How to Support a Grieving Dad

I often hear from grieving dads who tell me they feel alone in their grief after the death of their child.  It amazes me that after going through something as profound as the death of a child, that these men feel so alone and isolated.  As much as it amazes me, I can relate because I too felt alone after the death of my two children.

I felt so alone that I would go online and search for other grieving dads.  However, I didn’t find what I was looking for or needed at that point in my grief.  I didn’t find it because most men do not feel like they have permission to tell their story or to share how they are feeling out of fear of being looked at as less than a man or weak.  We all know that society is not comfortable with an openly grieving person, but they are even more uncomfortable with a man showing his emotions.

This problem comes from men being taught at a young age that we should not show “weakness” and that we have to “be strong”.  As a result of these lessons we do everything we can to hide our pain.  We try to take on the role of protector.  We feel it is our role to help our wives through the loss and to keep everything operating in the household.  This approach only prolongs the grief process and can delay it for years.

Because most people in society feel uncomfortable with a grieving parent’s pain, they want to try to solve their problem, but they can’t.  This isn’t something you can give a pep talk for and expect the person to walk away feeling differently.  You cannot solve this problem.

It took me a long time and a lot of internal pain to realize I had to address my own pain before I could help my wife through hers.  I realized it was important that we should travel this journey together, helping each other when we can.  Once I realized I need to address my own pain, I started to open myself up to others that were there to help me.

Once I started to address my pain, I made it my mission to reach out to other grieving dads and so I started the Grieving Dads Project as a way to create a resource for men and provide a location where these dads can go to speak honestly and openly about what they are dealing with.  This blog is a place where these men can go and not feel so alone and to realize that other men are thinking and feeling the same way.

As part of building the Grieving Dads Project, I have traveled the last year conducting workshops and speaking to child loss support groups as well as conducting one-on-one interviews with grieving dads.  These interviews were designed to help me capture the rawness of this profound grief.  The information I learned and the stories I heard will be told with brutal honesty in a book that will provide a glimpse into the aftermath of what grieving dads deal with when a child dies.

As a result of the Grieving Dads Project, I have spoken to hundreds of grieving dads and the one thing I have learned is people need to tell their story.  Not only do they need to tell their story, they need to be allowed to share their emotions while telling their story.  The following are a few ways to provide support to the Grieving Dads you may know:

1.      Encourage them to talk about what they are feeling and thinking (even the really dark stuff).

2.      Remind them that they are not alone.

3.      Let them speak openly about their pain.

4.      Do not try to solve their problems.

5.      Encourage them to find support groups for men.  These groups could be grief related or a group of men that are all dealing with various life struggles.

6.      Do not push them through their grief and allow them to tell their stories.

7.      Allow them the time to process what has happen to them.

8.      Allow them to turn to or away from their faith as needed.

9.      If they start to cry, let them; it helps cleanse the soul.

10.    Let them know you are there for them at any time of the day, and mean it.

Keep in mind that people that are grieving are ultra-sensitive, so it is important to think before you speak.  Understand how your words may be interpreted by the receiver.  If you really don’t know what to say, say nothing.  There is healing in silence so it is better to sit quietly and listen than to fill the air with words that are not helpful.

Kelly Farley 2011

Kelly Farley

More Articles Written by Kelly

Kelly Farley is a bereaved father that has experienced the loss of his two children over an eighteen month span. He lost his daughter Katie in 2004 and son Noah in 2006. During that time he realized that there is a lack of support services available to fathers suffering such a loss. As a result of that realization, he is working on his first book as a resource for Grieving Dads. He created and maintains a website for this project at www.GrievingDads.com. Kelly has also written several articles on the subject of men’s grief and has traveled throughout North America to interview other grieving dads in order to create a resource book that captures the experiences of other men on this journey. His book will be completed by the end of 2010 and is expected to highlight 30-40 real life inspirational stories from dads that have survived the loss of a child. He is on a mission to bring awareness to men’s grief and provide hope to the many men that often grieve in silence due to societal expectations.

