FEBRUARY 22, 2007 – A FATHER’S GRIEF:? FRED MOUNTJOY, bereaved father of Barlyn, Maralin, and Marian.? Both Barlyn and Maralin died shortly after birth in 1961, while Marian who suffered her whole life from a heart-lung abnormality, died at the age of 33 in 1996.? Fred and his wife Marilyn are parents with no surviving children and have been active in their local chapter of The Compassionate Friends since 1996.? Fred is a licensed psychotherapist in the State of New Jersey, concentrating on grief therapy.? Fred discusses behaviors that interfere with grief as well as grieving for a special needs child.
Fred Mountjoy:? It was discussed that we had anticipatory grief and so forth but from my point of view, all death is sudden and, and even though we knew Marian was severely handicapped in what she could do, the anticipation of her death, we knew at any time it could come.? That’s where denial is a wonderful thing.? It gets you through something like that.? And denial leads to hope, I think, at that point, and it was very sudden.? She was – my wife was just ready to transport her to her work area, which was ten miles south of us, and she got in the car and died suddenly and there was no warning at that point.? She was ready to go to work.? She was anticipating it.? One of the things she would look forward to several times a week and Marilyn and Marian got into the car and she said to my wife, “Mommy, I don’t feel well,” and just died.
Fred Mountjoy:? I very firmly believe a father’s grief is more different than a mother’s grief.? A mother’s grief, I think, is more sudden and deeper and more intense because the mother knew that child nine months before we fathers.
Fred Mountjoy:? It preoccupied me.? I did away with the – well, maybe the preoccupation of the grief – but, I did go to work; however, Marilyn was at home and it was a situation where she didn’t know what to do.? She lost her identity as a mother and a huge job, the caretaking, which was a 24-hour-a-day job.? I was away.? I was going? to school.? I was coaching and everything and I would come home and that’s when it would start with myself and the family.? However, Marilyn was there 24 hours a day with Marian.? The whole identity there that Marilyn had lost.? And that was the difference there about that grief that I was able to go to work and I had fantastic support of my colleagues at the school.? Marilyn did not have the support that I did.? Marilyn did work part-time as a nurse at a local hospital and it was almost unmentioned when she returned to her part-time job.? She walked in and her supervisor said, “Well, here’s your assignment.”
Fred Mountjoy:? You know when you have to be very into something and focused on something and other thoughts are entering your head – concerns about my wife and what’s going on there – it just didn’t go well with the coaching position.? I realized what it was and I resigned after the season because you’re standing there as a football coach and you have to be ready to call plays or be very aware of what’s going on and the people would be looking at me and the players would be looking at me because I hadn’t made a move, I hadn’t made a call, and I finally realized, I can’t deal with this.
Fred Mountjoy:? The death of a child is the most stressful situation anybody is going to go through and I tell my clients that stress is the enemy of the body and it really tears apart the body.? It lowers your immune system’s ability to fight infection and there are just all sorts of things that stress has such a negative effect on.? Not only your mental, your emotional, your spiritual, but also your physical well-being.
Fred Mountjoy:? That’s part of the tradition of the male back from prehistoric times.? We are the protectors and we have been ingrained with that forever that we’re supposed to be the strong one.? I’ve gone through many of the examples that I’ve read in some of the books that I would be in church and maybe my wife wouldn’t be there and people would be asking, “How’s your wife?? How’s she taking it?”? Nobody would ask about me.?
Fred Mountjoy:? Well, there are a number of behaviors that I’ve come in contact with with my clients.? One is I call it workaholism.? The man has a place to go usually.? The role, and he’ll go to work and find solace in work and the hesitation of coming home to re-experience the pain each day, watching his wife – the hesitation that he’ll spend more time at work.? Your life is changed forever, and the idea that your work hasn’t changed that much.? It’s still in the same place.? For myself, I had the same students.? I was greeted by the same faculty each day and so forth, but life changed dramatically outside of that area.
