The following is an article sent to me by Brian Burton, a fellow grieving dad. It’s his story and I want to thank him for sharing it with me and the visitors to this blog.
Grief – One Guy’s Experience
First, you should know, I am trained to provide counseling for those who have lost someone. Both as a minister and an educator. That doesn’t make it easier to go through the loss of someone you love.
We had been trying to have another child for 18 years. We had no problem conceiving our first child. But we have what is termed ‘un-explained secondary infertility’. We went to fertility specialists; we did everything up to the invasive procedures. We were not comfortable going further than that and had stopped all attempts through fertility treatment. When we conceived our second child, we learned about it on the 18th birthday of our first child. We were scared and excited. When we went to the doctor he reported that our baby was developing fine.
Looking back, the pregnancy didn’t go ‘right’. My wife, Rosemary didn’t have morning sickness until the second trimester. She didn’t gain weight like she should have. There were lots of things not ‘right’. But the Doctor seemed to feel everything was okay, so we prayed and believed that Blythe would be fine.
The day after her due date, Rosemary delivered. She went straight from Braxton-Hicks contractions that were off and on into hard labor. We live over an hour from the hospital. This meant that I was going to do the delivery. We had prepared for this inevitability since it was during the winter and we lived so far away from the hospital.
As soon as the head was partially delivered, I knew something was wrong. But you don’t get to stop in a process like this. I wanted to cry out right then, but knew Rosemary needed me and she needed me to stay strong. So I prayed that I was wrong, prayed that Blythe was alright, prayed that Rosemary would be alright. One out of three of my prayers were answered.
Blythe was born stillborn. We both began giving her CPR and called 911, still hoping, praying, that everything would be okay. The EMT responding is also the county coroner, so the diagnoses was quick. Rosemary had to be taken to the hospital because her blood pressure dropped. But, to the amazement of the hospital doctor and nurses there was no tearing and no other scares. The birth had gone perfectly, it’s just the results were not what we had hoped.
In case you are wondering, the diagnosis was ‘failure to thrive’. Basically, even though Blythe was full term and full size, vital organs never formed completely. We have learned that this happens in 1 out of 115 pregnancies.
Saying the Right thing!
As I was following the ambulance to town, I called friends and family to let them know what happened. Between calls I cried out to God “Why!?!”. It was very early in the morning, so I left messages at most homes. I’m sure it wasn’t a great message to wake too.
Two of the friends I had called, called us back later that morning. One said “I’m coming. It doesn’t matter if you want me there or not, I’m coming.” And she and her husband did.
The second friend who called back just left a message that he was there for me. That it didn’t matter the time, or what I wanted to talk about, I could call him, and he would cry with me.
On the opposite end was the funeral home. We went to a local funeral home in Ava, Missouri. It has the fanciest building, but the treatment we received was unbelievably horrid. One of them actually asked why we were so grief stricken, we had other children. I’m not going to go into any further than that. It hurts too much for me to think about the things they said when I was crying over the loss of my baby girl. Our friends who came to help us took the old battle ax out of the room. Our friends said that one day she might tell us the really bad things that were said, but probably not.
You learn when you are being trained as a counselor that there are five basic stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
Men deal with grief a little differently than women.
First, we are taught to not express our emotions, so we keep them bottled up. We don’t WANT to talk about our pain. If a guy opens up about his grief, you are likely to hear “I’m just having a difficult/bad day.” That is about all you’re going to get. I have worked hard to be more expressive with my wife as we both deal with the grief. I can remember one time a couple of months ago when I told her that it had been a difficult day because I kept missing Blythe that she teared up and told me that it helped to hear me say that.
I worked through the Denial and most of the Anger on the way to the hospital. As far as Bargaining. I guess I was a lot like King David when he lost his first child with Bathsheba. I had prayed and pleaded all through the birth. I had gotten to touch and hold my baby. She was and is beautiful.
Depression. Yeah. Those are the bad days. I don’t have the kind of job where I can take out my anger and frustration. I don’t have a physical job. I teach. I write. I’m not a boxer where I can go and take out my frustration out on someone else. I would find it abhorrent to take it out on one of my students. Fortunately my students have been supportive and understanding when I’m having a bad day.
So that leaves us with Acceptance. Perhaps my writing this is the beginning of my accepting the loss and trying to move on. In my opinion all of these phases are fluid. There are days when I will fall back to anger and denial. As Billy Crystal said in one of his movies, “Grief, it’s a process”.
No ‘Butterfly Kisses’
Bob Carlisle wrote Butterfly Kisses several years ago. While I am not a big fan of his style of music (a little too country for my tastes), I loved the song. I bought the CD just so that I could have it for when my daughter was growing up. Our adopted daughter was too old when we adopted her for this, and I was looking forward to receiving my butterfly kisses. I think this is perhaps the greatest pain for parents who lose a child. You’re not just dealing with the loss of the child, but all of your hopes and dreams for that child die as well.
Okay, if you’re still with me, you’re either a glutton for punishment, going through something similar, or want to know what to do and say to help someone through this. First, you have to know the person who is grieving. If you don’t know them, you can’t help. This applies to ministers, teachers, casual friends and family. The only exception to this would be if those that are grieving don’t have anyone to help them. Having even bad help is better than no help. If you see that there is someone there to help them, check on those who are grieving and ask them if they want you to help with arrangements. If they grab on to you, then stay and help, the others there are not helping! This happens frequently. When family or friends come to ‘help’, but only want to talk about their own loss or problems. You might offend those who came to ‘help’. Risk it.
