When a baby dies, dads are often forgotten

At First Candle we offer bereavement support services to families who have lost a baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), other sleep-related infant deaths, still birth and miscarriage.  We have a 24-hour grief line, bereavement materials, volunteer peer-support providers and, most importantly our online support groups.  While our online groups are large and active, it’s almost exclusively women who participate. Men don’t feel comfortable, especially if their partner is a member of the group, participating.  They often, however, call our grief line and speak with our counselor.

A father’s grief is different than a mother’s but no less powerful or significant.  For many dads they feel that friends and family rally around the woman and they are sidelined.  We often hear that they want to support their partner while at the same time express their own grief.  We’ve had men who hide outside while they speak with our counselor so their partner doesn’t know they’re crying. 

Grief is indeed complicated for men and Father’s Day compounds these emotions.  Below is a blog that Kelly Farley, author of Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back wrote for us last year. 

Father’s Day is often a lonely day for me.  I feel isolated, like I don’t belong, but for me that’s been the case for the last 14 years.  Honestly, I do not know how to recognize the day, but I try my best.

I make it a point to reach out to my dad on Father’s Day, but although I celebrate my dad, I feel conflicted on how to navigate the day myself. There will be no cards, no gifts and no hugs for me from my children.   Some years I want to celebrate and other years I do not.  I try not to plan anything ahead of time, so I have the flexibility to adjust to the day depending on where I am at mentally. The last couple of years, I have decided to go out and purchase my own Father’s Day gift.  I try to have fun with it.  I smile and tell my wife that Katie and Noah would want me to have it.

Many people try to cheer me up by telling me that I am still a father even though my children died years ago.  I get it, because I do feel like their father and I try to live each day to make them proud of their dad.  However, I don’t feel like I belong on Father’s Day.  I have no living children, so I find it difficult to know that there are millions of other dads out there celebrating this day with their living children.

My children died at a very young age, and I have no idea what this day feels like as a non-bereaved dad.  I do know what it feels like as a grieving dad, and it sucks.  It feels uncomfortable.  Some of it has to do with me, and some of it has to do with how others tip-toe around me. It’s easier to keep my head down and just get through the day.

I search for things that allow me to escape the regular bullshit of life and spend time outside on Father’s Day.  Being outside, by myself, helps me to refocus and reflect on my past life, my children’s lives, where I am today and what the next chapter in my life looks like.

It took me several years, but I am generally a happy person again.  I do not spend a lot of time dwelling in the darkness I lived in years after their deaths; it’s too hard to look back at those days, and it accomplishes nothing.  I spend my time searching for peace and things that force me to engage in life.  I’ve become a seeker of new adventures and life experiences.

I have no doubt that I will be with my children someday.  When that day comes, I’ll be ready.  I will hold them both in my arms and love them.  Until that day, I will, like many others grieving dads, think about my children on this day and reflect.  Although there will always be an element of sadness on Father’s Day, I will spend my time outside on my bike and away from the gleeful masses out celebrating the day with their children.

How will you spend the day?

Through the generosity of a donor, we are offering Kelly’s book to any dad who would like it. We also would like your help in sharing dads’ stories on their feelings at the loss of their baby by using the hashtag #dadsgrievetoo.  Please e-mail us with your story so that we can help all dads through their journey of grief.    

First Candle is a 501 (c)(3) committed to ending Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and other sleep-related infant deaths while providing bereavement support services for families who have lost a baby.

Your donation will help support our Straight Talk for Infant Safe Sleep outreach work and our grief program.