Don’t Forget Grieving Dads
Written by: Joe Ferrara (Mira’s Dad)
If you follow Three Little Birds’ Blog, you have probably already read some posts written by my wife, Ali, and know about our story and the loss of our beautiful daughter Mira. I admire Ali every day for the transparency and vulnerability she shows about our little girl, whether it’s an article or a simple post on Facebook. I’ve never been good at outwardly expressing pain or grief. My instincts are to try to show a happy, positive exterior even though for nearly three years now I grieve daily that our sweet Mira isn’t with us. That becomes increasingly more difficult when it feels like I’m forgotten as a parent from others. As I started to reacclimate myself with the real world about a month or so after Mira’s passing, a common phrase and question started to arise: “I’m so sorry to hear what happened, how is your wife doing?”. It was never, “How are you doing?” or even “How are the two of you?”
I know I am not alone in feeling left out as a grieving father. Support for both parents is lacking after pregnancy and infant loss, especially as time goes on. However, right from the beginning, it seems that the support that is present goes mostly to Mom. I love my wife deeply, and she deserved all that support and more, but it was hard to not feel jealous at times that I was not receiving the same level of support. Really, it just made me feel so isolated.
I felt a lot of pressure after we came home for the hospital without Mira to be the tough exterior of our family in public. At home, I felt vulnerable and was struggling with grief just as much as my wife. In the privacy of our home, I was able to show this, though I often felt guilty thinking I should only be strong for her. When overcome with the grief and finding myself crying, guilt would show up. With the outside world telling me my only job was to be strong and take care of Ali, I felt guilty for falling apart in front of her. I felt guilty allowing Ali to see how much I was hurting, when I knew I could not fully understand what it was like for her to lose a child she felt grow inside her for nine months. I knew I could not understand the physical trauma she had experienced. I wanted to stay strong and just take care of her like society’s messages were telling me to. I love my wife, and wanted more than anything to be the rock. However, it was all too much and I often needed her support as well. Though she constantly assured me she wanted me to grieve and not hide it from her, I still struggled with this guilt.
As I grieved Mira, I also struggled with the pain of not being able to do anything to fix this pain my wife was in. I wanted to be the one who took care of her and protected her from this, but there was no fixing it. It reminded me so much of the feeling of helplessness I had when we were told by the best doctors we could find that Mira’s life could not be saved. I was helpless to protect my daughter, and now I could not protect my wife either.
It was so helpful for me that my wife was supportive in allowing me to grieve openly and encouraged me to be honest about my feelings. Loss like this is hard on a marriage, and I would encourage any couple facing it to find ways to support each other and not have it all on one partner. It made all the difference in the world for us. However, having a spouse that acknowledges all these feelings of pain, depression, grief, hopeless, and guilt is one thing, and having a circle of support all around you is another. I wish it were more acceptable for men to discuss the pain of being a loss father with their friends. I would have loved, and still would appreciate, a conversation with people outside my family validating the pain I have faced. It has taken me a long time to be in a place where I can even write about this and be willing for it to be shared. I hope other men are able to share their stories and grief as well to get closer to a place where it is more acceptable to be emotional and open about our loss.
I love talking about my daughter. Mira is everything to me; she is the best parts of both my wife and I. Holding her, I saw nothing but the best thing my wife and I have ever done. I love finding ways to continue to father her, even with her in Heaven. I think about her constantly, and I do so many things for her and with her in mind. I plan things to do as a family that I would have loved to do with her, and I know she is with us in a way. I have a tattoo on my arm that symbolizes her so I can carry her with me each day. On special occasions my wife and I take turns reading to her. I stop at her memorial area each day before work, lay a hand on her urn and say goodbye for the day. I know she isn’t really there, I know she is in Heaven, but it still helps. Days when I miss her the most, I make sure to use my “Mira’s Daddy” mug, so I can see my favorite title as I drink my coffee.
I am a father. I always will be. My only child isn’t seen by the outside world and my fatherhood is often forgotten. But I will not allow it to be anymore. I am here to say: I love my daughter, I grieve her loss, I will always honor her, and along with my wife, I will not be forgotten.