Steve in Ga. shares: My wife and I grieve very differently and at different times....
Fortunately, as humans we are capable of making choices and going down our paths "differently." Those who understand, some of the grieving process and the possible different "men - women reactions," can, sometimes, cope better with what is happening.
How we are reacting - IS the way we are healing....
Men and women fair better if they will understand that our reactions are how we are dealing with our pain, and what is "right" for him most likely will not be "right" for her. The loving relationship can remain intact when fear of change or "will s/he ever move on or be who s/he used to be" concerns can give way to s/he is reacting and changing normally in the grieving process. Healing can gradually happen.
At the time of loss, most men assume the important role of protector of his wife and family. His actions are inline with what he might expect of himself while his wife is consumed with her immediate physical and emotional care. While dealing with intense emotional trauma, a father’s initial emotional release usually is framed in the larger role of taking care of details.
Mom "talks with" several others; Dad “does” physical activities
Many dads, not all, will discuss issues around the loss for several weeks or a few months. This early discussion usually includes the father’s desire to fix the situation. John, in Canada, writes: “I wish I could have answers that I could give to my wife. We are still in search of specialists.” Finding doctors to help in a future pregnancy or to explain why a loss occurred is often one way a father can seek to help his wife. Fathers often seek out a support group for help—especially for his grieving wife.
He will continue healing with some other factor of his life (sports, work, hobbies, etc.). To heal, fathers have built decks, cleared land for gardens, written journals, learned a new sport, or completed long overdue projects. The energy released in these ventures helps to redirect pain, anger, stress, etc. of their loss.
Tom Golden suggests that it helps if the man can realize that he is actually working through his pain as he participates in these activities. While busy and active he can safely think about his child or pain of loss - if briefly. He can understand that the activity is a release of his pain (much like a mother's tears). Dr. Golden recommends pairing some of these activities with acknowledgement that these are done in memory of or because of their loss. In Golden’s book, he also suggests planning special events purposefully in memory of a lost loved one.
Doing is the key word here. By doing something in memory of a child, the father can mix healing with fixing. This is like a mom crying and talking and making mementos. Both are expressing their grief by releasing pain, anger, sadness. Both are doing normal grief activities.
A father gradually realizes he can't really change or fix what happened and develops new ways of dealing with his sadness. Again, these are usually private, non group oriented, and different than what mom will do. After a period of time, he feels the urgency to move on.
Two Paths of Healing ~ Often Cause Confusion and More Pain
A mother's pain and tears is often confusing and frightening to a father
Some dads have expressed that they are afraid to bring the loss up to their wife because she cries and becomes very upset. Then, he feels as though he has caused her more pain. Dads are confused by all the emotions that are so overwhelming to him...to them. Then, the dad may "shut down" in order not to cause more conflicting feelings.
Yet, fathers usually see that their wife seems to need to talk and cry about the loss long after he their need to do so has passed.
A "shutdown causes walls to grow" or communication problems
If either or both parents feel "shut out" or unable to express how they are feeling, for too long in a relationship, walls can develop. Then, various situations can happen: the mom or dad may become more drawn inward; one of them may begin assigning how they think the other one feels; it becomes harder and harder to talk, etc. Healing actually is slowed because the pain of what is happening in their relationship becomes all consuming.
Time for a compromise and a "coffee break"
Forcing someone to react the same as you do or the way you want them to, uses energy and time to a disadvantage. Each person has to heal in their way. It is good to communicate these differences, reactions, and feelings as we move along. Often, feeling very strongly that some discussion has to happen...now, to keep communication lines open, a compromise needs to be considered. For example, mom may save her tears for later and dad will talk (when he would rather not...) thus providing a definite safe time to engage in healing communication.
Our groups talk about the coffee break. This is an away from home (and distractions) time to talk about the situation as it is now in regards to the grieving process. It's not easy, at first, but it frees each of you, because it allows an open, brief time to discuss where you are, what you feel, and connect on these basics. You arelistening to each other knowing that each is to accept "where you are now."
Often a husband and wife are experiencing the same emotions - just with different reactions.
I have had parents share that they are actually surprised to find that the emotions they are feeling are very similar, but their actual reactions are very different i.e. Mom is sad and cries (for release of feelings) while dad is sad and angry and plays basketball (for release of feelings) with the usual crowd. Mom "thought" dad "had forgotten" and gone on with his life. Dad can learn that crying is a safe, healthy response to pain and mom can learn that physical activity can be very helpful for release of stress.
The Need for support groups..
Support groups can be very helpful as parents deal with different reactions along grief's path. Being part of a group allows a person to address his/her needs when a spouse or family can’t be as supportive because they are working through their own grief. A support group may save relationships because they can provide many different scenarios for the different needs of the bereaved parent(s).
When mom gets home from a meeting, she has worked through more of her grief and doesn't need to go over every detail with dad. Then Dad won't get burned out by mom's need to verbally work through her loss...over and over again. Then, they can both be more prepared for other family times.
One SHARE Atlanta father told me that knowing that his wife was attending a safe place to deal with her emotions, gave him a sense of peace. His healing was helped when he saw his wife’s healing taking place.
As we work to learn how to help each other through these times of confusion and change, it can save marriages and actually build a stronger relationship. My husband has often said, "We've lost three babies, grieved and healed...we can survive most anything because we know how!" Compromise and a real desire to try to allow the other person to grieve "as needed" is so important. Hard but important... Marcia McGinnis 3/99 revised 1/2002 and 4/03
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