A Father’s Grief – A Guide for Men
Men and women grieve differently and from man to man the expression of grief will be different. There is no such thing as a “normal” way to grieve. There is no right or wrong way to grieve the death of your baby. But if you know some of the emotions you may go through your experience may be more predictable.
Men as fathers and partners are often expected to be a tower of strength in a crisis. You may be expected to provide solutions and take charge. People may ask how your wife or partner is going but forget that you too have experienced the death of your baby.
This is a time when you need to take care of yourself. The emotions you may be feeling may make it difficult for you to be objective and to make rational decisions. It may be helpful to reduce your workload and your activities during this time. Many work places offer bereavement leave and you may be able to negotiate to work less hours for a time to make things easier on yourself and your family. Some men think that by burying themselves in work the whole situation will go away. Instead, you may need to take time out to reflect on the death of your baby. You may ask yourself “why me” but in fact there is no answer to this question – life is sometimes not fair.
Crying may make you feel better, some men feel uneasy with such a show of emotions but crying can be very therapeutic and is not a sign of weakness. Anger is a common emotion felt by fathers. You may feel angry that you couldn’t prevent your baby’s death, angry at the whole situation. You may feel helpless and that can make you feel angry. You may like to express your anger by some physical activity or by talking to someone – your partner, another bereaved father, or a family member. Expressing your feelings to your partner will help her realise that you haven’t forgotten about your baby and that you do care.
Grief is hard work and you can expect to feel tired and perhaps depressed.
It is quite normal to be more or less physically intimate during this period of grief. You and your partner may have different feelings about having sex. It is not unusual for one or both of you to have an increased desire for intimacy. When mutually desired, making love can bring comfort to both of you. There are some couples that don’t make love in the first acute time of grief – this also is normal. You may find your partner wants only non-sexual contact – being held and hugged. Don’t take her attitude as one of rejection as her needs may be different.
Some men find that one of the hardest things to deal with after the death of their baby is their partner. As the mother of the baby your partner will be as traumatised if not more so than yourself. Men tend to keep things inside and not talk much; women like to talk about their baby – sometimes a lot. Both reactions are normal. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with your softer side, it can be comforting and therapeutic for both of you. Your partner may not want any advice when she talks to you – she may just want someone to listen to her. Be available for her – don’t think you have to have the answers to the situation. You may find it helpful for both of you if you help your partner with chores around the house. Doing something concrete may ease the sense of frustration and helplessness you may feel. Encourage your partner to talk with her friends and family; women often feel an intense need to tell the story of their baby many times.
If you have other children they will certainly feel the impact of the death of their sibling. Being involved with a memorial service or ritual may help them deal with their own grief. Even very young children grieve.
Other Family Members and Friends
The reaction of your friends and family will depend on their bond with your baby and their relationship with you. Many fathers find that people will talk openly with their partner about the death of your baby and ignore you! They may also ask you how your partner is going without giving any thought to the grieving father. Some people may feel uncomfortable talking about your baby and you may have to help them out by talking about your grief. Having someone other than your partner to talk to may ease your sense of isolation.
You may feel a mixture of emotions at the thought of another pregnancy. Some parents feel anxious and stressed and some fathers are not entirely happy for their partner to be going through a new pregnancy. It is perfectly normal to feel joy, happiness and anxiety at the same time.
Looking after Yourself
Grief is a very physical thing and can be hard work. It is not uncommon for bereaved fathers to feel exhausted. You many also find yourself feeling like your arms are aching, you may suffer from headaches or tummy upsets. It is vital that you look after yourself at this time. Try to eat and drink sensibly, take regular exercise and have time out for yourself.
This article was reproduced with permission from the Still and Neonatal Death Support (SANDS) Service, Queensland. SANDS is a volunteer organisation that provides mutual support, information, education and advocacy for parents and their families who experience the death of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death and other reproductive losses. SANDS have offices in each state. For further information visit www.sands.org.au.