Ask Dr. Leary
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
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
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.
By Lani Leary, Ph.D.
Lani specializes in working with chronically, ill, dying and bereaved clients. Dr. Leary has worked for the past 25 years as a psychotherapist in private practices and 6 hospices across the country. Shared with permission from LifeNet Health. To read more visit https://www.lifenethealth.org/healingthespirit/qa-dr-leary