Sometimes I think grieving fathers are misunderstood or overlooked. People don’t tend to ask how they are doing or comment on their loss as much as they do bereaved mothers. Men and women often grieve differently. This can cause stress on a couple already overwhelmed with the emotions associated with losing a child.
Many men have been raised to not show strong emotions, or at least emotions that are associated with femininity or weakness. They are embarrassed to cry in public. And when a husband is trying his best to comfort his devastated wife and to be strong for her, he may “stuff” his own grief, or express his emotions in unhealthy ways (anger, withdrawal, excessive activity, or substance abuse).
This is not to say that how a woman grieves is “better” or that women handle child loss better than men. I don’t think anyone “handles” child loss. Certainly not without God’s grace, mercy, and comfort. And, often not without earthly help as well, such as grief counseling. Here again, men tend to be more reluctant to seek physical or mental health help to deal with the effects of grief than women.
Because men are often stoic and don’t talk about their fears or weaknesses as much as women do others may not realize how hard certain days can be for bereaved fathers. Fathers are just as profoundly affected as mothers are by their child’s absence on birthdays, holidays, the anniversary of their child’s death, and occasions that have special significance just to them. On Father’s Day one of their reasons for celebrating is no longer in their life.
I talked in May about Bereaved Mother’s Day, commemorated annually on the Sunday before Mother’s Day. I’ve also mentioned a term a fellow bereaved mom uses: “pre-grieving.” She has pointed out that often the dread of an upcoming holiday or significant date is worse than the occasion itself. We worry about our ability to cope with the memories and emotions the event will evoke. So, allowing ourselves to work through the emotions ahead of time – to weep, to take out our anger in safe ways, to pre-grieve – can enable us to get through the occasion without an emotional breakdown.
Bereaved Mother’s Day is a day set aside specifically to recognize mothers who have experienced out-of-order death; who have outlived their children. Bereaved Mother’s Day acknowledges how hard the following Sunday will be for some mothers.
Is there a corresponding Bereaved Father’s Day? Yes, there is. Although, inexplicably, it is not held the Sunday before Father’s Day, but the last Sunday in August.
This Father’s Day, please remember that some fathers may be hurting. The most gracious thing you can do is acknowledge their child who is no longer on this earth. Say the child’s name. If you have a sweet or fun memory of the child, please share it with the father. If you both get a little teary eyed, that’s okay. You’re man enough to handle it.