My husband and I lost our youngest child one year ago. I am really concerned about my husband. He rarely talks about our daughter’s death. At home, he mopes around his workshop and works in the garden, but he refuses to even consider the local support group I attend. What can I do to help him?
Your heart and intentions are in the right place. You want to help your husband through this long and painful adjustment to the death of your child. You may even be fearful that if he does not grieve “properly” it may affect his health or relationships with yourself and your other children.
Just as your grief and grief work is unique to you, your husband’s feelings of loss, his journey through this “dark night of the soul”, and the meaning that he attaches to your child’s death is uniquely his own. You can best help him by acknowledging that he is different than you; by affirming that he has feelings and his own experience of this loss; and by allowing and encouraging him to find his own expressions of grief. Your husband is indeed expressing his feelings, but in his actions and work in his workshop and garden. The display of your grief may be more obvious and understood in our culture, more easily recognized through words and tears. Your husband may sweat his tears in physically exhausting work or sports. Both expressions are valid, appropriate, direct, and helpful means of moving the energy of sadness, despair, confusion, anger, guilt, anxiety, and loneliness.
You can help your husband by giving him time and space to explore his new environment without your child. Support him by brainstorming opportunities for him to create or build something that honors your child. Many men find it helpful to put their grief into action, while women find it easier to put their feelings into words. Perhaps you could partner in a project that would require him to build (a playground or bench) and you to write the words for the words for the dedication ceremony.
The greatest help with our grief comes through validation. You strengthen his connection with your child and substantiate his experiences of loss when you honor his way, his timing, his intensity, his pacing, and his unique ways of expression. You will be sharing a compassion for his journey that gives him permission to express his feelings and remain in character, cope on his own terms, without judgment.
Grief is work, but the expression and completion of this grief work may be internal and invisible to others. It is so important to be respectful of people’s different ways of grieving, and not to push mourners to express grief in limited ways. The way a person expresses their grief has little to do with the magnitude of their loss.