I’ve never felt more alone than when I was grieving the death of my child after my wife had a miscarriage. Once the initial moments of shock and sadness had passed, I remember how differently my wife reacted to this devastating loss. She cried. I wanted to, but couldn’t. She called friends. I remember holding my phone not knowing who to call or what to say if I did. She could name her feelings. All I managed to do was collapse on the couch and stare at the ceiling.
Like many men dealing with loss or other major life issues, I felt a hidden pressure to keep it all together. Real or perceived, I believed people expected my wife to struggle but me to be okay. In believing this, I found I showed up to the battle without any weapons.
Bad things happen to all of us. But when they happen to men, many of us lack even the most basic tools that our female counterparts wield with seeming ease. Our peers don’t approve of our grief and our hearts don’t expect grief. As a result, we tend to either ignore our grief entirely or go it alone, unprepared. Neither path offers much hope for healing. But we can change this if we add an element of transparency to our relationships, reflect on our emotional well-being, and admit our weaknesses.
In the years since, I’ve made changes to my life. I committed to face the next battle, whatever it may be, with a full arsenal. Here are three things that helped me.
This story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.
I still find it difficult to share about this loss, but I found opening up about little things makes discussing the big things possible. Looking back, I realized my relationships were all compartmentalized. With work friends, I talked work. With neighbors I talked weather, car repair, or gardening. Only with my wife did I talk about family. So when family tragedy hit us both, I didn’t have outside help. There was no one on the bench.
But there is a way to address this. Make a decision to share personal matters with people outside of those designated compartments. Getting rid of those compartments may not be a realistic goal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make doors between them. It has to be a decision, a concerted effort, but we too are capable of saying things like, “I felt sad today when…” “I feel stressed about…” or “I worry that…”.
Know Thyself, Emotionally
I frequently get canker sores in my mouth. Several years into our marriage, my wife noticed a pattern. I’d get these sores whenever I was feeling stressed. I can be so emotionally unaware that my body can break out in sores and I still don’t notice.
Emotional awareness, I realized, is key. Look for physical signs. Stomachaches, headaches, skin rashes, canker sores, or even high blood pressure are all common symptoms of emotional stress. So is listening to the voices around you. Are people asking, “Are you okay?” or “Why are you upset?” Your instinct may be to doubt these inquiries, but maybe there is truth there you need to hear.
When all else fails, I have learned the profound power of weakness. I hate admitting need. I like to know the answer to a question before I ask it. I like giving a solution to a problem in the same sentence in which I name the problem. But I have found, “I’m struggling,” to be words of power and healing. These words give me allies when I say them. My greatest fear has always been that if I reached out someone might not reach back. But if I never reach out, I only guarantee that fear to come true. The words, “I need help,” are indeed a risk. But when the alternative is guaranteed negative results, it’s a risk worth taking.
Doug Bender is a father of three, a writer with I Am Second, and the author of I Choose Peace: Raw Stories of Real People Finding Contentment & Happiness. He lives on a hobby farm with his family and enjoys running ultra-marathons.