Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting past the grief

Last night, I went to dinner with my friend Karen's husband. Karen, some of you may recall, is the friend of mine who passed away suddenly at age 40 in April.

Her husband is doing relatively well, trying to stay strong for their three young kids even as he grieves. I almost lost it when he told me that sometimes he spritzes her perfume in the air because the kids associate that scent with her.

He talked a lot about not wanting to feel sorry for himself. I said he needed to give himself permission to do that. I told him how in the months after Max was born, I wallowed. I wallowed with abandon. I even had a wallowing ritual: I'd go to the car, put on the heater, slip in Nora Jones' Come Away With Me CD (it had debuted that year) and sob in the driveway. It was what I needed to get the grief out.

I think he heard me, but I also think that men handle grief very differently than women do. After Max's two weeks in the NICU, Dave never cried about what had happened to him, except for the two times Max had seizures. Dave also wouldn't get emotional after big-deal doctor visits where words like "microcephaly" and "cerebral palsy" were first mentioned, unlike me.

It felt good to offer my friend's husband some perspective tonight. I want to help him so, so much.

I'm curious, how did your husbands deal when your child was born or when you first found out about his or her special needs?

Photo by Crowt59


  1. Dan was also the strong, silent type when Daniel was diagnosed. He was shaken up for all of 2 minutes, and then put on his brave face. At the same time, he couldn't involve himself in any of the research, therapy, etc. at first. I think he knew that unless he covered his ears and closed his eyes, he would lose it.
    Finally, after a couple of months, he muttered something one day about how I spent too much time researching treatments and that I needed to stop obsessing. I snapped back something about how I had no choice since he was constantly running away from Daniel's diagnosis - not one of my finest moments, I know. All of a sudden, Dan just lost it. He sobbed uncontrollably and it all came out - how he had to go back into his office to keep from crying at work whenever a coworker brought his "typical" toddler in for a visit, how crushed he felt when he saw another dad playing ball with his son, and how scared he was for Daniel. In the past four years, that is the only time that he has let go and let his emotions show - although I think I caught a tear in his eye when Daniel first learned to walk and later learned to skate. Although I'd sometimes like for him to open up more, he is and always will be the rock of our family.

  2. Carl is always trying to put on the good face (for me) but he is a softee, to the core. I remember when we first heard the news, he let the tears fall just as much as I did. After all, that's HIS baby girl! When Faith was born and I was left in the recovery room and she was having apneac seizures, he told me she was ok. Then they had to perform CPR on her and I didn't even know that until this spring! Sometimes I think he tries to protect me by not telling me aweful things that happened. But I am not mad, I am grateful for such a caring husband. But he is a big softee!!LOL

  3. Wow! Such a tough situation. I am so sorry you lost your friend, and Karen's family lost her. I can't even imagine how hard it is for that father.

  4. Shawn's much like Dave--he cried in the NICU ONCE. I was bawling every day. He doesn't get emotional about any of it, whereas you just say "PICU" and I go into panic, ugly cry mode.
    I'm sure there's a place that would be a balance between our 2 extremes!

  5. Not sure I have ever commented before, but I found you a while back through Finding Normal.

    The night Marissa was born, my husband, Jeremy, really struggled. When the NICU staff told him they needed to intubate her and he might not want to watch, he came back to my recovery room and he was green. I could see tears in his eyes and he kept going to the bathroom. He told me later he was trying not to throw up or cry in front of me. He also told me that when he was driving home that night (i got stuck in a room that did not have a place for him to even sit in a chair!), he didn't need his glasses to see because of the tears. He cried several more times while she was in the NICU, mostly when she would have her blue spells or when she would have a procedure like the picc line or the lumbar puncture. Since she came home, he has had his moments of being really emotional, but he has mostly held it together and been the rock. I think he balances it all pretty well ~ not crying all the time, but not bottling it up either.

    Thanks for sharing about your friend. I am sorry he is having to go through this with three young children, but I am glad you can be there for him.

  6. so sorry about your friend's death. i feel for her husband and their children. so sad.

  7. After many years of infertility and then the sudden premature birth of my twins, honestly I just lost it. My husband is much stronger than me. He seemed to take it one day at a time. He also started from day one typing (yes a typewriter) a daily journal about each day. He did that for a year. I felt crushed that we deserved perfect babies after all we went thru and he just took it in stride. When they finally came home he was the one that did all the taping of canulas to the face. Tough job. We just celebrated our 29th anniversary. I know I am the worrier and he is the optomistic. Funny also that at about age 2 or so one of the boys loved an old beaded purse I had. He carried everywhere. I had friends that said they would never let their son carry a purse. My husband just smiled and said it was a beaded brief case!! Its tough and we are lucky if we make it thru these journeys together, I know of many couples that don't.

