As grief steps into the spotlight of mainstream media, there is a light being shone on the bereaved mother. She is vulnerable and strong all at once. She inspires our deepest sympathies and encourages us to listen to her story. But, what about the fathers? Despite our best intentions, women have become the face of grief and the men who grieve are being left in the shadows.
Even in our loss community, there is an assumption that we are keeping men out of the spotlight because that is the way they want it. We espouse the myth that men grieve differently from women and that they wish to do so in private. Perhaps, men don’t actually grieve differently and we don’t know because we’ve left them alone with our assumptions about their strength and stoic nature.
Related: The Forgotten Father
Our husbands and partners and boyfriends don’t grieve differently because they are men. They grieve differently because they are individuals facing their own unique experience with grief. The same way that one bereaved mother grieves differently from another. Our stories of grief may connect or overlap in places, but no two stories are the same. We accept this as truth for bereaved mothers, so why have we given our bereaved fathers a different truth? Furthermore, we need to ask ourselves why we are giving men the narrative for their grief when we so strongly encourage women to write their own.
In our community of loss parents, it is never our intention to judge the grief journey of another. However, we are doing that with the fathers in our community. When we tell men that they grieve differently, there is an implication that they are grieving wrong. Our intention is to showcase understanding, but the impact is different. We are so busy trying to help men grieve the right way, that we are missing how they have chosen to grieve. Our intentions are good, but it is our impact that matters.
Related: The Loneliness of a Father
We need to stop telling men how they grieve, and instead listen to their stories. Their stories will differ from yours. Not because they are men, but because their experience is not your experience. Even if you lost a child together, you are not the same person. Your grief may travel side by side without ever touching the other’s path.
This is what makes grief so hard. The journeys are difficult and they are heartbreaking. We don’t want to walk them alone. But remember, we are not. Even when our husbands and partners don’t match our strides, their path is paved with the same heartache and devastation. Ultimately, we need to remember the following: men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus. Instead, we’re all just trying to make sense of life here on Earth without the children we love so deeply.
Rachel Whalen is a mother, wife, and Kindergarten teacher from Barre, Vermont. Her life’s work is to keep the memory of her daughter, Dorothy, alive through words both spoken and written. Rachel shares her family’s journey through loss and all that has come after on her blog: An Unexpected Family Outing.