Men’s Grief - Further Reading

From bereaved fathers:

1. Weaver-Hightower, M. B. (2015). Losing Thomas & Ella: A Father’s Story (A Research Comic). Journal of Medical Humanities, 1-16.

Educational Foundations and Research, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, USA

“Losing Thomas & Ella” presents a research comic about one father’s perinatal loss of twins. The comic recounts Paul’s experience of the hospital and the babies’ deaths, and it details the complex grieving process afterward, including themes of anger, distance, relationship stress, self-blame, religious challenges, and resignation. A methodological appendix explains the process of constructing the comic and provides a rationale for the use of comics-based research for illness, death, and grief among practitioners, policy makers, and the bereaved.

2. Farley, K. (2012). Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back. Grieving Dads LLC, USA [Bookseller link]

Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back is a collection of candid stories from grieving dads that were interviewed over a two year period. The book offers insight from fellow members of, in the haunting words of one dad, “this terrible, terrible club,” which consists of men who have experienced the death of a child. This book is a collection of survival stories by men who have survived the worst possible loss and lived to tell the tale. They are real stories that pull no punches and are told with brutal honesty. Men that have shared their deepest and darkest moments. Moments that included thoughts of suicide, self-medication and homelessness. Some of these men have found their way back from the brink while others are still standing there, stuck in their pain. The core message of Grieving Dads is “you’re not alone.” It is a message that desperately needs to be delivered to grieving dads who often grieve in silence due to society’s expectations. Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back is a book that no grieving dad or anyone who cares for him should be without. As any grieving parent will tell you, there are no words to describe the hell one experiences after the death of a child. Many men have no clue how to deal with or understand the myriad emotional, mental, and physical responses experienced after the death of a child. Stories appearing in the book have been carefully selected to represent a cross-section of fathers, as well as a diverse portrayal of loss. This approach helps reflect the full spectrum of grief, from the early days of shock and trauma to the long view after living with loss for many years. Any bereaved father will find brotherhood in these pages, and will feel that someone understands them. While there is plenty of raw emotion in this book-the stories are not exercises in self-pity nor are they studies in grief. They are survival stories instead. Some are testimonies to hope. Some are gut-wrenching accounts of overwhelming despair. But all of them are real-life stories from real-life grieving dads, and they show that even if one reaches his physical and emotional bottom, it is possible (although not easy) to live through that pain and find one’s way to the other side of grief. Most dads in this book found themselves in a state of physical, mental, and emotional collapse after the death of their child. As if the losses alone weren’t enough to drive these men to the brink, most try to deal with their grief according to the conventional wisdom so many men are brought up with, which perversely, increases their suffering all the more. We all know the party line about how men are “supposed” to deal with loss or even disappointment: toughen up, get back to work, take it like a man, support your wife, don’t talk about your emotions, don’t lose control, and if you must cry-by all means do so in private.

About the Author: Kelly Farley, like many men, was caught up in the rat race of life when he experienced the loss of two children over an 18-month period. He lost his daughter, Katie, in 2004, and son, Noah, in 2006. During the losses and the years that followed, he felt like he was the only dad that had ever experienced such a loss. He realized that society, for the most part, doesn’t feel comfortable with an openly grieving man. That realization inspired him to write his book Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back. In addition to this book, Kelly maintains a blog at www.GrievingDads.com and is currently pursuing his M.S. Ed. degree in counseling to continue his mission of helping others through profound life experiences. Kelly has a passion for helping people “pick up the pieces” after a profound life event. He also works as a personal recovery coach to help people put their life back together. Kelly lives in the suburbs of Chicago but still dreams of escaping the rat race. He enjoys spending time with his wife Christine and his four legged friend Buddy.

3. Weaver-Hightower, M. B. (2012). Waltzing Matilda: An Autoethnography of a Father’s Stillbirth. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, (4), 462.

In this autoethnographic essay, I consider the experience of my daughter Matilda’s stillbirth. I explore stillbirth, grief, tactile contact with death, and how all of these demonstrate the strictures and ruptures of masculinity in Western cultures. I counterpose these realities against the political, economic, and medical discourses of stillbirth as a means of exploring how social structures mediate and complicate parents’ experiences of their children’s deaths. Fathers’ experiences form the core of my analysis, for both the scientific literature and cultural texts about grief and perinatal death often discursively elide these experiences.

4. Stanford, P. (2011). The Death of a Child. London : Bloomsbury Publishing. Find in an Australian library

The Death of a Child is a collection of a dozen essays in which parents and siblings tell their own stories of losing a child, brother or sister, and of how they have coped with bereavement and grief.

Among the contents: Archie / Robin Baird-Smith: “His son, Archie, was killed in a car crash…at the age of 14.” – Jimmy / Barry Mizen: “His son Jimmy was murdered…at the age of 16.”

5. Younis, S. (2011). A Bereaved Father. The Author, [U.S.A.] [Find in an Australian library]

I am a bereaved father. I have lost not one, but two children. My only two children. While I have no children living in my house, I am still a father. