Sunday, June 21, 2015

To the unsung heroes of Father's Day

To the unsung heroes of Father's Day

I wonder if this is how pastors feel delivering a sermon for Mother's Day.

After all, they aren't moms themselves. But they have to somehow encourage moms, and speak as though they get it.

Likewise, I've never been a bereaved father.

But I feel it's really important to tell you today, that you matter. And your sacrifice and grief aren't altogether unnoticed.

I know that time and time again, after the loss of your child, well-meaning friends and family came up to you wanting to know how your wife was. Never mind that you lost a child too. And in spite of the fact that your grief was just as real, just as overwhelming, you answered those friends and family.

In fact, you yourself were just as concerned about your wife.

Something in your family broke -- and you couldn't fix it. You try to fix everything in the house -- the budget, the lawn, the cars, the dishwasher. You take your job of providing stability and safety for your family very seriously.

But this -- this was something you could never fix. This was a tragedy you couldn't prevent. These were hearts you couldn't save from being broken -- and hearts you can't seem to mend.

And that perception of failure  ... the helplessness as you watched your whole family grieve . . . undergirded everything.

You probably went to work too soon. There were now not only a house, food and cars to pay for, but funeral expenses and medical bills. Maybe your wife had to quit work. Or take unpaid maternity leave. Financially, things got way more complicated. In spite of your hidden tears, numb heart, anger or sadness . . . you went back to work anyway.

I know you pulled more weight around the house too. My husband did. Grief always left me exhausted, and I struggled to care. What did food matter? What did a clean house matter? My husband took on a large role of providing food (even if PB & J), and tidying the house more. He was "on" constantly.

That left little room for his tears. Or his feelings. His grief, as it turned out, wouldn't totally rear it's head until my grief had started to settle in a bit.

That's what you guys do. You put us bereaved moms first. And even take our comments and badgering that "you don't care" or "you don't seem to miss them or love them like we did!" You take accusations, and know it's not true. And then you keep pushing forward.

I know that bereaved dads don't have the same social support moms have.

We moms -- well, we can cry in public as much or as little as we need to without breaking any social norms. We get to attend support groups, be a part of bereaved mom's groups galore on Facebook, read tons of mommy blogs and books, and we even have our own International Bereaved Mother's Day.

You guys? Well, I hate to say it, but socially, you're a little screwed when it comes to pregnancy and child loss.

Most people don't think to ask how you are. Many of you don't want to talk about it, but even if you did -- who would you talk to? Support groups sound like they would just be full of weepy women, and not exactly your cup of tea. Or pint of beer. Or whatever. Just not for you.

It's not like guys enjoy sitting around talking about feelings. You have to DO something, like put an engine together, or climb a mountain, or kayak the river to get your emotions out.

And yet again, we bereaved mommas totally misinterpret your intentions. "Why are you running away?" "Could you just slow down?" "Can we please just talk things through?" And maybe most of all . . . "How are you FEELING?"

You are busy fighting for your family the only way you know how -- with less support than you deserve to have from all the rest of us. And I want to tell you, we see. We care. And we recognize the sacrifices you make for your family.

I didn't always see these things in my husband. I accused him at times of not caring about our babies. I begged him to come to a support group to no avail. I got all irked when he had "mental checkout time" in front of the computer or outside.

I wanted him to grieve like me.

But he didn't. And now I understand more why.

He needed to keep it together to make our family run while I was fallen apart.

He did that out of love and self-sacrifice.

He did that because he's a bereaved dad, but also because he's a husband.

So to all you bereaved fathers out there . . . I want you to know it's ok to NOT have a happy Father's Day. It's OK if today reminds you of the son or daughter you wish was making you breakfast today, or tossing a football outside, or going fly fishing with you later.

It's OK to grieve. And to do it in the way that makes sense to you.

So go ahead, climb a mountain today. Or play computer games. Or work on the car. Or whatever you have to do to be OK.

We'll hold down the fort here for you for awhile.

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