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Often, after the loss of a pregnancy or baby, family and friends focus on the needs of the mother and overlook the needs and grief of the father who lost the same baby/pregnancy. Many father's have other children at home, while others do not. No two fatherhoods look the same, but they should all be celebrated and acknowledged. This month, Three Little Birds' focus is to validate, support and celebrate all fatherhoods as a show of unified and empathetic support.
Understanding and helping grieving fathers isn't usually easy. Men tend to handle emotions so differently than women and their grief is no exception. Unfortunately this difference, added to the stress of losing a child, causes many parents to split up only few months after loosing their precious child.
Grieving fathers respond to the sad event very differently - and sometimes in a way that puzzles mothers, as many don't show their grief. To all grieving mothers: this is very common, not necessarily a need to worry and can have many, often several causes.
Ways to Support Grieving Fathers
What can be done to show support on Father’s Day to a father who has experienced the deep pain of losing a child? Probably the most appreciated gesture of support would be to acknowledge the fact that the father is still a father even though his child is no longer living on this earth. Refer to him as a father, and express your genuine sorrow for his loss. Fathers who have lost a child as early as miscarriage should certainly be included among the group of grieving fathers.
Finding a Father’s Day card specifically for fathers who have lost a child can be next to impossible. If you cannot find a card with an appropriate verse, choose a blank card and write your own message from the heart. “Sharing in your sorrow this Father’s Day” or, if appropriate, “Blessings to you this Father’s Day as God watches over your heavenly angel” will show a tremendous amount of compassion and support to a father who is grieving the loss of a child on Father’s Day.
Recognize the fact that fathers go through emotional upheavals during the grief of child loss. Fathers grieve differently than mothers, so they might not want a lot of special treatment on Father’s Day. Men are generally less apt to talk about their feelings of hurt and loss than women, but those feelings are still there and need to be recognized. Father’s Day without a child can be just as emotionally heartbreaking for a father as Mother’s Day is for a mother without her child. We need to be sensitive to the needs of fathers, too!
Special holidays stir up many different emotions for fathers, and Father’s Day is a particularly difficult holiday to go through following the loss of a child. With help and support from family and friends, a father can move forward in his grief. By letting a father know that he has not been forgotten on Father’s Day, you will validate his identity as a father, and you will allow him the special privilege of once again being called that most cherished name of all—daddy.
Finally, find some way to validate the fact that a father is still a father even though his child is not living. Fathers are by nature “fixers” and the loss of a child is one loss that cannot be fixed. This fact is often very hard for a man to accept. By giving a card and a personal word on Father’s Day, you will help validate to the father that he is still honored among that special group of men called fathers on Father’s Day. Validation of fatherhood on Father’s Day is one more step forward in this process we call grief.
Additional Resources to Support Grieving Fathers
My wife, Monica, and I suffered the full-term stillbirth of our second child, Kathleen. While that was a number of years ago, I have stayed connected to the issue through my writing and speaking on the topic of father’s grief following the death of an infant. I, like many men, had trouble talking about my feelings after my daughter’s death. I’m hoping this blog might be a place for dads to share their thoughts about what they are experiencing and find support from other dads.
This project is designed to reach out to all bereaved dads and to provide a conduit to share their stories. One of my goals is to bring awareness to the impacts that child loss has on fathers and to let society know that it’s okay for a father to grieve the loss of a child. A father shouldn’t have to hide his pain or feel ashamed to show his emotions.
Kristen Samuelson, SBD, Founder & Director