Fathers Need To Grieve Too

by Tracy Sheppard
Tracy Sheppard

Trigger warning: child loss

Losing a child is the most unimaginable thing that can happen to parents. I know expressing that heartbreak can be even harder for the father. Crying over the loss of my daughter is a normal part of the grieving process if you are a mother. People expect to see a mother sobbing over losing a child.

However, in our society, there has always been a ridiculous notion that has been instilled into us since we were little that boys shouldn’t cry. A little boy falls down and starts to cry, and someone was there to say, “Suck it up. You need to toughen up.” Because of that stigma, men may feel the need to suck up their feelings of anguish and grief. They don’t feel they can openly cry in front of others. They bury that grief so deeply they are almost numb on the inside.

After our daughter passed away, my husband immersed himself into keeping busy. He would work, and then he would be in the yard working, or in the basement working on his side business. A lot of the time even in order to do that, he would have to be drinking. At least by doing that, it would numb that pain if only for a short time. It didn’t matter how hard he tried to stay busy, or how much he drank, that pain will never go away. Not in days, months, or years. It is a forever heartbreak.

It was Mother’s Day, and my husband and I were sitting on our back deck talking. I was really missing my girl more than normal that day. We started talking about life, and how much we miss our daughter. My husband then said, “I still don’t think I’ve accepted that she isn’t coming back.” He started to cry.

Immediately, he started to wipe his tears, and I could see and feel that he was inwardly struggling — wanting to get the feelings out and share but at the same time feeling he should keep it in. It made me sad for him and for all the fathers who feel like they can’t freely and openly express their grief and unbearable heartache. They are screaming on the inside and feel they can’t express those feelings of utter devastation that they are carrying, bottled up inside of them.

One of my vices, so to speak, is to write. I can sit down at my computer and pound on the keys and spill my soul. My husband and so many other fathers, are like a tea kettle, who can’t blow the steam that needs to escape.

There is also the ignorant misconception that after a few months or a year we should have moved on. We should be over it. To those that have never experienced this degree of devastation, they will never understand. This soul-breaking loss is utterly devastating. He lost his little girl!

Daddy’s girl. The bond they had was indescribable. Their bond was mesmerizing. Our daughter suffered a severe brain injury at birth. Complications arose, I was rushed into emergency surgery, and he was left there alone, to imagine the worst. He watched them paddle and bag his baby girl for 15 minutes. He was told she wasn’t going to make it. He was the one who had to tell me when I woke from anesthesia.

From second one, the two of them had a bond that was so strong. It was so pure and perfect. Daddy’s girl underwent too many surgeries to count over the years. Daddy was always the one who got the smiles. His unconditional love, compassion, and wild sense of humor was what carried our family through over all the years of medical scares, sleepless nights, and uncertainty. He carried all my worries and burdens on his shoulders. He always kept us grounded. He never once complained.

Our motto was: “Our kids didn’t ask to be brought into this world, we chose that for them. So it is up to us, no matter what the circumstances they are facing, to ensure they have the best life possible.”

For 30 years, he has done just that. He is my best friend, the love of my life, the man I dreamed of as a little girl. I love him with all that I am. I felt compelled to let all the dads who are grieving know you are not alone. You have a brotherhood of grieving dads, who are trying to navigate this heartbreaking journey. Waking up every day, putting on the mask of strength but silently screaming inside.

For all the other fathers, please say a prayer for the dads out there who are missing a child. Send a text, email, or a phone call and let them know you are thinking of them. My husband is counting his blessings. He has two amazing sons, a beautiful granddaughter to celebrate holidays with, but there is always that place in his soul that will forever be broken and missing.

A part of his soul was ripped away on that horrible August day. Not days, nor months, nor years will take it away. A part of him will forever be screaming silently.