As a mother of child loss, I often wondered if we mothers grieved longer and harder than fathers. Fathers of children who died seemed to be able to move on to a place of semi-normalcy in a rather quick way. At least that’s how it seemed to be to me after my baby boy died. It took me literally several years to be able to look at another baby and genuinely feel joy, whereas my husband was able to move on almost without hesitation. As I heard from more and more mothers of child loss, I knew I wasn’t the only mother of loss feeling this way.
It’s been thirty one years, millions of tears later, and cumbered by the tragic loss of another son — this time an adult son — that I can finally say with full certainty that mothers and fathers (as a whole) do NOT grieve the loss of a child in the same way at all.
Women, by nature, are nurturers. We are almost always far more vocal with our emotions than men. And, we certainly do need that feeling of “group support” during painful times.
Men, on the other hand, seem to be far less vocal especially in terms of their emotions. They work out problems and pain by pounding a nail, or working on their car, or going out for a drink with the guys.
So, how do these differences affect the lives of couples grieving the loss of a child? As you know, I’m sure, the stress can become almost too much at times. In fact, we know that many couples shut down lines of communication following the death of a child, and they end up going their separate ways, compounding the grief that was already theirs.
Communication is a key element in our grief, especially when grieving the death of a child. I know that with both of my losses I “needed” to talk to others. I “needed” to share my pain. I “needed” to feel that I wasn’t walking this path of pain alone. I sought out help and support from others.
Sadly, my marriage is a statistic, but not from the loss of a child. There were other major factors involved, but the loss of my marriage had a direct impact on the depth and length of my grieving. I believe that because we women are designed with an emotional output meter, that we crave a way to spill it all out to someone. We long to be able to talk about our loss, to have someone close who understands, and who will be there for us. Because I had to walk the path of loss as a “one parent” it has been increasingly difficult at times. There have been so many hard spots in this grief journey when I’ve wanted to feel the closeness of someone (especially the father of my sons) to hold me close and say “I understand. I’m here. We’ll do this together.” But, that isn’t so, and I know it’s that way for countless others.
What do we do when we grieve alone as a parent? How do we get through? I’m writing this from a woman’s view because a father/man will have a totally different set of circumstances to deal with. ***Perhaps we can discuss that in another blog post.**** I’d like to share two things with you that have helped me tremendously in hopes that they will help you, too.
- Work hard to build your network of support. This support can be from your church friends, work friends, other family members, or support groups — both online and in person. The point is to get support. We cannot and must not try to do this alone!
- Work just as hard incorporating hope into your life. Life without our child is NOT easy! Everything we do, say, and think is tainted with the words, “I’m so sorry. Your child didn’t make it.” We live and breathe those words forever no matter how much we move along in our grief, and no matter how many years pass. Always, always this cloud of grief is hovering above us. We need hope! I found that immediately after my second son’s death, I began reading everything hopeful I could! There were times when my tears flowed so heavily that I couldn’t see the pages of the book, but I understood from my previous experience with loss that if I lost hope, I’d lose everything. **My hope comes from God and the beauty of nature that surrounds me along with my belief of heaven. Every person needs to search within to find where their hope lies and build on that.
Where am I today? I’m in a good place, and I’m so thankful to say that. I know that grief for my sons will always be a part of my life, but that grief is not all of me. I’ve learned from my grief, and I continue to learn. My heart has opened and my heart has softened. So many of us are traveling this road — far, far too many of us. We need to be here for each other, loving and supporting one another along the way.
To end, I’d like to say that not all marriages that endure child loss end in divorce, nor do they have to end at all. Many marriages grow stronger and closer and more loving. Why? Because they’ve learned to make allowances for their differences in grieving. Yes, women and men really and truly do interpret and display their grief differently. BUT, that doesn’t mean that one or the other is grieving more deeply. I truly believe that many fathers grieve the loss of their child just as deeply, but their grief is shown outwardly in a different way.
Be kind. Be understanding. Be tolerant. We each hold a lot of pain and brokenness from child loss. Let’s learn to travel this road together in support of each other.
I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment. I’ll make every effort to reply.
PS Next week I’ll have a special writing on Thanksgiving without our child.