Degrees of Separation

Guest Post by Christopher West:  A Father’s View
For a father who has lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, or other early loss, grief can be a very hard thing to come to terms with. The mother has, after all, experienced a physical connection to the baby that no man can ever truly comprehend, even under the best of circumstances—so when that tiny life ends too soon, we can be left with a hole in our soul that has no physical echo in our body. We’re always a step removed from a loss like this, even when it’s just as much our child that is gone.

There is an emotional and spiritual and physical discord that grows out of this. A deeply-cutting pain without any wound to the body, but one that nevertheless can leave us feeling sick, and drained, and weak. We, as men, often grow up with the idea that when something hurts, we just need to “walk it off.” We’re told to “man up.” Society does not encourage us to cry. So when the source of our pain doesn’t feature a physical injury that we can put a bandage on or a scar that we can show off as proof of what we survived, this world can be even less compassionate than normal about our need to feel, and to heal. There’s no provision for us to take time off and come to terms with our loss—and in any case, such a loss leaves us with a partner who is hurting just as much, if not more, than we are. A partner who may be suffering through a physical ordeal on top of all this intangible pain. Meanwhile, every part of human social evolution has conditioned us to be the “strong one”. To be the stalwart rock that the woman can lean on in times like these.

How can we support our partner through something like this, when we don’t have a coping mechanism of our own? Who do we lean on?

Different men deal with this in different ways, and it’s rarely a healthy solution: We lose ourselves in our work, or in escapist flights of fancy. We distract ourselves with everyday needs and household projects, or sports, or hobbies, or drink, or other people, and we try not to think about what we’ve lost. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we couldn’t have lost something that we never really had to begin with, and maybe, sometimes, that even works. Certainly many men seem inclined to try and separate themselves from the pain as a means of coping with it—but all too often, that separation leads to a relationship that is just as broken as the hearts of those who started out in it together.

Society doesn’t have any good advice on how to handle loss, so it’s up to us to remind one another of this simple truth: the one person who can best understand what you’re going through is already right there with you at the outset, and believe it or not: it is OK to lean on her.

There doesn’t have to be a “strong one” or a “weak one”. Two broken people can stay upright much more effectively if they lean on each other while they heal—and that healing can be deeper for each of them if one of them isn’t running away from the pain, or trying to hide it.

It’s not a simple thing. It’s never tidy. Recovering from the unfathomable loss of something so beautiful and perfect and rich with possibility as a new life—that’s a journey that never gets *easy*, even when it does become more bearable. But there are still beautiful things to experience further down that road, and even if neither you nor your partner would have chosen to be on this journey, there remains a great value in walking it together if you can.

All of that having been said, we are people who have learned the hard way that things don’t always work out the way we wish they had. So if it turns out that you don’t have someone to walk with on that foggy road—if your partner isn’t ready, or willing, or able to be right there with you on the same stretch of that journey, know this: others have trod that path, and they’re still on it. They might be further along it, or just starting out. They might not even be aware that you are on it with them, or they might know right where you are. They might even find meaning in helping you navigate it. So don’t be afraid to call out for help, or to reach out. It’s not as desolate a road as it seems, but the people sharing it with you know all too well how lonely it can feel. There is help to be found, for grieving mothers and fathers alike.

I promise.

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