By Kathy Fanger
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. And those crushed in spirit he saves. Psalm 34:19
While holding onto Jesus’ promise of one day being reunited with his child in heaven, a father feels the loss for what could have been. He may miss his child, recalling their goodness and the unique legacy left to those who remain.
The parent-child bond is one of the most meaningful relationships a person will experience. Parents are not expected to outlive their child and are rarely prepared for the reality of the child’s death. The child was given to them as a gift from God – their lives never to be the same again.
When any child dies, parents grieve the loss of possibilities and all of the hopes and dreams they had for their child. They grieve the potential that will never be realized and experiences they will never share…celebrations, perhaps graduations and weddings, possibly grandchildren, even adult friendship.
Gender differences in grieving
There is no time-line for grief. And each individual grieves differently. Waves of denial, depression, and acceptance swing back and forth over time. Yet when gender is considered, men and women, fathers and mothers, tend to grieve in different ways. This also varies among cultures. While women tend to cry openly and need to talk with others, men tend to internalize their emotions. Fathers are frequently viewed as the protector of the family and ‘strong.’ Expressing emotions openly may be considered a weakness. Working fathers may immerse themselves at their jobs. Coworkers tend not to bring up the loss and ask how they are doing. Men may also escape to spending hours in the garage or elsewhere to deal with their sadness thus removing themselves from the reminders within the home.
Women tend to focus on the bedroom and possessions of their child, whereas men may not put importance in things, but rather the relationship for what it could have been, and even idolizing the child. Men may even distance themselves from their surviving children. Very few fathers will visit the cemetery, yet mothers often find comfort in doing so, either alone or with their family.
When men do not give themselves the permission to openly express their grief, their health may be seriously affected. They may experience higher rates of depression, alcohol and substance abuse, and mental health issues. Differences in grieving may cause relationship difficulties, even divorce, especially at a time when parents need each other’s support the most. Talking openly about their child and how they are coping with grieving is very important. Seeking counseling with a professional, a priest or minister may be beneficial. Praying together can bring strength, comfort and hope.
Suggestions to fathers who grieve…
Talk about your child often using his/her name. Ask family, friends or neighbors for help when you need it to free you to grieve or take time for yourself. Take time deciding what to do with your child’s belongings. Think about how you wish to spend significant days: their birthday or anniversary of their death.
In time, a support group may be helpful to you, or private counseling. These may be available to you through your parish, hospital, Hospice, or organizations such as KARA or Center for Living with Dying. You may start a legacy to honor your child, by volunteering, supporting, or creating an organization, fund or event. The life and goodness of a child and memories of the joys and love you shared continue to live on in you. Take care of yourself, finding activities and people that revitalize you. Attending Mass and being among a caring parish community will help you as well as your family. Visiting the cemetery where you have buried your child will give you a sacred place and time to work through your grief and celebrate the time you did have together.
“Grieving the Loss of a Child” Healing Hearts of West New York, 2017
Having Faith During Difficult Times
June 13, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Church of the Transfiguration
4325 Jarvis Avenue, San Jose
Presenter: Monsignor John Sandersfeld
This is a FREE workshop.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. How has faith helped me during the difficult times in my life, to come to know my own giftedness and that of others, and live life more fully in the joy of the Kingdom?
Caregivers Mass and Brunch
July 22, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Gate of Heaven Catholic Cemetery
All Saints Chapel
22555 Cristo Rey Drive, Los Altos
Caregivers and the person you care for, if they are able, are invited to pray with others and enjoy a complimentary brunch. Please RSVP by July 14.
For more information, contact (650) 428-3730 or firstname.lastname@example.org