Some Thoughts On Loss…
The loss of any loved one, especially one’s own child, can be particularly devastating. The sense of loss can “rip your heart out,” in terms of emotion and being able to deal with even the most ordinary of activities. It does not matter if the loss is the first, the last or your only child, or if there are others at the same time.
How a father deals with grief varies widely and is about as personal as it gets. Sorrow, anger, disappointment, repression or denial can take over. How we deal with grief can also be misunderstood. Perhaps the wrong signals are given through excessive internalization or other defense mechanisms.
Most fathers feel it is necessary to appear to be extremely brave by yielding no tears and acting as if almost nothing has happened. However, at other times, there may be no holding back the grief. When I called by elderly parents to inform them that for the first time in eighty-odd years that there would be a grandson to carry on the family surname, I also had to explain that their other handsome grandson had been stillborn. Try as I did to not do so, no sooner had I gotten them on the telephone line than my call turned into a crumpled, tear-sobbing message.
Fathers also frequently feel that they must shield the mother from as much of the reality of loss as possible. This is not necessarily the appropriate response to actual needs. At least for us, it was best to hold both babies until the night had turned to morning, with the surviving baby never being relegated to the hospital’s bassinet.
There are other kinds of protection which can be helpful to a mother. When someone says, “Well, it would have been too hard to take care of them all,” the proper answer is, “We would have managed.” The expectations one has built up for caring for multiples: watching them growing up together, getting the extra car seat(s), having more teammates for a ballgame or little ladies for the play-like tea, solving the extra problems and reveling in the multiple successes – these anticipations do not easily go away.
An additional difference about losses in multiple pregnancies is that, with today’s technologies, the expectations surrounding the birth are multiplied. Seeing the babies in sonograms at even early stages – at play, sleep, together – brings the full reality of multiples to the forefront. The plans, hopes and even the potential fears are all more vividly increased and heightened.
Inevitably, one’s own personal beliefs come into play in dealing with death. It is possible that some religious individuals can more readily accept a loss believing that the child is indeed in a better place. Others who are non-religious perhaps more abruptly face the stark reality of loss. In either case, there is likely to be a strong and relentless recognition that there is a void which can never be filled in one’s life and family.
Even if loss is forever, there can be endearing memories of that which briefly was and what might have been. Talking to the departed, writing them a letter, composing a poem in their honor, taking flowers to the cemetery, to some other commemorative spot or for a loved one may relieve some of the pain.
While we fathers are certainly each entitled to our own individual approach to grieving, it would be grossly unjust to not be supportive of the mother in her loss. Too often the father has an easier time escaping from the reality of the situation than the mother possibly can. And, I confess, I probably had too many business trips too soon after our loss, and undoubtedly I committed a host of other omissions or improprieties, as well. Fathers need to be as patient and sensitive as is humanly possible – doing the best we can.
The most important thing, I believe, is to keep trying to be supportive and understanding of the mother’s needs. And those needs can vary significantly. Sometimes a hug or sometimes leaving someone to their own muse is appropriate. Support without smothering. Men frequently tend to not be as good at listening as we should be. Understanding, sensitivity and communication are critical to the healthy survival of family relationships.
We fathers need to try to communicate our feelings without shame, while being continuously listening and watching for the signaled needs of the one who has lost a living part of her body and being. There is nothing I would take for the surviving twin son I have, nor for his younger brother, nor for their wonderful mother. There will also always be a very distinct place in my heart for our other son.