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.
William Winston Whitsett says
I had the privilege of meeting you and some of your friends and family at a BBQ restaurant shortly after the death of your beloved Abbie. I do appreciate the lunch invitation and it was a pleasure to meet those who where in attendance. You where more helpful to me than you know. I’ll never forget you telling me that you could never ever imagine not seeing your daughter drive down the roadway to the restaurant we were having lunch at. Your face and eyes revealed your true pain. I felt it toooo
If you will remember I was in Savannah after the murder of my 21 year old son, Wil. After identifying his body and the subsequent trial of those responsible still seems just like a bad dream. I stayed in Savannah for 3 years until the trials completion and wonder how I made it through that time period… I’ll have to admit that my need for vengeance was a daily motivating factor that seem to propel me from day to day. I evidentially came to believe my pent up anger and rage was affecting my overall health and I decided to turn my will over to the hands of God. This was my saving grace. The level of support I received from Savannahians was unbelievable and you played a part in that. So thank you, Jimmy
PS: congratulations with your foundation…this is indeed good stuff!