I was recently asked to write a short article on ways to support a grieving dad and thought I would share the article here on this blog.
Positive Ways to Support a Grieving Dad
I often hear from grieving dads that tell me they feel alone in their grief after the death of their child. It amazes me that after going through something as profound as the death of a child, that these men feel so alone and isolated. As much as it amazes me, I can relate because I too felt alone after the death of my two children.
I felt so alone that I would go online and search for other grieving dads that were out there. However, I didn’t find what I was looking for or needed at that point in my grief. I didn’t find it because most men do not feel like they have permission to tell their story or to share how they are feeling out of fear of being looked at as less than a man or weak. We all know that society is not comfortable with an openly grieving person, but they are even more uncomfortable with a man showing his emotions.
This problem comes from men being taught at a young age that we should not show “weakness” and that we have to “be strong”. As a result of these “lessons” we do everything we can to hide our pain. We try to take on the role of protector. We feel it is our role to help our wives through the loss and to keep everything operating in the household. This approach only prolongs the grief process and can delay it for years.
Because most people in society feel uncomfortable with a grieving parent’s pain, they want to try to solve their problem, but they can’t. This isn’t something you can give a pep talk for and expect the person to walk away feeling differently. You cannot solve this problem.
It took me a long time and a lot of internal pain to realize I had to address my own pain before I could help my wife through hers. I realized it was important that we should travel this journey together, helping each other when we can. Once I realized I need to address my own pain, I started to open myself up to others that were there to help me.
Once I started to address my pain, I made it my mission to reach out to other grieving dads and so I started the Grieving Dads Project as a way to create a resource for men and provide a location where these dads can go to speak honestly and openly about what they are dealing with. This blog is a place where these men can go and not feel so alone and to realize that other men are thinking and feeling the same way.
As part of building the Grieving Dads Project, I have traveled the last year conducting workshops and speaking to child loss support groups as well as conducting one-on-one interviews with grieving dads. These interviews were designed to help me capture the rawness of this profound grief. The information I learned and the stories I heard will be told with brutal honesty in a book that will provide a glimpse into the aftermath of what grieving dads deal with when a child dies.
As a result of the Grieving Dads Project, I have spoken to hundreds of grieving dads and the one thing I have learned is people need to tell their story. Not only do they need to tell their story, they need to be allowed to share their emotions while telling their story. The following are a few ways to provide support to the Grieving Dads you may know:
1. Encourage them to talk about what they are feeling and thinking (even the really dark stuff).
2. Remind them that they are not alone.
3. Let them speak openly about their pain.
4. Do not try to solve their problems and be a good listener.
5. Encourage them to find support groups for men. These groups could be grief related or a group of men that are all dealing with various life struggles.
6. Do not push them through their grief and allow them to tell their stories.
7. Allow them the time to process what has happen to them.
8. Allow them to turn to or away from their faith as needed.
9. If they start to cry, let them, it helps cleanse the soul.
10. Let them know you are there for them at anytime of the day, and mean it.
Keep in mind that people who are grieving are ultra sensitive so it is important to think before you speak. Understand how your words may be interrupted by the receiver. If you really don’t know what to say, say nothing. There is healing in silence so it is better to sit quietly and listen than to fill the air with words that are not helpful.
Any other suggestions on how to help a grieving dad (or mom)?
Ronin died in my arms almost 8 months ago. He was eleven and a half…the last thing he said was “Dad, I can’t breathe…!”. My wife and two boys watched as I tried to resuscitate him, but I couldn’t bring him back. Ronin suffered a catastrophic asthma attack that ended his life. What followed almost ended me too…I couldn’t see how I could possibly go on.
Eight months on, we’re going okay. We decided that we would do positive things to help us to be okay…it’s been bloody hard, and still is. I was delighted to come across a group of men that have walked the steps I have walked, and hopefully I can both find some help for myself, and be able to share some of my experiences that may help a fellow dad to walk this path with the support of a friend who is walking next to him.
My email is email@example.com….I would be more than happy to hear from a fellow dad who needs an ear, or who happens to have one available.
All the best, love and understanding!
In my experience when you don’t know what to say, that is the time to painfully honest and admit that you don’t know what to say.
“Rule” #4 resonates with me more than any other….”Be a good listener”. If you are truly interested in hearing my story, let me talk. I may wander all over the place or I might remain on the subject, but that is how my mind is working at that particular moment in time. I will also say that I will be able to tell within 30 seconds whether you’re really listening or not by your eye contact. If you are truly interested in my story, try to maintain eye contact with me. This is by far the most difficult subject for me to discuss, so I have to know you are sincere in your request and the absolute best way for you to do that is not to avoid my eyes. I may try to avoid yours at first, but if I see you trying to make eye contact with me, I will see you are listening and I will open up. This may not be true for everyone, but it is for me.
I would add that if you want to say something and do not have the words…do not be afraid to give a hug. As a grieving father, some of the most profound and touching moments came from people simply giving me a hug and saying “I’m sorry”.
Hi Steven, well said mate….sometimes I think that we are the ‘chosen ones’. What we have had to experience, most people have absolutely no idea…hence, don’t really know what to say.
I hope you are doing good.
This is so helpful. Even two years after our lose it still hurts like hell. Yet fir my husband he feels isolated at times. As if no one wants to mention his loss. Yet the truth is he needs to mention his daughter x
Very helpful. So many people mean well, but don’t know what to say. The ones who lecture me or talk too much are tough to take… I would actually prefer silence or just someone who listens, and nods or acknowledges with a few words.