Remembering Doria

One Father's Journey after the Death of his Daughter

Helping Men


Becky and I were talking about things like this, and trying to think going forward about how to help people when they enter the club. It’s becoming something that we think about a lot more as time goes on. She has a really nice thing written for a women’s group, and that made me wonder, “What about helping men?”

We suffer in this, but in a different way. Most people reading stuff like this have been around a guy who suffered the loss, but helping us is different. This is just a preliminary idea, but something that might help people who want to help a grieving man. Some of it’s pretty direct and blunt, but that’s the idea. You’ll notice a theme here. At least from experience, I think there’s a most important thing to note here.

1. Spend time with him. Like Job’s friends for the first 7 days, be there and listen.  Let him know you care by being there. It’s tempting to try and say something, but speaking doesn’t do much. Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Do the most important thing first. Be there.

2. Ask questions. Get to know what they’re thinking and feeling. At least to me, it means a lot more if I can say what I’m actually thinking instead of someone filling it in for me. Even when I didn’t know, the best helpers let me wander my way there.
3. Spend time. Let them know by your presence that they matter, and they aren’t alone. When we lose someone, the biggest thing is feeling like we don’t fit in anywhere. We need to know that we belong. Trust me, the grieving people notice who does this and who doesn’t. If you don’t spend the time when we need it the most, it’s not happening again. There’s a wall coming up and you’ll be on the other side where you belong. I will forever be awe by parents of living children who reached out to me while we lived their worst nightmare. That kind of courage brings a respect that’s hard to fathom. Choosing not to brings quite the opposite.
4. Don’t offer advice or books that someone doesn’t ask for. Help isn’t help to someone that doesn’t want it. Find out what their actual problems are. Work with that.
5. What worked for you might not work for them. What you heard might not be relevant to them. Talk to them, and find out where they really are. Then you can find out what to say or not to say.  If you offer blanket solutions intended to solve problems without understanding, that’s easy to notice, and it appears  like you don’t care a whole lot, or it may show that you don’t care a lot. That kind of defeats the purpose.
6. Pray for them, but you don’t have to mention it. There are going to be some challenges in their walk with God, and, as strange as this sounds,  you might just inflame that. A lot of good prayer happens in secret anyway. Sometimes, it’s better left unsaid. For example, I had a multiple year feud with a co-worker. Eventually, I prayed that God would do whatever it took for us to reconcile it. The man’s house burned down. I didn’t feel telling him that I prayed for something to bring us together would be very helpful at that point. Sometimes, it’s better left unsaid.   (I’m guessing that no one will ever ask me to pray for them again!)
7. No books. It’s not always something we like to read (and I get the contradiction here ). As men, we often have trouble focusing on anything after our child dies. Handing us a book reminds us of the focus problems that we’re having. It exacerbates the problem by reminding us of another way that we fall short, or offering a solution we really don’t want. For me, books caused some nice long stare sessions and disbelief. It’s bold, but not really caring. It would also say to me “Go do this, solve it on your own. Don’t drag me into your nightmare.”  Don’t offer books.
8. Avoid this phrase: “God is in control.” Depending on their temperament, you’re likely to start something ugly. They know, and they know that He was in control before their child died, and that struggle is raging within. For my part, I have been at the center of some raging controversies over my Calvinist beliefs. I’ve always been a fan of the fact that God actually is in control. The church I pastored took the time to let me know that my Calvinism marked me as a false teacher sent by the Devil, which made for a very awkward Thanskgiving meal. This belief has been a hallmark of mine.
When Doria died, I knew full well that God was in control. I also knew that my daughter died. It’s not the time to tie those things together. Every truth doesn’t help at every time.   Don’t bring a gas can to the burning house.
9. Spend time. Don’t offer verses, passages, or sermons. Spend some time. That gives you the right to talk when they tell you that they’re ready.
10. Be patient and spend time. It takes a long time just to be functional. Don’t set a time limit, just like we don’t on any other aspect of spiritual living. We’ll get there, but this ain’t no sprint, and we’re too tired to Bolt towards the finish. Be willing to hear things that you don’t like. This guy just entered into a part of living that he never imagined. Every plan that he had just went up in smoke. A huge pile of hopes and dreams were just shattered. He probably has some pretty rough ideas. Be patient. He won’t stay there forever.
11. Be ready for a different person than you knew before. This guy has seen things that you never want to. I can regale people with a story of talking on the hospital phone with the phone in one hand and Doria’s body in the other. It leads us to live in a different world. That’s OK. That’s our walk now. We grievers live in a world where babies die. Our normal is very different. Respect that, and know that it changes a person.
12. Spend time. No one wants to be the loser that everyone avoids. Don’t smother the guy, but don’t ditch him. 
13. Don’t take it personally when he wants to be left alone. He’s not rejecting you. People can be too much when you’re emotionally overwhelmed. I’m kind of an extreme introvert, though no one believes it because I make sure to enjoy being around people when they’re around. As soon as they aren’t, I’m in my groove. Being around people too much generally wears me out. When I was just crushed early on, I did people time and got out as quick as I could. Don’t be hurt if an emotionally overwhelmed guy wants to take some time alone. It’s OK. It’s just part of our working it through.
Some early thoughts here while I’m working to put something together. Hopefully the most important one stood out and we can dwell on it, because it’s important to be there.

8 thoughts on “Helping Men

  1. This is a great post!!! Thank you for sharing. Grief is dealt with in so many ways and its often hard to figure out what a guy needs when their child has passed as most people focus on the woman.

  2. Some very great insights… when (if) my husband ever reaches a place where reading becomes a comfort to him like it is for me, I will certainly share this post. Thank you for sharing your perspectives. I think both men and women living with the loss of their baby can easily relate. I may even consider printing this out and including it in holiday cards this year-or hanging it at my desk at work! lol 🙂

  3. Thanks for this. It bothers me a lot that I don’t know how to help my husband or even what he is thinking/feeling much of the time. It has worried me that he does not read books or blogs because those things help me so much, but this made me feel like that is okay. He can heal as you are without them. I do feel hurt sometimes when he wants to be alone or doesn’t want to talk about Luke or other people’s babies. I will try to remember what you said and not feel hurt.

    • It’s tough. In some ways, we’re expected to “be strong” and quietly tough things out.

      I quietly skipped everything Christmas at church, especially the children’s program. There was just no way I was going to sit and watch that.

      In a way, though, you guys will be even more married by working through this, because you’ll both end up knowing the other more deeply. 🙂

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