Request for Help: Do Men Grieve Differently?

Dear Ms. Ruff, I am looking for help for my husband. Nearly 3 years ago, our first child died at 39.5 weeks of my pregnancy. The cause of her death is unknown. She looked so perfect…so beautiful.

Of course, I do not have to explain to you the torment and torture that the death of a child brings to the very existence of the parent’s lives. A very important thing to mention is that 13 months after our first baby daughter died, we were blessed with a second baby daugther healthy and alive…she’s now almost 2 years old. I know how I deal with it…as best I can, but this email is not about me.

About 2.5 months ago my husband started having chest pains/discomfort and weird abdominal discomfort. I have said from the beginning of this…could this be delayed grief? Post traumatic Stress Disorder? Well, after ct scans, ultrasounds, stress test, this doctor that doctor, finally a heart cath was done. (We also saw a gastro doc…he did endoscope…found nothing. The heart surgeon found one area of blockage and put in a stent….the good news is we warded off a potential heart attack down the road. Even the surgeon said he was not confident that this amount of blockage (50-70 % in one place) was causing his discomfort. The bad news is he is still have the same discomfort. Could this be PTSD or grief?

I know men greive differently. I ask my husband…he doesn’t really accept the question. He grieved….he loves our baby daughter that lives in heaven…he misses her immensly. I have se en him cry a hand full of times. He says he mostly outwardly expresses his sorrow when he is alone. He says…why now…almost 3 years later. I know the first year he was being strong for me because I was so low. Then we both had to be strong for our second child….as strong as we could be. All of the chest pain started when we decided to sell our house, get a rental and build a new house. All of this…so I can take a pay cut and take a career dealing with children ( a direct result of my grief…finding my life’s meaning and purpuse for my baby that died).

I know that alone is enough to depress anyone…but my husband says he’s not worried one bit about these things. I wonder could all this be because we moved from the only place our daughter lived….in my body of course, but in that house? I have tried not to be too lengthy, but to give enough information for your thoughts. I’m just searching for anyone to help. Not, only my husband, but I still cry or tear up most days. I love my baby girl and long to hold her and wonder what happened and why it had to happen, every day….and all the terror, guilt, and fear that comes along with the death of a child.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for any words of love. I found your email in We Need Not Walk Alone that I received from an inquiry to Compassionate Friends. Thanks again, and may God bless you, — a grieving mother

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  • Dear …..
    Thank you for your e-mail and for joining us on our blog. We were very sorry to hear of the loss of you first child. We know how devastating it is to have our children die as we have such hopes, dreams and plans for them. Many women tell us of their concerns regarding their husbands responses to loss. It sounds like you have really made sure that he has had medical evaluation. Since we do not know him and have not seen him we have suggestions that we believe could impact you as a couple. We would first suggest that you and hopefully your husband listen to our February 23rd show with Dr. Irv Leon. Irv has professional as well as personal experience related to pre-natal loss. Other shows that we believe that would be helpful are the September 1, 2004 show with Susan Hawkes, “Death of a child in early infancy.” and April 13th show, “Gender and Grief: Knowing our differences, knowing our strengths” with Tom Golden. Secondly, we think that it would be helpful for you to seek out a group for parents who have lost children in early infancy. You could try to find a group through your local hospital or go to The Compassionate Friends web site. If you can’t find a group you may think about starting one. It has been our experience that self help grief groups can be very healing as you connect with a supportive community where you can explore your loss. We suggest that you take the pressure off your husband. Ask him to help you express your grief. Don’t try to make him a better griever. If you find a group ask him to go three times for you. Although it sounds like you are a wonderfully supportive wife none of us like to be told that we haven’t grieved correctly. We would also hope that you would come to The Compassionate Friends National Conference in Oklahoma City, in July. There will be several hundred workshops and great speakers. Let us know how things go. Gloria and Heidi

  • Dear “a grieving mother”,

    I am sorry to hear of the death of your precious daughter. The devastating experience of the death of a child is a life long experience that we all respond to and deal with differently. You question if your husband?s chest pain, GI upset etc can be the result of delayed grief or PTSD. To answer that question one must always obtain a thorough diagnostic workup to determine what if any organic disease is causing the symptoms. Since this resulted in no pathology to explain his symptoms, then it is important to look at other possibilities. Stress has been proven to impact the body in numerous and unusual ways, and of course grief is one of the greatest stressors of all. Research has shown that stressful life events are associated with a range of medical symptoms that have no identified pathology. The only way to know for certain is to seek the consultation of a physiologist or other support mechanism to explore any possible grief related issues. It is possible that the current move etc. is compounding the grief and also creating other ambivalent feelings of which he is unaware. It is worth the effort to explore any and all avenues for finding relief from those troubling symptoms.

    Dr. Coralease Cox Ruff