Lanise Shortell, perinatal and paediatric hospice nurse and grief counselor, considers the challenges of grieving fathers and highlights some of the resources that are out there to help them.
As Father’s Day approaches, we naturally honour dads for their strength, devotion, and super human abilities to be the anchors within our families. Strength is a good thing, right? Sadly, our assumptions of strength leave little space to recognize fathers in the midst of grief and loss. The wilderness of grief can be especially challenging, as dads often express feeling ill equipped to process emotions. Father’s Day presents us with an opportunity to open dialogue with grieving dads to prevent suffering through silence.
Just as each child is unuiqe, grief is unique to each father. We can reassure dads that there is no right or wrong in processing loss, no time limits, and no check lists. Dads often share they feel safest in a black and white world and the loss of a child turns everything to grey and unfamiliar.
Terry, Mason’s dad, shares, “Society sets unspoken expectations for men that makes grief difficult. We are raised to eliminate our emotions, develop and stick to a plan for success, and protect our families. When Mason died, I felt I had failed at everything. My life became a blur. I became afraid of my own tears.”
Jeffrey, Delaney’s dad, shares, “I went into ‘I am fine’ mode. That was my answer to everything. In the meantime, depression, isolation, and anger took deep root in me. Only when I was able to share with others in The Grieving Dads Project did I allow myself to feel. I finally felt understood. Delaney was 8 years old when she died. I will never be whole again, but, having a safe place to connect with others like me, saved me.”
Matthew, Eric’s dad, explains, “I wanted to open up. I wanted to cry. I needed to express my pain. I was irritated that most of the pamphlets and literature given to us at the hospital focused on my wife’s grief. Each website and pamphlet pushed me further and further into myself. I felt weak and broken because I needed to talk about it. I was jealous because my wife had resources for her pain and I felt alone. For two years after Eric’s death, I attempted to bury my pain. My grief became corrosive acid that leaked into every relationship. My marriage ended because of it.”
Effective support for dads begins with acknowledging the pain of loss and offering resources that address the unique needs of grieving fathers. The resources below were shared by dads that have found these avenues of support most helpful. Communities that provide fathers a space to understand emotions without judgement or comparison can make grief less overwhelming.
Joe Gatlin, founder of The Grieving Dads Project, has used his experiences to create a safe private online space for grieving fathers to connect with each other. After the loss of his son Everett, Joe found few opportunities to meet other grieving dads. The Grieving Dads Project is an online group and is accessible 24/7 providing wisdom for fathers by fathers who have suffered the loss of a child. Joe explains that the community of dads exists to build each other up, offer advice, and to prevent members from feeling lost and alone in their grief. The Grieving Dads Project originated in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is accessible via FaceBook upon approval. Joe is the protective and encouraging moderator and regularly provides links to professional resources for dads to explore as they feel led.
Kyle Mork, Garrett’s dad, started a podcast called Dads and Angels that is available on ITunes. Kyle has used his grief experiences to honour Garrett’s legacy while validating the emotional upheaval that accompanies loss. Kyle reports that PodCasts can provide early support for fathers that may find it challenging to directly engage with others. Podcasts are helpful in providing options of next steps for dads growing through grief.
For some of us, strength is based on physical abilities and lack of emotion. For dads experiencing loss, strength is redefined. Strength for grieving dads represents being able to have heavy conversations and sit with questions that have no answers. Strength is learning to welcome the spectrum of emotions surrounding grief, accepting tears that flow, and seeking out communities that light the path through the darkness of loss. If you feel led, share this and empower fathers that are living with loss.
About the author
Lanise Shortell serves her local community as a perinatal and pediatric hospice nurse in Atlanta, Ga. She facilitates family centered grief groups biannually at Camp STARS, a family bereavement camp outside of Atlanta. Lanise speaks internationally to spiritual leaders on the importance of family grief support to enhance communities around our world. Lanise was placed on the advisory committee for the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation in 2006 and is certified and internationally recognised as a compassionate bereavement care provider. Lanise has two adult children and a rescue pup that expand her heart beyond measure. Her desire to speak into the lives of families living with grief was birthed from of life changing event that occurred when she was 4yo. A motor vehicle accident that took Lanise’s family has become her vehicle to passionately address the importance of family focused grief care as she supports family units throughout our