I feel ill equipped to write about a father’s grief. Why? Because I’m not a father; I’m a mother.
But I live with a father. I share my life with a father who has grieved; who still does grieve. He is my husband. He is the man that I have loved for the last 14 years. I look back at us that long ago, as two young college students, falling in love with each other in our off-campus apartments where we met. We had no idea the roller coaster that would be in store for us.
This man, my husband, the father of my children, he grieves too. He grieves the loss of our beloved Marco. He lost a son too. His flesh and blood, taken from him. The baby he hoped and prayed for – gone. It was his loss too. His innocence is gone just as mine is.
People may not see it. Early on after our loss, people would ask him how I was doing. But what about him? Didn’t he matter? Was he not allowed to be sad too? Why didn’t they ask how he was doing?
Yes, it’s true, his relationship as a father to Marco, was different than that of mine, as a mother. He did not carry Marco as I did in my womb. He did not have the physical changes that come with pregnancy. He did not feel Marco do a somersault inside him. But that can’t take away the depth of his love for Marco, and the intensity with which he mourned his loss.
He may not talk much about it. His eyes might not fill up with tears randomly when the grief sneaks up on him. He may not go to the infant loss support group that I still attend occasionally, but yes, he grieves too.
So, since my husband doesn’t write about his grief, or attend a support group, or talk much about it, how can I be sure it’s there? How do I know that he still grieves too?
I know by the shirt that would hang in his closet for too long. The shirt that he would only wear if he had absolutely no other clean dress shirts – even the ones he didn’t like. The shirt that would make him say, “I hate wearing that shirt”. That phrase right there – about that shirt – that’s how I know that he still grieves too. It’s the shirt that he was wearing the day he had to leave work early and dash to the hospital. The day that Marco was born. The shirt he was wearing when he stood by Marco’s side, tears in his eyes, with his wife in recovery after having had a c-section. He was lost in that shirt. He had to kiss his first born child, his son, goodbye wearing that shirt. He grieved heavily in that shirt. It’s too painful for him to wear now. It might look ordinary to our neighbor, a friend, or a stranger. It’s a nice shirt, after all. It fits well, technically speaking. But figuratively, it’s the most uncomfortable article of clothing he owns. It wraps him in the grief he has so desperately tried to shelve.
That’s how I know that my husband still grieves and mourns the loss of our son. So, I remind myself, that just because he doesn’t grieve the way I do, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t grieve.
Yes, he has grief. But his grief isn’t an old friend sitting next to him comfortably on the couch like mine is. Rather, for him, it sits in a box on a shelf. It’s neatly tucked away on that shelf, and there is probably a pair of shoes in front of it, or maybe two. There is dust on the lid, because it doesn’t get opened very often.
Why would he want to open it, if when he does, sadness and heartache seep out. Would-have and should-have beens come out and smack him on the face. He should have been talking to his 5 year old son about the World Cup right now. But alas, there is no 5-year-old son to talk to about the World Cup. Why would he want to feel the pain of that particular should-have-been?
He is aware of the box. He knows it sits there. But he rarely thinks about it. He knows that it has dust and cobwebs on it, which most likely makes the thought of opening it even more scary, because if he were to open it, he’d first have to clear all of that off.
Even though it’s a daunting task to open that box of grief, he still does from time to time. He can’t escape it. Every once in a while, it whispers for him to open it up and have a moment. And he does. And then he closes it up until the next time.
His way of grieving may not be my way of grieving. In fact, we couldn’t be more opposite in our grief styles. It hasn’t always been easy to accept that. Sometimes I wish his grief lived comfortably in him rather than hiding in a box. But alas, it is not that way. His grief is HIS grief. He has the right to live with it in any way he wants to and needs to. I remind myself that just because he doesn’t talk about Marco as often as I do doesn’t mean that he loves him any less than I do. Actually, his love for Marco is such a tender one, that he really likes to keep it just for himself.
So, when you see a father who has lost a child, know that he is grieving too. He might be back to work the next week, working away at the computer and talking to clients. He might not show up next to his partner at the local support group. He may not talk much about his child, but remember that his world has also crumbled. He grieves too. Fathers grieve too.