I lost my older daughter, 21-year-old Abbie, to a tragic tractor-trailer accident in April 2015. I had completed a two-year divorce battle just 10 months before this. After both gut punches, it felt like I might suffocate from the loss of Abbie and the sense of unguided direction I had as a single dad.
As I began to move through my grief, I found that it helped to be present for other people who also experienced loss. I became a certified grief counselor and often work with men who have lost a child to help them understand the unique way we handle emotional trauma. And I developed a workshop where we explore what that looks and feels like.
I share in the workshop that, while everyone’s process is different, it’s important to recognize these three mindsets to make the playing field accessible as a man prepares to engage his grief:
- Many different types of processes exist to help people grieve. They provide a spectrum of options and are understood by everyone in their own ways. The two that I have taught to individuals are Grief Recovery (not faith-based) and Grief Share (faith-based). It’s up to the individual which process he’ll choose to guide himself through this period of darkness.
- Each person brings into his healing his own life experiences. For example, my childhood was a secure one where I had loving parents and all that came with those circumstances. Some people’s experiences are quite different, where they’ve lived through trauma that many of us cannot imagine.
- Expectations play a role in a man’s approach to grief. For example, is he looking for healing? Does he have, or need, a support group or person he can contact? Does he have a direction he can take daily to navigate and perhaps overcome the grief and loneliness?
No matter who you are or what your background is, the emotional trauma of losing a child can feel overwhelming. Here are three things men often do as they engage with this animal and attempt to choke the life out of it before it consumes them:
- Cry: We cry as we grieve. We also experience certain thought patterns and feelings, and compartmentalize them by putting them in different boxes. We can then put those boxes on a shelf and reach for them anytime.
- Care: Our relationships are impacted as we absorb the trauma of loss. The impact will vary depending on the type and stage of relationship we’re in during this dark time.
- Count: We reflect on how many times we got together with or interacted with our child. We use this method to help us justify whether we were a good dad, husband, friend or co-worker as we grieve.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll unpack each of these concepts and explore the depth of how they touch our inner core as men who grieve. I invite you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts. They will help guide me as we lean on each other for healing.
P.S. If you have lost a child and are willing to share a story, please visit AJourneyWeShare.com for a new book we will publish in 2022.