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  • Giacinto (Jesse) says:

    We lost our son on December 9 2010. Along with the grief I also have anxiety and depression. I am in counselling for this. I want to find a group meetings for grief locally. I went back to work first week of January 2011. I kept trying to move forward and the harder I tried the harder it was. I got so sick I couldn’t even think straight. We tried a trip just my wife and I for a week. When we came back it felt even harder for me to move forward. I went back to work again and tried to just move forward. A 8 hour work shift felt like a 16 hour day on a road paving crew durning a massive heat wave with no water or food. I haven’t been able to leave the house in the last 4 months without someone with me because I feel like I am going to freak and not be able to control myself. At home now I stay in 1 room because every other room reminds me of my son. I feel trapped and alone. I have been looking for places to go with other people but there is nothing close by. There are days where I froce myself to go for a drive. I have even froced myself to go grocery shopping and have gotten as far to pay for everything and then it hits me. I make it back to the car and am waiting to calm down so I can get home. Weeks go by befor I even try to do that again.

  • Kelly Farley says:

    Giacinto (Jesse),

    Thank you for reaching out and sharing all of your struggles. I can relate with what you are saying because I too experienced most of what you are describing. I would have panic attacks and work was absolutely exhausting. I worked part time at my company for 2 years before I went back full time and there are still days I ask myself “why am I working on stuff that really doesn’t matter, my children had died.” I get your pain. I eventually started to take anti-depressants to help me cope and slow my mind down long enough to regain some type of control. Anti-depressants went against everything I had ever believed in; I was desperate for help and willing to do whatever it took to survive. I want to invite you to call me, I want to help you anyway I can. If anything, just to let you know that you are not alone in what you are experiencing and that it eventually gets much much better. I wish I could tell you when, but it does.

    Peace.

    Kelly

  • David Taylor. says:

    This made me cry once again.
    I lost my son last September, and I worry every day as to where he is.
    I ask God every night to have mercy on him, and to give him a small corner of His house,
    where he can feel safe, respected and loved.
    But most of all, safe and secure.

    He was always his warm self, honest and direct, and wished no harm to anyone.
    He loved his family, his friends, his dogs, his music and his garden.
    He lived for the beauty of nature.
    He often said, ‘All I need now is a good woman.’ But he was too ‘renfermé’.

    He was 45 years old, a good, kind and gentle son, with some grey in his beard..
    We lived together, with our two dogs, and we miss him so much.
    As one of my two biological daughters said, ‘You didn’t adopt him. He adopted you.’
    That was twenty years ago. He roamed across country for years, first with one dog, then with her son.
    Finally he got me to come to live in his his village, on the other side of the country, and he stopped roaming.
    He couldn’t express himself easily, but often he would leave a little note somewhere, ‘Thanks Dad’.

    Nice people came to his funeral service, some whom I was meeting for the first time, to say how special he was.
    I thank God for that, and for the company of the sweet, intelligent, knowing dogs he left me.
    The house would be so empty without them.
    I did also find a young tenant for his room, someone so kind and considerate, I think Bernie sent him here.

    I am making a small public garden in his memory, on a corner in our village where everyone knew him.
    Some people have brought plants, mostly from a short list I made, of plants that the deer won’t eat.
    May this little garden remind us every day of Bernie.
    His loss is like a bright light suddenly gone out.

    This made me cry once again.

    Merci d’avoir été mon fils, Berns.

  • N.L says:

    My heart goes out to all parents, siblings, grandparents , family and friends. There is no words to express the pain , emotional, mental state we have. I like to think they are all in a better place and we will meet them again. I know this does not make it easier, I lost my only sister my best friend, my cousin , a brother to me in 10 months…hard times , keep your head up., keep busy, this to shall pass…is not the answers we need or want. I know they are in a better place. Bless you all