I want to take a moment on Father's Day to acknowledge all fathers who have lost children. Society has so many mythical preconceptions or expectations, especially surrounding grief. Fathers are expected to be strong, stoic and supportive in the face of tragedy-- there for your kids, spouse and parents. A very tall order. Is it even possible?
What of your own personal feelings and needs when you lose a child? Someone needs to be there for any parent-- mother or father-- when a child dies. I am not sure that always happens for fathers. I am not sure how well many men are able to talk about their feelings or express vulnerabilities in the face of grief. I think there is tremendous societal pressure to support the mother, but not as much for you, the father.
I read recently that women cope better after the death of a spouse than do men. Can the same be true for fathers? If that is so, perhaps, men have been done a disservice or even overlooked in the grieving process. Men see themselves as protectors. If a child dies, do fathers see themselves as having failed to protect that child? That might seem to be the case. As I have said in previous blogs, regardless of the circumstances of your child's death, you are powerless to control most things. You are also human, and as such, you have your limits and imperfections. It is always there to blame yourself for misjudging a situation or having made a mistake. You think you have failed your child who lost his or her life.
I believe your child is at peace and bathed in love and any mistakes or misjudgments are of no matter to him or her. Of course, you would rather have your son or daughter with you, but it cannot be. Acceptance of what has happened is key. Acceptance takes a long time and your own time when you may feel numb, lost, bereft, hopeless, guilty, angry. As a first step, I encourage you to acknowledge your own feelings and express them and share them with someone. Either your spouse, clergyman, therapist. It is not a sign of weakness to do so, but one of strength in trying to make it through this journey and playing the curved ball you have been dealt.
You can take many routes. You can give up. You can resort to drugs, alcohol, sex, work or fighting with your spouse. You can try to go it alone. Or you can shed any stereotypes, and decide to get through your grief by accepting yourself and reaching out for help. Is it harder for a man to do this than a woman? I think so. But if you want to move forward, you have to be introspective and ask yourself how you can get through this loss and who can help you.
You have the choice not to get through the loss of your child. It is a pivotal moment and decision. It is a long journey in which things can improve and in which it is possible to feel emotion again. But, you have to be willing to embark on that journey. Will all go forward smoothly? No. There will always be steps ahead and steps backward. Gradually though the pain will soften and you will be able to enter life again. The one thing it is not possible to do is to hold tightly onto your pain and experience living again.
Readiness is key. Take stock of your situation. Ask yourself do you want to improve things or let the death of your child destroy you. I can't answer this for you, but only for myself. Maybe you feel you have no reason to live. I did for a while. Then I realized all the people who were counting on me to pull through, so I got help.
God speed you on your journey.