The Grief of A Dad
“My initial reaction was numbness. The world did not have a past or a future. There was nothing I could now do about the past, and the future could change in an instant. So planning and seeing ahead was not possible. I became good at compartmentalising my grief; putting it in a box when I needed to do something. To those at work I would have appeared as though I had grieved normally (according to their expectation of grieving) and was ok again.
“I felt that there was something wrong with my decision making and that if I had somehow made better decisions then my sons would not have died. I know this is irrational but it was like I did not trust my own judgement anymore. I suppressed my feelings.
“There were things that needed to be done. I needed to work. Grief does not pay the bills and while I might have wanted to crawl into a hole for a long time to get away from the world, this was not practical. I had to look after my wife, who did crawl into a hole and shut out the world apart from me. There were funerals to organise, food to get (lots of takeaway as I cannot cook). In my family I am the sensible son- do the right thing, don’t take risks, and value what you have. So to me, I did the sensible thing, I focused on survival. I focused on the here and now, eating, breathing and sleeping. I did not feel I was strong enough to deal with what had happened. It is hard to describe the grief feeling. It often felt like I had a black hard bowling ball in my chest that I was trying to bring up, but it was too big. I did the sociable things. I organised the funeral and what needed to be done in the here and now.
“On the flip slide, I am not good talking about my feelings. In a strange way I felt that I had to carry my burden alone. It was such a heavy load and I felt that, by unburdening myself to my wife, it would somehow add to the load that she was carrying. I like to call this the ‘stoic male syndrome’. When my sons died I felt incompetent. I knew there was something I needed to say or do to help my wife but I did not know what it was.
“I found myself not wanting to be told what to do or how to feel or when to feel and it was important for me to see that a wide range of grief responses was normal. Unfortunately we live in a society that does not truly understand the nature of a parent’s grief and I don’t think I would have either if it was not for the death of my own two sons.
“As a side note, I dislike the word ‘lost’; -my boys died. I feel the word ‘died’ more truly reflects what has happened to my sons and in truth reflects the darkness and depth of such a tragedy.”1
(Wayne Bandell) (Also see his story “Being a grieving dad - a personal perspective-part one”)
The death of a child is a devastating experience for all family members. Grief affects all parts of our being. It is important to remember that grief and all the feelings and reactions that accompany it, are a normal reaction to loss. This does not mean that the ‘normal’ is not painful or difficult to cope with; it just means that experiencing the loss and allowing yourself to feel bereft and in pain is all part of the grief journey that needs to be negotiated.
“Just accepting this isn’t something I can fix, is the hardest thing. I would give anything to. You didn’t choose or want this to happen, but it happened.”1
“You can’t go back in time. You are stuck. It can feel like a roller coaster; you just want to get to the end and maybe it will all be ok. You worry about your future, your relationships. Will they survive? In fact you have no choice. You have to accept you are on this so called “journey” and somehow you have to try to take steps to move along it.”1
Life will not be what it was before your child’s death and grief often lasts a lot longer than you think it can. It rears its head in ways that can confuse and debilitate you in one foul swipe. But in reality there is no backing away. Your child has died and the only way forward is to take it step by step, one day at a time. Although at this stage it seems impossible to believe, learning more about grief and allowing yourself to grieve are important steps towards healing.
“I think I sat six months behind where my wife was, so we travelled right through at a completely different rate. I was up all night when we lost Maria at 2am in the morning and the first thing I thought of, when my wife’s mum arrived and we were at the hospital, was that I would go home and have a shower. I went out and got a haircut and still to this day I think: why the hell did I go and get a haircut? It was like I had to do that first. I did it, then I went and bought a toy and went home to have a shower and came back, but that was how I dealt with it. I still don’t understand why I dealt with it this way and what went through my head.”1
“I have learnt that, particularly over time, the further on you are, it dulls the pain a little bit. But in the end, the possibilities and dreams of what it could have been stays with you, especially if you have got friends that are all having kids themselves. But, you know for me personally, it was 5 weeks, but it was 5 weeks of understanding what it was like to be a dad and I can’t replace that.”1
Last reviewed: 27/9/23
1. Quote from participants of a series of workshops and interviews with bereaved fathers held in 2015 at Red Nose Grief and Loss, Malvern, Victoria, and Red Nose Grief and Loss offices, Australia.