It’s International Bereaved Fathers Day today. I think something that is often forgotten in the world of child loss is that- dads grieve too. My husbands grief isn’t something I’ve spent much of any time talking about publicly because I have tried very hard to respect his emotional autonomy.
Justin’s grieving has been a very different process than my own. He isn’t one to dive into discussion about Sloan’s death, it’s extremely triggering for him so he has needed reserve. Where my trauma begins with finding Sloan unresponsive in his crib that morning, Justin’s begins with being awoken from sleep, by my guttural piercing screaming of his name. Where my flashbacks are filled with pacing the room and sobbing as the 911 operator walked Justin through CPR, Justin’s flashbacks are of trying to revive our baby, with no success as I sobbed and pleaded for Sloan’s life.
In the two years since that morning, we have both traversed through the stages of grief, at different times and in different ways. We have had to resolve our own feelings of guilt, while also having to forgive any resentment towards each other over what could have or should have happened. These are the parts of child loss that aren’t often brought to light- navigating your relationship as a couple as you grieve.
Through couples grief therapy we had to learn how to approach and respect one another’s process, even if we didn’t understand it. But still, for the first year, we struggled to coexist in our pain. Justin fell into deep depression, he shut off, and shut out. He couldn’t cope, and he didn’t want to. It meant that in addition to my grieving, I was constantly worrying about him.
I watched his every move, panicking if he was in the bathroom too long. Counting his anxiety medications to make sure he didn’t take more than he was supposed to, feeling for his breathing while he slept, worrying myself to tears when he was a few minutes late getting home. I began to resent him for all the stress and worry. I hurt too, and I felt alone in my own grief because I was so focused on saving him.
Until one evening when we were both yelling at each other through tears, finally begging the other person to see the hopelessness the other felt. I realized my resentment was misplaced. I had to accept that he’d lost a child here too.
Our relationship couldn’t afford for me to be angry with him for not being able to carry the weight of his pain, nor could it continue to survive him recoiling and shouldering me with the baggage of both of us. The process of clawing ourselves out of that bleakness wasn’t quick, or easy. But once we were able to honor the fact that BOTH of us carry our loss, we were able to focus on healing together.