  8. My husband went into la-la-land. Even now, everything is, "Fine!! Just fine!!"
    It's frustrating and very lonely.

  9. Mine couldnt cope and wouldnt talk about it at all until one he told me he wanted to put our son out of his misery. He is now my ex.
    It was all very sad.

  10. My husband bawled, and I felt terrible. My sister stopped by the house when I was at the hospital with Jude, and she said she heard him in the house crying. argh.....

  11. First, I have to say that I truly have a wonderfully caring, giving husband. He is probably the kindest person I know. He would give anyone the shirt off of his back and has many times.
    It was difficult for him to accept the diagnosis and still is (our son is 4 yr 2 months). We still don't know exactly what is "wrong" with him, but we have a general idea and we see specialists every few months for advice and possibly a new diagnosis. He is in a wonderful special needs school (we live in NJ and we get a lot of support from the state thankfully and gratefully) and is doing well.
    Sometimes we talk about our son's future and we don't know what is in store. That is the hardest part for my husband. Not knowing. But because we talk about it a lot and are completely honest with each other, it helps both of us cope. It also helps that our son is such a joy (most of the time!) and I believe that we are both better because of him.
    My husband still is in the process of grieving, but it gets better and better. I have become the optimist that does all the research and he is the reality checker (not quite a pessimist). But I couldn't do this without him. He is a wonderful father to our two boys and treats them both with dignity and love at all times.
    We always say that this isn't quite what we signed up for, but what can we do? It's just a different path in life, and I think that it might end up being the better one.
    Thanks for your lovely post. Kristen P

  12. Austin's dad saw him ONCE in the NICU the day after he was born. I am now a single mom so I think that gives some idea how the whole thing was handled. Not well.

    Now that he is older and more stable things are better between us, but he still lives in denial.

    Sorry about the loss of your friend. It must be so hard when you need to keep going for the kids.

  13. Great questions again Ellen....I always come away from your site with food for thought.

    John Mark has had now 13 years to adjust, and sometimes it is still difficult especially now that we are facing teen Regan on top of CP issues. He has always not dealt well with the fact that he can't fix her, that being said heis an awesome dad, and still creates special time with her. They are both cuddlers, so often they are on a sofatogether on movie nights just huddling in a corner.

    I am not sure as men that they ever really get over not being a problem solver....but time does heal and help.

  14. It is so comforting to read these comments. And moving. Jo, I got weepy after your comment, and as I kept reading I got more so. Anonymous #1 (may I call you Anon? Ha, ha), congratulations on your 29th anniverary, that is amazing. Anonymous #2, I am sorry you are frustrated and lonely, that is sad to read. I hope you find some comfort in the company on this blog. We're here to talk about all the stuff that friends/spouses/whoever just don't get. xo

  15. "Well Hunnybunny, we're battin' a thousand, aren't we?" That's how he reacted. He was an upbeat guy, though, and being no stranger to "special needs" (our oldest, who we adopted, and my brother, who had pretty significant hearing loss) it wasn't something that happened to "others."

    Our baby is fairly mild, too. He's no genius, but he doesn't have an intellectual deficit (he's a bit emotional and can have the odd tantrum--not sure if that's his condition or inherited!). He has trouble with a bit of weakness on one side (his hand is the worst of it), and he wears an AFO and goes to regular therapy. He has a goofy little gait that's kind of sweet.

    But we didn't even know he had a problem until he was about four or five months old--he just wasn't reaching those milestones. So it kind of sneaked up on us, and we got the diagnosis in dribs and drabs, too.

    Through it all, the Big B was great, though--he actually jollied me through the early days, when I was running to my mommaa's to use her high speed internet to research, research, research, like that would change anything. He just kept the diapers changed and loved and laughed with the boys. He was a frigging saint, actually. He always had the ability to see the bright side. He'd say "We're eatin' good, we got a roof over our heads, a paycheck coming in, and we got each other! We're RICH!"

    I don't think I could have dealt with it without him, though. I always was the Family Worrier. I did the worrying, he did the encouraging. He never was shy about talking about it, either, but he'd keep telling me to focus on what the baby can do, not what he can't--same deal with our oldest. He was right, too. You can't change what you got or where you're at. You can try to find new solutions, but you can't get mad at the situation where you find yourself, unless you want to eat away at your spirit. You are where you are, and you just have to push on.

    I wish my verification word to make this post wasn't "buried" but it is, so there ya go. Damn, guess I'll head over to the cemetery and say hey to Daddy and have a good old cry. I miss him.

