Men and Grief: How Fathers Survive Loss
I distinctly remember one particular moment of February 9, 2006, the day my daughter, Beatrice Dianne Atlas, was stillborn at 36-weeks gestation. I recall sitting, holding my baby’s body. Propped up with pillows and wearing a hospital gown, I was unwillingly enthroned in the hospital bed. Friends and family had come from all distances to be with my husband and me during our loss. Tear-streaked faces surrounded me. Gently whispered prayers and condolences offered me some comfort.
Then I saw my husband, James, sitting in the hospital armchair, out beyond the edge of the circle. The visitors had, unintentionally, closed him off by forming a circle of love and sorrow around Beatrice and me. His face, at that moment, was closed and silent. He was an observer.
When I later asked my husband about that moment and what he felt, he recalled it clearly. “I felt distant from you when we were around other people because many people assume the loss is much greater for the woman,” says James. “I do feel like people looked to you when they were expressing their sympathies. Yes, I was included by others, but it was more periphery, so I sometimes felt like I was going through a different loss than you were.”
Why Men Are Often Left Alone to Grieve
The months of pregnancy revolve around the mother and the growing life inside her: prenatal appointments, baby showers, friends and family ask how she’s feeling. So it follows that, when the baby is stillborn, those close to the couple continue to shower the mother with attention and concern while not really knowing what to say to the father.
Unfortunately, this is true anytime a man experiences grief. Tom Ellis, a grief and family counselor at the Center for Grief, Loss, and Transition, in St. Paul, Minnesota, writes, “As a young man, I quickly learned how I was supposed to express myself and what was considered inappropriate behavior through such statements as, ‘Stand up and take it like a man;’ ‘It’s your responsibility, you’re the man of the house;’ and, ‘That’s a man’s job.’”
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