home he cannot avoid facing the death of his child, he tries to find activities which will prevent his being at home too much. The demand of his job force a father to grieve at a different rate than his wife.

As a boy grows up, his parents encourage him to “stand on your own two feet,” so he assumes the role of the SELF-SUFFICIENT MAN. When coping with the death of his own child, he may feel he should be able to handle it alone. Men tend to share about what they do, rather than what they feel. The need to maintain a self-sufficient posture often keeps fathers away from meetings, peer sharing, and professional help.
Understanding the male conditioning and the impact it has on the grief process is very important for moms and dads alike.

The suggestions to help grieving dads, aren’t much different from those that we as moms often hear and find helpful:

  • Give yourself permission to grieve

  • Learn to cry again

  • Talk to your family, explaining that you don’t always grieve the way they do

  • Take time for yourself

  • Direct your anger at things, not people

  • Talk to other bereaved fathers

  • Dads should be encouraged to join a support group especialy one for men only

  • Do some daily exercises

  • Don’t hesitate to seek professional help

As Father's Day approaches, know that grieving dads are also hurting and often bracing themselves as we do when Mother's Day approaches.. Yes, no matter how long ago their child died, the age of their child or circumstances of their childs death - once a dad, always a dad and they deserve the same recognition and encouragement that we also needed - and for sure, a hug can certainly go a long way to help heal their broken heart...

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