People often focus on me, the grieving mom. But Dads grieve too, just as much-in their own way.
My husband Bret flew home from Afghanistan when he got the news our baby Jake died and needed to be delivered. It took four long days for him to get home, in which I can barely recall how I even survived those days or what I did to fill them. I probably slept for most of it. I can only imagine what he was going through.
When he got home I all of the sudden panicked. I could hear his foot steps heading up the stairs to our bedroom. I didn’t want him to be home (which is something a military wife never says) because it meant this was all real. Our Jake was really gone. We completely fell apart into each others arms. We had already suffered two miscarriages and several years of infertility struggles and now to lose our baby to this-to an umbilical cord accident? How could this be real? But it was real. Very real.
We went into our baby’s nursery that night to gather things for the hospital. Another adventure I can barely recall. I remember opening Jake’s closet, falling to my knees and screaming and sobbing. Bret said he finally dragged me out of there after almost two hours. I lost a piece of myself in there that night and he witnessed that. That’s the first thing he began to grieve, his never-the-same-again-wife.
Bret was so worried about me during the labor and delivery that he couldn’t even process what was coming. Then when Jake was delivered in that silent room-minus my overwhelming sobs of grief and pain as I pushed-he completely fell apart. In total shock from everything, I had nothing to give him. It was heartache on top of heartache.
He was such a gentle Daddy. Cleaning Jake’s little body. Wiping his nose as blood dripped from it. I could only cry when this happened, he acted. He fathered him so well. He read to him, snuggled him, wrapped him in blankets. He carried him to the nursery and picked him up after we got a measly three hours of drug-induced sleep.
When we got home, he went into full blown “active grief” so I guess I could call it. He spent countless days and hours building a lighthouse with an innkeepers house that would hold Jake’s ship-shaped urn. My husband grew up fishing and Jake’s nursery was (still is) nautical themed. Anxiety hit him hard. He couldn’t sleep. So he started to build…again. He built a huge deck that took him just two weeks by himself. He didn’t stop. When he was finally out of things to build, he felt lost. And the tears came.
A lot of tears.
Bret was so strong for us. Taking the lead when decisions had to be made about urns and funeral services. He protected me by telling people that I needed space. He was patient with me as I wouldn’t leave the house for a long time. When I did, he placed big sunglasses on my face and never let go of my hand. I was afraid of getting back into the real world. I was afraid of normal. I didn’t want any part of it. But he knew I needed it.
Family and friends always ask how I am doing and I always respond with “We” are hanging in there…or any cliche answer to end the conversation that could turn very uncomfortable on both parts. People often tell me “give Bret my best” and my response is always the same- “Maybe you should reach out to him, he could use someone to talk to, fish with, whatever.”
I am not sure why the world is so uncomfortable with acknowledging a fathers grief. It’s just as real. It hurts just as bad. Just because he didn’t carry or deliver our son, doesn’t mean he loved(s) him any less.
Eight months have passed and he is now a bit more settled in his nerves. But I see blank stares often and silence still gets the best of him. He misses our baby. And he should. He’s his father after all.
My sister sent me this message just a few weeks ago…
“Never having seeing Bret in a fatherly role before it hit me hard when I saw him after Jake’s birth. Especially when he was torn about staying with Jake and being with you when they needed to deliver your placenta. He looked at me with eyes I’ve never seen before then looked at Jake. I told him I would stay with Jake so he could stay with you. He cradled Jake’s head in his hand and told me how to told him, to be careful and watch his head. Never once taking his eyes off Jake. He watched me as he placed Jake in my arms as any father would. To make sure I was doing it right. It was beautiful to see the loving and protective father in him. I never took my eyes off my nephew again until he was back in Bret’s arms. Those few minutes I was able to hold him and talk to him. Tell him how much I love him are moments I am beyond grateful for.”
He is a wonderful Daddy and yes, he grieves too.