  16. I don't know if my husband is in complete denial or is completely self could be both. Don't mean to sound harsh, but when my son was born and I was a recovering mess, he didn't do much to comfort me. When he spent a month in the NICU and I sat in front of the incubator trying to hold it together, he was busy flirting with the NICU nurses and planning a major bathroom renovation in our house. I wanted to talk about the baby - he wanted me to pick out tiles. He rarely (if ever) gets involved with our son's therapy - most days I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and our son's entire future depends on me. Can you tell I'm rather resentful?
    I'm signing this anonymously because I dont' want anyone to know and think my husband is a big jerk. It felt good to get that out though. :-(

  17. Well, we both cried the first day we heard, but after that my husband was basically a rock while I cried a lot. I think he just processes things differently. He's not terribly interested in therapy although he is extremely supportive and I'm not a bit resentful. I'm a full-time mom, so I feel it should be mostly my responsibility. He loves Charlie so completely and with so little reservation that it awes me. Some times he gets a little upset when we go somewhere and Charlie can't do what all the other kids can, but even that is fading. In many ways we are lucky because they told us Charlie wouldn't make it--makes it easier to accept some of the other things.

  18. Ha, DH went to work the next day after Elizabeth was born at 1 1/2 lbs and he didn't even bring me home when I was discharged (a bit of resentment can you tell?). I listened to an amazing speaker (Ken Moses look him up his son has CP) who talks about grief and as had so eloquently phrased it 'men are made to fix things and this is something that he cannot fix' and for my DH going to work and earning a living was how he coped.
    I agree with you I think we all need time to wallow.

  19. My hubby was also shocked and quiet when it came to all of Violet's diagnosis.

  20. I cry in the Shower Ellen. we have a power shower that hides the noise and washes away all the running snot and tears at the same time.


  21. I remember coming out of a fetal MRI with my husband. We had just been told about some very severe neurological issues that our son would have, and that there was a good chance he would be very low-functioning. Jer took my hand as we walked out and said:
    "Well, as long as we can make him happy, we'll be all right."

    That's Jer to a "T." He embraced Connor from the very beginning and is extremely proud of all his accomplishments, no matter how small or delayed. He goes to as many of our son's doctors appointments and therapy sessions as he can, knows all about Connor's diagnosis and is always interested in knowing more. He and I cried on each others' shoulders repeatedly during the terrible days after our son's birth when we thought we were going to lose him, but otherwise he adjusted much faster to the idea of having a child with special needs than I did.

    If he ever spent a lot of time thinking about "what might have been," he didn't share those feelings with me. He was able to accept the fact that we wouldn't be having a "typical" child much, much more quickly than I could, and helped me focus on all of the wonderful things about my son when I was overwhelmed with the dire information we were getting.

    At parties and gatherings Jer is always the one in charge of Connor-- he'll finagle it so he can take the little guy and show him off to all of his co-workers. He knows exactly what all of Connor's special needs are-- he just chooses not to focus on them. It's nice to have someone in the house with a "glass half-full" philosophy; we kind of balance.


  22. we were terribly civilised and had our meltdowns in first, then himself...thank God! I shudder to think how we'd have looked after our kids otherwise.
    All the comments are deeply touching XXX

  23. WOW! This post and these comments are very moving. I am so sorry about your friend. Some people run away in times of grief because they don't know what to do, but you are sticking around and trying to help - that is a true friend. I am sure it is a blessing to the family.

    My husband and I have been together for 19 years and I think I have seen him cry twice. One of those times was when my daughter was born. I think he was completely overwhelmed by the birthing process (so was I!). Over the next few days we found out that she had some issues and she ended up spending 6 weeks in the NICU. We got a diagnosis of CP within the first week or two. I think we were both in shock for about the first 3 weeks. It just didn't really sink in.

    In the beginning I don't remember talking about it much. I think we were both hurting so much we didn't quite know what to do. As time has passed we talked about it more. I am definitely the crying type and he is not. I am definitely the pessimist and he is usually the optimist. So I think we balance each other out. Having a child with special needs definitely does a number on your marriage (as many other commenters have mentioned) so it is nice to know that I have someone who is in it for the long haul no matter how ugly things get.

  24. We took turns crying. Granted, I did a lot more of that then he did. He asked all the questions from the doctors while I sat in a blury haze, not really comprehending much. Once in awhile, after the serious talks with the doctor, he would tear up, but mostly he held me while I cried.

  25. I'm the happy positive one while my husband is the sad negative one. When we were told Abby had severe brain damage, I was the one who was calm, asked questions and made decisions while he sobbed a lot. Ben fell apart while I held it together.

    I helped him get through the early days. He was the one who would research while I would look after Abby, cook, clean etc. Looking back, I dont think my husband could have coped without me.


Thanks for sharing!

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