Before I get into anything, let me put something out there that has been missing in many women’s lives: I’m sorry. You’ve needed us to be there to listen or to be close while you cry, and we didn’t. You’ve needed us to show some vulnerability or to breakdown with you, and we couldn’t. You’ve needed to feel that it’s ok to grieve as long as it takes and that your feelings are valid no matter how long it’s been, and somewhere along the way we didn’t give you that affirmation. I’m sorry for all of the times that we have been needed to be something we weren’t prepared to be and couldn’t find a way to bridge that gap. Intentional or not, we fell short. I’m sorry.
Men, we’re failing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone tell me how much it meant to them that I’m willing to put my grief out there, or how important it was to a mother to see that we do connect but her spouse wouldn’t (or felt he couldn’t) show it. We are partners in highs of life and the deepest lows of death and everything in between, and we need to hold up our end of the bargain. The fact that we’ve made it an exception when someone is open about their difficulties instead of the rule says plenty. To be fair, I’ve talked to a lot of guys who have real life reasons for their reactions. Some have come back from service and don’t feel the things they’ve dealt with compares to the type of loss others have experienced. Some come from families where the man is the stoic and strong leader, not the coddler and nurturer. I’m sure there is some cultural dissonance in there as well, being caught between one generation that believes in strength above all and the next who has the desire to try to feel everything. The thing that we miss in all of this is that grief has no levels – loss is loss no matter what type or reason. And while we’re busy trying to stay strong or keep the days moving, we’re missing out on the chance to connect with our spouses in a way that penetrates the surface. It’s time we take the opportunity to grow in our relationships, and grow our own character in the process.
For those of you who are lucky enough to be raising men and women out there, take a hard look at the example being set for your sons and daughters. We are teaching them to grow up with the idea that it’s ok to avoid loss. We’re teaching our daughters that they will have to deal with this on their own, and we’re teaching our sons that they don’t need to work through the difficult parts of life together. If Jonah were here today and I got to teach him through my own example, I would want to show him to use pain as a growth opportunity with the person they choose to spend their life with. I would show him that loving my wife means hurting together every bit as much as laughing together. The example we set stays with them, and it’s our job to make sure they have the right things to fall back on.
There are resources out there for those of us who don’t know how to start or are uncomfortable reaching out in person. Help for PTSD – which is not only associated with military service – can be found here. There are many, many blogs out there by people who are dealing with loss of parents, children, friends, grandparents, and many others who are writing hoping you will find them and relate in some way that helps – take five minutes to browse and read. There are sites out there who have more light hearted stories and experiences. I recommend Mourning, Noon, and Night, who just recently posted an article about alternatives for memorializing someone who asked to not have a funeral. I’m opening myself up on here but am always willing to have a personal conversation or exchange with someone if it would help. Take the steps to see what others have done and apply it in your daily life. Mother’s Day is coming, and the immediate impact this could have is right in front of you.
I’m not asking you to step outside of yourself and do things you aren’t ready for. What I am asking you to do is to be the hero your children already believe you are. Be the knight your spouse needs you to be, however they need it. Listen instead of fix. Live in the uncomfortable places because they will grow into a depth of relationship few take the time to find.
I can’t tell you that it will be easy or that you will enjoy the process, but I can tell you it will be worth it.