What about the boss?

Someone posted this morning a question about whether to get their boss something to acknowledge his loss after the stillbirthof his child. Co-workers were telling her it was inappropriate, but she wanted to hear from people who have "been there". (The post appears under the heading of "It's the small things that count") Below is my response to her, but I am wondering what others think? Thanks

I always want to stress that everyone is different in how they react to their grief, so what I am saying is how I felt/feel, but obviously I am not your boss.

My gut reaction to your question is that your co-workers are well intentioned, but I would not agree with them. One of the things I hear repeatedly from fathers is stories about going back to work and having everyone act like nothing happened. Not only does no one ask how they are doing, some people avoid them because of their discomfort with the situation, and sometimes rooms even go silent when they walk into a meeting or the lunch room.

I personally think that the real question is WHAT you might get him to acknowledge that you are thinking about him. I own my own company and my employees were wonderful about supporting me. One person even came to the house to visit, and I remember how thoughtful that gesture was and how much it meant to both my wife and I. The others in the office did not buy anything other than a card, but again the gesture meant the world to me and certainly let my wife know they were thinking of her as well.

Depending on a lot of different factors, including what your relationship is normally like with your boss, I would definitely say a card would be appropriate -- and I hope that others in the company may have done something similar. Also, most moms AND dads I know wish that people would use the baby's name when speaking to them about their loss, since one of the biggest fears as a parent is that everyone will forget your child ever existed or that they were not "real" to others-- or at least mattered. So a personalized inexpensive gift with the baby's name would be very nice, in my opinion.

Finally, I would say in the card (or the card that accompanies the gift) that you were not sure what you should do to acknowledge his loss, but that you felt terrible and just really wanted to do something... basically the same thing you said in your post. Honest expressions of feelings are what most of us want or wanted at the time... your boss may be the guy who runs the company, but he is a human being with the same feelings and emotions that others experience.

National Support Organizations

Often times families in the midst of early grief do not realize that there are national support organizations that deal with very specific genetic or fetal anamoly issues. If you know of organizations that were helpful to you or someone you know, please share some here. For example:


Sometimes it's the small things that count

In the last couple of days, this blog has seen new posts from fathers who have pointed to either another person's comment or a poem that has helped them feel not so alone. When you express your feelings -- whether it be as a comment or in the form of poetry -- your words undoubtedly not only help relieve some of your own stress, but touch others you will never know about. Thank you to all who have done that here and I hope you will share with others what has helped you most in making it through your grief.

"It just takes time...."

I was on the Compassionate Friends Facebook page and noticed that someone had posted a question/comment about "time healing all wounds." The reaction from other parents was pretty strong, and quite universal in expressing that time indeed does NOT heal all wounds. I would agree, but I must admit that I will sometimes say to newly bereaved parents that, in time and with hard work, things will likely start to look different for them and that some of the sadness and pain will give way to more positive memories. Does that mean I am suggesting that all their wounds will be healed and they will no longer hurt? It certainly is not what I am trying to say, although I'm guessing some people might interpret it that way.

For me, the question really comes down to, what is healing vs. accepting the new reality? Acceptance, in my book, does not necessarily mean healing, but rather coming to a point where a bereaved person realizes that no amount of sadness, anger, or hopelessness is going to make things different and the process of grieving allows them to start moving forward again.

In other words, it is not TIME itself that helps, but rather what you DO WITH THE TIME. If you curl up in a ball, pull the shades, and let your sadness take over, no days, weeks, or months off the calendar are going help make you feel better. But if you use that grieving time to reflect and express your sadness and anger in a healthy way so the pressure does not become unbearable, life can become worth living again.

Believe me, it is not that I don't understand that sometimes the sadness is so overwhelming it seems completely impossible to ever think of being happy again. But, I also don't believe that we are dishonoring our children and the love we feel for them by allowing ourselves to smile, be happy, and feel hope.

How do you feel about this? What have you done to find some peace -- or haven't you?

The subsequent child

I have previously written about the subsequent pregnancy my wife and I experienced after Kathleen died. For me, it was a very stressful 9 months filled with building protective walls in order to prevent myself from being hurt if something bad happened again. For Monica, it was a time that she let herself cherish because she had lost her innocense and understood it was possible that those months inutero were the only ones she might have with our baby.

In both cases, we were greatly influenced by our previous loss -- even though how we dealt with it was very different.

After our son was born, ironically, I was better able to let go of my stress and relax a little, while Monica got more nervous that something might happen to him during infancy. I think she was a little more protective than she might have been and her bond with him was very strong.

