I love my husband, and it was painful for me to see him so unsupported during a time that he needed it every bit as badly as I did. There is a societal expectation that fathers be less affected in times of pregnancy and child loss. They are expected to support the mother in loss as they do in pregnancy, but who the hell is supporting him?
A father's role in pregnancy is to be supportive while mom's body changes. He does what he can on the outside while mom works on nurturing that little life from the inside. But if tragedy strikes, there needs to be a shift. Dad can't be expected to go unsupported and continue to put mom ahead of himself. I don't want to use the airplane metaphor, the whole put the mask on yourself first thing doesn't fit when it comes to child loss. Losing a child is not like being in an airplane barreling towards the ground. Losing a child is drowning in the middle of the ocean in the darkness. There is nothing to hold onto. You can not see. You're just treading water and praying for a miracle. When a child dies, both parents are in that ocean, with nothing to hold onto. Expecting Dad to keep me afloat while he finds himself breathless is not a healthy dynamic.
When a child dies, family and friends should come together and support them both. When a child dies, medical professionals should be ready with pamphlets and information for support services and groups for BOTH parents. We need to keep talking about the unique position that dads find themselves in when it comes to grief.
When my husband and I lost our daughter, we asked family to give us some time before reaching out. But Josh was still getting texts from family and friends asking how I was doing and then following up with a "how are you doing". And all of the resources that were offered to us really didn't offer him anything as a father if not a group for couples. He felt invisible, but he was grieving too. I am grateful to this day that he was comfortable speaking to me about how he was feeling. All too often men don't feel justified in speaking about their struggles of grief with their significant other. I think on some level they don't feel that they have a right because the trauma they experienced was not also physical. But that is not the case. It just isn't. You loved that child. You are forever their Father. You need to grieve. You need support and you need to be open with your partner about what you are feeling and walk through that together. If you don't, you will never make it out of that labyrinth together.
I remember first seeing this video when I started looking for what resources were available out there for fathers dealing with the loss of their children. Still, after all of the research I have done I think Kelly really speaks to what Josh and I were looking for.
Kelly Farley is a grieving dad who recognized the gap in grief support for fathers surrounding child loss. He experienced the loss of his two children over an eighteen month span. He lost his daughter Katie in 2004 and son Noah in 2006. Over the next few years he dedicated his life to supporting dads throughout the US and the world. He is a speaker, coach for grieving fathers and a published author.
If you want to start somewhere. Start with him. No, I am not being paid for this, I just really have not seen anything better than what he has been doing. On his website you can find an array of helpful tools, you will find blog articles covering everything from the weight of Father's day to trying again. You can also share your story or read the stories of other men around the world. He also does online coaching offering 24/7 assistance. I know that doesn't sound real - I didn't believe it either but I read it 5 times and that's what it says.
There really is not enough support groups for fathers. Not just in Ottawa, but at all. For the time being there is a facebook group where meetings could be arranged, even if they are virtual. I am working on organizing a group in Ottawa where bereaved fathers can come together and talk about the unique struggles they face as parents.
To the Brink and Back is a collection of candid stories from grieving dads that were interviewed over a two year period. The book offers insight from fellow members of, in the haunting words of one dad, “this terrible, terrible club,” which consists of men who have experienced the death of a child. This book is a collection of survival stories by men who have survived the worst possible loss and lived to tell the tale. They are real stories that pull no punches and are told with brutal honesty.
This pocket-sized guidebook is perfect for fathers needing a book just for them when dealing with the death of a baby. It offers great advice on communicating with a partner, handling the return to work, talking with other children and much more, in a short and easy read.