Second, don’t avoid the people who have lost someone, and don’t avoid the subject. The caring cards and plants that we received meant a great deal to us. The people who stopped by, called and emailed helped a lot. Making an offer of “if there is anything you need” while it sounds nice, DOES NOT HELP! The person grieving is not capable of telling you what they need. If you really mean it, be there with them. Go to the funeral home with them. Run interference between those grieving and all of the people who would try to take advantage of them.
Third, make sure they eat. There is a reason why people use to take casseroles to the homes of people who lost a loved one. They don’t feel like cooking, and don’t think they are hungry. They won’t eat much, but they do need to eat.
Fourth, if they have kids, take the kids out to do a little shopping, see a movie, anything to give them a chance to have a break from what is happening. I can’t tell you how much it helped our children to be taken out by our friends.
Fifth, grieving doesn’t stop after the funeral. It is NORMAL for intense grieving to last a year or more. With the loss of a child, the grief and mourning doesn’t stop. Continue to check on them. Depression and even suicide are not uncommon during this time period. If they don’t have anyone there to help them through this time, get them help!
Finally, little things mean a lot during this time. One thing that stands out in my mind is when a good friend of mine worked with the foundation of the University to create a Memorial fund in Blythe’s memory. We have been getting regular updates from the Foundation whenever someone makes a donation to the fund. It is a small thing, but it helps to know that even though her time here on Earth was short, she made an impact and is remembered.
Now, you might ask, “where is the discussion about God in all of this? Shouldn’t I talk about heaven and the promise of being with them in heaven?”. My answer? No. They either already believe in God or they don’t. They might be angry with God. They might not. If you feel a burning need to witness, do it with your actions, not your mouth. DO NOT JUDGE. You don’t know if the one they lost is in Heaven or not. And you won’t until you get there. More people have been lost to the Kingdom because of some arrogant “Christian” trying to explain God’s judgment and/or punishment (yes, I had to deal with a person who felt that we were being punished for some unknown sin). I can guaranty you that at that time, the grieving parents know exactly what hell feels like.
I know who was there and who had a witness to me. The girls at a local diner who profess to be agnostic or atheists, with all of their piercings and tattoos had a much greater witness to me and my family than the old woman who professes to be a ‘Christian’ that couldn’t keep her mouth shut. If the only witness I had ever received was the woman at the funeral home, I wouldn’t be a believer today, and I would curse every Christian I encountered.
I could easily turn this into a book but will end with the question: What does it come down to? Paul said it best: Love. Love those who are grieving, be patient with them, give them time to heal. Even when you think they should be over the mourning, they’re not. They will never be the same person again. Just love them, and that is how you can reflect God into their life.
by Dr. Brian G. Burton
Thank you for your comments. You bless me with your ability to put words to an event that I descibe as excruciating, soul ripping agony. I so agree with your thoughts on “actions” speak so much louder then “words”. I’m realizing that God sustains me with His comfort and then enables me to be next to those who also need His comfort in the time of their own crisis. (2 Cor. 1:3-6)
God be with you as you continue to walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
Thank you to Kelly for posting this and to Brian, for sharing his story.
While the circumstances surrounding our daughters passing differ, it appears that things remain more or less the same afterward. Allow me to explain.
My daughter passed away quickly and silently, alone in the house she spent her high school years in. She was 24, married to a wonderful and responsible young man who just happened to be out on a sales call. Back in November 2010, they found out they were expecting a child, and you should’ve seen their faces! Unfortunately, she miscarried and the child was lost. Two days before the new year rang in, she died, and to this day we still don’t know the cause.
The funeral home was competent, up to a point. No one realized the scope of just how many lives Allison had touched. There was literally standing room only at the memorial service, (nearly 200 people showed up, which made me proud!). But what happened next was almost unbearable…they put the immediate family in a “receiving line”, and we had to greet each and every person who chose to be in that line. We were there for almost 45 minutes hearing the same comment over and over and over, “We’re sorry for your loss…if there’s anything we can do…”
To be fair, there were a lot of people that just nodded their heads and moved on. Some of them were from the husbands family and didn’t know us and some didn’t know what to say, but I expect that you know what I’m talking about.
But a receiving line at a memorial service is just plain wrong in my opinion. OK, enough of that.
What I truly got from your message is the stages of grief can happen rapidly, or very slowly. But more importantly, that they can come back at any time. Since it’s been so recent that my baby girl passed away, I find myself with conflicting emotions…I have to be strong for my wife, I have to get all these 35mm pictures digitized, I need to resume a normal life, I have to do this, do that…all of which I think boils down to being a guy, a man. I don’t like to get emotional unless it’s on my own terms, in my own time.
Through his website, I’ve been able to learn a lot from other men who have gone through what I’m going through. Writing this today makes me feel better, just for the mere fact of writing it. I’ve started a journal of my feelings, which includes all these posts.
But I think most importantly for me is the fact that while I try to remain strong for my wife, I do believe she’s trying to do the same thing for me. I share all my posts with her so that we can talk about my feelings, so that she can talk about her feelings. It’s the system that works for us.
My apologies if I’ve rambled a bit, but I make no excuses for it. My emotions run the gamut on almost an hourly basis sometimes.
Again, thank you Dr. Burton for your excellent article and to Kelly for providing the forum in which someone like myself can express my thoughts.
Thank you so much for your openness and honesty. So often friends want to help but don’t know how. Its amazing how much comfort can be found in a friend’s presence during grief. It breaks my heart to think of a Christian behaving the way she did. Praise God that your faith is strong, and that this didn’t challenge your faith in Him.
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If I may – please – allow me to express my sorrow for the loss and grief this family has experienced.
Words are never enough – actions fall short of what we wish to give and even a touch is often too little, too late – or unable to be felt through everything else.
In spirit – I send my strength
In my thoughts – I honour the commitment and love in this family.