I would be curious to hear how others felt about that experience and how you think your loss has impacted the relationship with your subsquent child both short and long term. I have had some parents tell me that they had a more difficult time bonding with the subsequent baby because they still felt such tremendous pain for their child that died. Others have shared that they cherished all their children so much more because they realized how fragile life can be.

Any thoughts?

Easier to share information

This is nothing revolutionary (except if you're old like me), but note that at the end of postings on the blog, there are icons for email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If you find a comment or posting you want to share with others, just click on the icon and pass it on in whatever "newfangled" way you have of communicating with your friends.

Are You A "Mr. Fix-it?"

For a lot of men (me not included) being able to fix things around the house is an important achievement. Not only does it save money, it also provides a sense of control and accomplishment. While I am far from a handy kind of guy, I must admit that on those rare occasions when I actually do fix something, I'm pretty proud of myself.

Even though I might not be the typical Mr. Fix-it, I definitely took on that role when Kathleen died. Whenever my wife, Monica, opened up to me about her sadness, I felt compelled to provide her with solutions for her sadness. It was not until much later that I learned she was not looking to be fixed -- she just wanted me to listen.

Do any of you find yourselves trying to fix your partner's sadness? Do any of you feel like your partner is trying to fix you? Have you been able to deal effectively with the issue, or is it still a source of tension?

A poem for fathers

I was asked by a dad to share this poem he came across. If anyone knows the author, please let me know so I can give them credit.

It must be very difficult

To be a man in grief,
Since "men don't cry"
and "men are strong"
No tears can bring relief.

It must be very difficult
To stand up to the test,
And field the calls and visitors
So she can get some rest.

They always ask if she's all right
And what she's going through.
But seldom take his hand and ask,
"My friend, but how are you?"

He hears her crying in the night
And thinks his heart will break.
He dries her tears and comforts her,
But "stays strong" for her sake.

It must be very difficult
To start each day anew.
And try to be so very brave-
He lost his baby too.

Eileen Knight Hagemeister

The gift of forgiveness

It is rare that I am home watching TV on a Friday night (we are firm believers in trying to kick off the weekend with a diversion), but last night I found myself watching Dateline for the first time in a year. The program was depressing, but I was caught up in the report within minutes. It was about a man and woman (brother and sister) who, as teenagers in 1979, were the victims of a home invasion. Their father was a prominent Oklahoma minister and he and their mother were both senselessly murdered in the random attack. The children both survived, although they were critically wounded. The Dateline report was about this man's and woman's journeys since that horrible event -- the agony of the murderers' trials and multiple court appeals, the failed relationships they experienced, and how they eventually began to heal and were able to move forward. While the experience will obviously impact them the rest of their lives, the real focus of the story became the young man's ability to forgive the person who pulled the trigger that horrendous night. A lot of the questions to him centered around, "how could you possibly forgive someone who did that?"

What struck me in all the questions and answers about forgiveness was that no one ever mentioned that forgiveness does not mean condoning the hurtful action that occurred. When I was trained by the Grief Recovery Institute as a group facilitator, that point was one that hit me hard. I had never thought of it that way. The Institute's philosophy is that forgiveness really means, "I am not going to let this hurt me anymore." By looking at it that way, it gives at least a minuscule piece of responsibility (and control) to the person who feels they have been wronged. It becomes their decision as to how they want to move forward.

I was very angry at a certain individual caregiver who failed us when Kathleen died. I could not have been convinced at the time that there was any way I could forgive him. When I started to look at forgiveness as setting myself free rather than letting him totally off the hook, I was better able to let go and move on.

If you find yourself angry and unable to forgive someone, I hope that you give this some thought, because you might find that it is helpful. No one deserves to live their life filled with anger, and I certainly believe that Kathleen would not have wanted her death to result in that for me.

Grief and social media

It seems that social media is affecting nearly everything these days, including how we grieve. We recently started a Facebook page for A Place To Remember and it's a daily challenge to know what kinds of things to post -- what is helpful? what is too much? what is just plain silly? There is no doubt that it is a changing world technologically and even less doubt that it will continue at a rapid pace.

If you are willing, let me know what you think works and what does not work as far as providing the best avenues for communicating about your grief. Whether it is how I (and you ) use this blog, a Facebook page, Twitter, or some other new fangled "app" that I likely have not even heard of yet, I would like to know what you think!

It's 2011, and what better time is there to start acting like I know what is going on with all this stuff! Thanks!!