I remember the look on my husband’s face when the sonographer was unable to detect our son’s heartbeat. I began to cry as he looked at me with confusion and panic. “He’s gone,” I said. We held each other in a dark room that merely moments ago was filled with joy and excitement. Exam room four, now so cold and lifeless.
As we walked behind closed doors to labor and delivery, I remember how quiet we stood waiting for the elevator. Both of our minds reeling with questions and hurt, though on the outside – quiet. The silence would show its face many times in the days to come. When our son was born, quiet. As our friends and family stood around us with worn and raw faces, quiet. As we went home to our perfectly planned nursery, quiet.
As a woman following a loss, I was surrounded by other women who reached out their arms to love and support me. I’m blessed to have a circle of friends that supported me in any way they could – meal trains, housekeeping, taking me to dinner, anything to help carry my load. But my husband, I feel his friends had a harder time helping him through. I specifically remember an occasion when one buddy of his advised, “Just don’t think about him anymore. Eventually it’s bound to get better but you have to stop!” While I know, in his own way, this friend was trying to help my husband, who can really “just stop” thinking about their only child? I know from experience, everyone grieves differently. I also know more specifically, women tend to grieve differently than men. But that being said, we all grieve.
My heart had a soft spot for the men in my life who grieved the death of my son. My husband, my father and father in law, even cousins and friends. With their calloused hardworking hands they wiped tears from their eyes just as I did.
The days following the funeral were so empty. They were never ending yet somehow passed quickly, all running together like a blur. We tried to help each other, my husband always being so strong, comforting me, holding my hand, wiping my tears. But what could I do to help my husband? The strong willed leader of my household was holding every fractured piece of himself together for me.
We lost our son at what is typically one of the happiest times of year for my spouse. If you are married to an avid outdoorsman, you know what the crisp fall air does to a man’s soul. After losing our son, we decided it best for my husband to go on his originally planned hunting trip. I know what you are thinking, “Seriously, send your husband halfway across the country after you lose a child, to hunt?” Yes, seriously. I wanted him in the woods. They are serene and bring peace to his spirit. If anything could bring him comfort at the ominous stage of grief we were facing, I wanted it for him.
Somehow in the miles that separated us, I’d never felt so close to him. The conversations we had during this time were deep and meaningful. And even though his hunting trip may not have brought the miraculous healing like I had hoped (because honestly after the death of a child – there isn’t much that can), did it give him a break from awkward glances? Yes. Did it save him from uneasy small talk from well intended visitors? Yes. Did it give him space to grieve and mourn in a safe place? Yes. So to me, it was worth it.
The way we choose to heal our hearts is our own decision. Though it may be different from others or not the most traditional measure, it is a choice all of our own. My husband and I gave each other what we needed, we listened when one of us needed to speak, and we respected space in quiet moments. When facing loss, I feel that’s all you can do.
Yes, men grieve differently. But the pain is just as raw. The longing for someone who once was remains. It manifests in different ways. With the JWB written on his cap as he works, it’s there. The sorrow echoes, as he gazes at the black & white picture framed in his office. And when he grasps the chain around his neck displaying Weston’s birthstone, there it is revealed. Though the image of strength this man in my life upholds to the highest standard, please know, the ache of his heartache lingers.
To the many men I know who have suffered in silence, braving grief’s treacherous waters, providing a fortress for their aching families, we thank you. Day by day, minute by minute, how blessed we are to hold your hands as we journey through life after loss.