Fred Mountjoy:? I’m sure the women in the workplace would probably have some of the same thoughts about it.? I have to go home and face the pain, see my husband sad, and so forth.? With today’s two family incomes, both people working, and so forth, I’m sure that the mother went through some of the same thoughts and hesitations about leaving a very comfortable area and then going back home where the sadness was so prevalent as with a man.? Men also – there’s also the danger of numbing yourself with alcohol.? That’s the great escape – alcohol.?
Fred Mountjoy:? Avoid any substance that’s going to numb them, interfere with the grief, because I’ve experienced the fact that several men have gone to alcohol and it also complicates the relationship between a husband and a wife and the surviving siblings if there are any also.? They see the father escaping.? He’s numb.? He’s just sitting there.
Fred Mountjoy:? So the whole thing there with siblings, and maybe Heidi went through this, is if she saw how much pain her parents are going through, some of the children I’ve come in contact with think maybe the parents loved that child more than they loved me.
Fred Mountjoy:? The whole situation there for siblings, too, surviving children is many of them are told you’ve got to be strong for your parents and don’t you cry in front of your parents, and don’t you show your grief in front of your parents because they’re going through so much pain.? So there’s a lot of pressure on the surviving kids.
Fred Mountjoy:? Women are much more verbal about expressing their grief and expressing the issues that they have in the grief situation and anybody that goes to Compassionate Friends, their monthly meetings, will look around the room and see many more women there seeking help and support than men.
Fred Mountjoy:? Get to Compassionate Friends or get to some group that you can deal with your grief rather than hiding it, and raising your blood pressure, and having all the body ailments that go along with grief and that stress.? But men have a hesitation.? In any type of support, they don’t go into therapy that easily.? They will not discuss their pain.? They take that stoic attitude.?
Fred Mountjoy:? Well, I guess, being my stoic self as the man is supposed to be, I just thought I was doing the right thing and trying to be strong for my wife and keeping everything in, and it resulted in high blood pressure and diabetes.
Fred Mountjoy:? And there are other things that men have.? The headaches.? Many of them have come down with what appear to be migraines or joint pain or just the fatigue that goes along with grief.? It gets to you.? I have a client right now that her daughter died a couple of years ago and her attitude was, “Oh, it’s over.? I don’t even think about it.? Why think about it?? It only makes you sad.”? And she took that attitude and hit the medication route very soon and now all of a sudden
Fred Mountjoy:? Well, the anti-depressants and the sleeping, which I run into a lot of people who get upset with me because I’m somewhat against medication initially in grief because my position is your grief has the same intensity and the depth that you loved that child and not to feel and not to hurt, you’re denying that child ever existed if you hide your emotions.
Fred Mountjoy:? They say grief sometimes has a negative effect on a family; however, the life of Marian, I really think made us a very tightly-knit family because we all went places together.? It was the three of us.? If we were shopping, it was the three of us.? If we went on vacation, it was the three of us.? It did interfere – and this might sound ridiculous to grieving people, but it did interfere with our social life and we were not invited out because we had to arrange for somebody very competent to come in to take care of Marian while we were out and we had to refuse any invitations so people just stopped inviting us and it became lonely so the three of us, I think, bonded very closely together and when Marian died, the third part of that bond was a big missing thing, the void that it left in us.? Any time we went shopping for a couple of years after, it was a sad adventure because we did not have Marian with us and I was not pushing her around in the wheel chair and doing things.? So that grief after Marian died from a father’s standpoint of view was, I lost my role as the protection of my daughter at that time, the caretaker of my daughter.
Fred Mountjoy:? Not only for men, but as parents, we look at the death of a child as almost impossible to get through our grief; however, we do have choices and that’s the big thing I try to instill in my clients especially with the death of a child is that we do have choices.? We have the choice of isolating ourselves, or going into the behaviors that interfere with our grief, or in time, take a look at that there is some hope in the future.? And the choices are there for us.? We as human beings do have the right of choice and the availability of choice.