Men and Grieving
by Sandy Colby
30 Jul 1998
This subject of men grieving differently has been ongoing, and I've silently watched replies posted, thought of those responding as well as the one[s] it was first initiated for. I'm not an 'expert' in any of this, just someone whose child died of SIDS. Someone whose marriage almost went down the toilet because of stress, grief, pain, and silence.
So, it is from that experience that I come as one friend to another.
We are expecting our 7th child 16 May. I have 3 living children, 1 SIDS, and 2 m/c. I am apprehensive about this next one. I thought I was 'out of the woods' and okay with this process called 'birth', but as each day gets closer I get a little more nervous about if this one will be okay and stay alive long enough to one day turn 96 [that's my hope for all our kids :>) ].
When Renae died 12 years ago I was the vocal one, Dan [my husband] was the 'silent' one. I went to a support group that met at our local library. The group was from Health & Hospice, it was called, "Grief Recovery" and it was open to anyone that had experienced death in their lives.
Each time I went, I could talk about her. I _had_ to talk about Renae. It was a good tool for me to be able to deal with and learn about this dance of pain called 'Death and Grief' that I felt I had no partner in. Consequently, when I came home, there was a huge wall. Dan wanted _NOTHING_ to do with this class or any information I had learned. "SHUT UP!" was the silent conversation we had but didn't have. I learned to not 'say' anything around him. I gave him space when he needed it.
However . . . ..
When I needed him, I told him so. I asked him not to shut me out of his life. I told him that I needed him more than ever, and I told him how much I loved him in spite of the painful hell we were in. I let him know that this thing called SIDS caused this pain. Not him. Not me. It was an outside force that was pulling at us collectively, and trying to destroy us individually.
I looked at SIDS [this 'mystery killer'] as an enemy. Some creep that killed our daughter. I envisioned it as a person, for a time, trying to see 'it' as the cause for the pain, _NOT_ Dan!!
At one point, Dan's silence was more than I could bear. He got 'lost' in work, 'lost' in food, and 'lost' in staying up late with the TV until very late at night/early in the morning. I'm grateful that that was all he got 'lost' in. He could have chosen being 'lost' at the bottom of a bottle or with someone else. [He is a sober alcoholic]
When I couldn't take any more of his being 'lost', I suggested [EVER SO CAREFULLY] that we go for counseling. We had one more child, Stephan, that was 4 years old and I thought that he _needed_ 'sane' parents to raise him.
In counseling, very uncomfortable things came out. Resentments bared. Bitterness exchanged. Frustrations aired. It was grueling, to say the least. BUT, we went in there with the determination that we started out this thing called 'marriage' and 'family' as friends and a couple, and that our wedding vows were more than words spoken in passage and ritual. "For better, or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parted us" we were in this thing TOGETHER for the LONG HAUL.
It didn't mean that it was easy. At the time we went, I was ready to divorce him. I was tired of being a single person/parent in a two-person relationship. Emotionally, I felt as though Dan had 'abandoned ship'. I was ready to call it over. Dan's silence, and 'always' being "gone" emotionally [or unavailable] had taken its toll on me.
Through counseling, BOTH of us found out that NEITHER of us does stuff the same. NEITHER of us were right about 'our' way to 'do' or 'not to do' grief. We were able, by the sheer grace of God, to turn the ship around and see that even though we were different in our expressions of pain and grieving, we were a crew and each other's support to lean on in this pain filled journey.
I found out that Dan wasn't so silent as I had thought. HE used working weird shifts [2nd & 3rd] as times where he would cry in the car on the way to or from work. I found out that he pounded the tar out of our steering wheel a lot, or the dash. I found out that he went to Renae's grave by _himself_ when he was going or coming home from work. I found out that, he loved me so much and knew I was in such wretched pain, he didn't "say" anything. He felt as though if he did, he would inflict more. So, the question is, How do you help a man in grievous pain? Umm. . . . I dunno. Here's what I did for Dan:Gave him space. Told him _if_ he wanted to talk with me about this, I was here. Told him it was okay to cry. [Some men have this "John Wayne" approach to crying--like they are sissies if they do. I'm sure that John Wayne cried, too.] Told him I loved him. No matter what. I was here for him, Good, Bad, or Ugly. Long Haul. Gave him opportunities to be with _good_ friends, in hopes that they might be able to help him come to terms with all of the junk that was backed up in his heart and mind. Learned to not 'expect' Dan to express his grief just the same way I did. Was it hard? I'd be a fool to say, "Why, no! It was a piece of cake.". It was combat and hell. Sometimes, it was hard to keep focussed on the 'big picture' [we were in this thing TOGETHER, for the LONG HAUL]. It was hard to keep my big mouth shut a lot of times, when I really wanted to 'let her rip'.
Have I seen any 'pay offs' for my hard work over the last 12 years. Yep. Some little. Some big. The little ones amaze me. The big ones flabbergast me.
'Little pay offs' are the times that HE opens up to me and lets me inside his mind and heart. Oh! I've found that place so fragile!!! "Handle with care! Shut up, Sandy! This is priceless!" It's come to me at high costs and long years.
"Big pay offs' are the moments when HE initiates something to do with Renae. A couple of years ago, HE initiated going to her grave with a plant . . . . a plant! Something he had never done before! It snowed that year, but HE wanted an Easter Lily on her grave, and by all that was within him, SHE would have that damn lily in spite of the snow!!!
A couple of years ago, HE'S the one that found this site. Subscribed ME to it. [Jaw drop!] HE also participated in the cyber memorial service that we learned about through here. He was with me as I tied ribbons on our mailbox and insisted that I tie them on the antenna of the car, which he always drives. He was with me as I lit a candle, and said a prayer for all of us who have children that died before they had a chance to begin life and experience its wonders and beauty. He prayed for us all too!
Last year, HE was the one that found the rose that we permanently planted on Renae's grave. He and Stephan chose the kind of rose, and helped plant it at the graveyard. Dan's the one that wanted something put on her grave so that he could 'find' Renae in the winter. [Didn't know about that thing called the grave blanket. I'll have to see if there's anything like that around here.] He said he was tired of digging through the snow frantically, looking for her grave. [Digging through the snow? Frantically LOOKING for her grave? _I_ never knew!]
Dan's so excited about Melissa Hope Colby coming he can't stand himself. He named this little one that's on its way. Stephan chose the middle name. Both are pleased as punch that they can't see straight!
My 'secret' prayer is that not only will Melissa grow to be 96, but, along the way, she will be a source of joy and healing for his wounded heart. No child can EVER 'replace' the one that died. We've all discussed that one before. But, another child _can_ be used by God [I believe] to be an instrument of healing and joy that death and pain robbed him of. Dan's my hero and my friend. I'm just glad I get to call him 'mine'--well, most days anyway. . .. :>) So, I guess I'll close my novel for now. I haven't 'said' much lately, because of my own 'whatevers'. I hope that, somewhere, in the midst of all my ramblings, someone's gotten a clue about men, the way they express grief, and what this thing called SIDS can do to a marriage.
Like I said before, I'm no 'expert'. Just some old beggar on this journey, trying to point out rough spots in the road, and a few little places where I've found food.
My thoughts are with you all, no matter what part of the journey you're on. Whether you are a new traveler, or a weathered journeyman[woman]. Know that you are thought of, hugged gently, and quietly prayed for today.
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