Being a Grieving Dad - A Personal Perspective - Part 1


What is traditionally a day of celebration (socks and jocks as presents) takes on a whole different meaning for grieving dads. It is truly a day of conflicting emotions. On one hand there is the joy of getting presents from my daughter on behalf of herself, Zac and Sean. On the other hand, there is the sadness that my sons are not where they should be.

In my experience, when Zac and Sean died, I entered a state of existing in the moment. I had to handle the here and now as this was all I could cope with. There was no guarantee of the future as this could change in an instant, so there was no point thinking that far ahead. I did the things I was socially expected to do, like plan the funeral. Like many men I focussed on what I was expected to do not what I needed to do.

Societal convention told me that, as a man, I am the protector of my family. I was not able to protect my sons (as one grieving dad said to me: I fix things, but this is something I cannot fix). However, I needed to protect and support my wife with her grief. I like to call this the stoic husband syndrome: We set aside our own grieving as best we can (suck it up/harden up/drink a cup of concrete) and focus on our wives because this is what social convention says we should do. We kid ourselves by saying that they are the ones that are suffering more and need to be cared for or protected.

As many men do, I went back to work, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. Grief does not pay the bills. In public I put on the “I’m OK face”. I honestly don’t know why as no one was going to approach me if I broke down or really ask me how I was coping. In a strange way some people treat grief and the death of children as a disease. That in some way they might get infected by speaking to me, or they fall back on “I don’t want to say anything as it might upset you”.

I became very good at compartmentalising my grief. I would put my grief or bad feelings into a box and place it in a well inside me and this allowed me to function each day (or so I thought). Like many, I filled the day or space with things to distract me on how I was truly feeling. Eventually though the boxes in the well will break open and the well needs cleansing

It was sort of like if I pretend for long enough that I’m OK and that everything is normal then the grief would go away. I work as a secondary school teacher and in the past we have had staff and students die. So as a school and workplace we have had to deal with significant grief situations. We have had the education department crisis team visit us (to provide counselling) and the focus has always been the same: “Let’s keep the students and staff routine as normal as possible”. So that’s what I did, tried to keep things normal. I now realise that this does not work for those directly affected by the death of a child and it often causes more harm.

I do not expect others to continue to grieve with us. However, it is wrong for others to expect that after a short time our grieving should be over and we should return to the person we once were. This is never going to happen. We will forever be grieving parents. We do not move on, we change. Sometimes these changes are for the better, other times for the worse.

There is no complete solution to dealing with grief when your children die. In a strange way grief becomes part of our connectedness to our children that are no longer physically with us. I find this to be significantly true for men who have had a child die before or soon after birth. Put simply, we do not have many memories to fall back on.

When I reflect on what has worked for me they fall into two main categories:

a) Finding/reading resources where other fathers share their experiences and thoughts (online or in print media). I found Kelly Farley’s book “Grieving Dads- to the Brink and Back” and his website very helpful. This book/website includes a lot of stories by real dads and their experience when a child dies. They do not purport to offer a specific solution; however, there is comfort in the fact that the ranges of emotions you are experiencing are shared in common with other dads. I think Kelly’s book and website appealed to me because it gives men their own voice. Many of the very good resources dealing with the death of a child are often written by women. These do not always connect with fathers. Kelly’s book often explores some very dark places. He sums it up well when he says: “this book is not about butterflies and rainbows” or “this isn’t an Oprah book club book”

b) Sharing thoughts and experiences with others when the rare opportunity presents itself. This tends to be through articles like this one or in the ‘local’, participating in the PEP (Parent Enrichment Program) weekend offered by SIDS and Kids, speaking with counsellors that have specific knowledge and experience in dealing with bereaved parents, or talking with other bereaved parents. In some ways the talking to other parents gives me a chance to talk about my boys. All parents love to talk about their kids. Unfortunately the majority of society, including family, finds this conversation too confronting, so they remain silent.

I should explain that as I live in a remote rural town in Victoria the opportunity to share experiences with other dads occurs very infrequently and the availability of a variety of specific support services are poor. Like other men I have good, bad and very bad days. On these days I am likely to get Kelly’s book out or visit the grieving dads website.

Readers will note that I have not used the word lost. Personally I dislike the word. I have not lost Zac and Sean. I know where they are. They have died and I feel this better expresses the true tragedy of what has happened.

Wayne Bandell
Wayne Bandell


Zac, Sean and Zoe’s dad.

PS: I don’t know if there is going to be a part two, but I feel I may have more to say. I just don’t know when.

(Also see the support article “The Grief of A Dad”)