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For the Dads
Today I write to the dads who have suffered the death of a child to SIDS. I was inspired to write this by the love and concern of a very close friend of ours. Separate from her constant checking in on me, she would consistently check on Bill and ask him specifically how he was doing for over a year after Billy died. That meant so much to my husband, and it had a significant impact on his healing. Thank you, dear, dear friend. :)
Much attention, empathy, and sympathy is poured out to mothers upon the loss of a child.
But what about the dads?
Weeks after our son died, my husband commented, "There seems to be lots of support available for mothers, but I kind of feel lost as a grieving dad."
It's not often we hear men talk about being sad. Men and women certainly grieve differently, but I wonder if our culture really even allows for men to fully grieve at all. Perhaps dads feel an expectation to hold things together for the mom and the rest of the family. Maybe there still remains the age-old mindset of men "toughing out" their emotions: "Men don't cry." Could it be that it's just easier to internalize your grief, bury yourself in your work, and just try to move forward from this?
You may have to give yourself permission to grieve, dads.
It's absolutely okay to fall apart. It's okay to not be the strength that your wife needs. It's normal to go through the motions at work while feeling torn apart inside. It's okay to need support yourself to survive this. Your pain is just as real and significant as the mother's is.
As a woman and mom myself, even my greatest attempt at empathizing with you will be far less than what another grieving father can offer. One of these days, I'm going to have a father share firsthand what it's really like to be a dad grieving the loss of his son or daughter. Until then, I thought I'd share what I found when I tried my best to see from a dad's perspective. I discovered two insightful revelations: 1. How God the Father can relate to your loss, and 2. How the death of God's son actually brings hope and life to the devastation you are facing with the loss of your own child now.
How God, as a Father, can relate to your loss
No one understands the pain of losing your child like you do.
No one, that is, except God.
Because no one loves a child like his/her father and mother. And no one loves you- or your sons and daughters- like God does. He gave his child- FAR more willingly than we have given ours. (Can we even say we've "given" our children over to death? I'd be more apt to say my child was "taken" from me.) And God allowed Christ to suffer the horrifying death that he did because of His deep love for us.
So how does God empathize with you, another grieving dad, in your suffering? Many of us (myself included) tend to question God's grief with, "Well- but He's GOD! He has supernatural powers! Of COURSE He can withstand the death of his Son."
But I think we sometimes forget that God came to earth fully divine- but also fully human. He felt the things we feel. He experienced suffering. He wasn't numb to pain because he chose to feel it. He sweat blood over the agony of knowing what lay before him with the events of the crucifixion. He cried out to His Father, God, pleading for any other way he could save mankind. Then he hung on the cross and cried out again, "My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?!"
If God cared about us enough to save us like that, wouldn't it make sense to say he can feel love- and that he'd love his own Son the same? And if God can feel love, can't he feel pain? As Jesus hung with the weight of the world's sin upon him- a most horrifying and excruciating way to die....would this not cause deep emotion and pain for his Father? I believe God knows firsthand the pain of suffering the death of a child.
How the death of God's son actually brings hope and life to you as a grieving dad
We didn't choose to have our children die. And we'd do anything to have them back.
God DID choose to have his son die. A most excruciatingly painful death. Because He had us in mind. I cannot say that I'd sacrifice my own child for the rest of the world. But God did. And because He did, we have a confident hope of seeing our babies again. Of spending eternity with them. The God of the entire universe, who has also called you his son, had you in mind- and He had your child in mind- when He decided to allow his Son to be crucified.
That's one amazing Dad we have. A Dad who loves us so deeply that he would choose to have his perfect, blameless son suffer for the sake of us- his messy, sinful children. And just as He orchestrated the resurrection of Jesus, he will bring healing and life back to you as well. He wants to hear you cry out to him as Jesus did. He wants to hear your questions, your agony, your doubts, your anger, your fears. He is a Dad who is there.
It's Father's Day, and we celebrate you dads. And for those of you who are grieving the loss of one or more of the miracles who made you a dad in the first place, we grieve with you. Not having your precious child here on earth makes you no less their daddy. But it does make it hard to "celebrate" when your child is not present for the celebration. When he/she is not there to hug your neck and whisper, "Daddy, I love you."
I believe the real measure of a dad's strength is his ability to allow himself to feel, to grieve. Making it through suffering and holding a family together is certainly noble of a man. But actually embracing the suffering and allowing God to hold your family together so you have the freedom to be real with your emotions and with how this devastation really affects you is most admirable- and is what will bring the deepest healing to your heart.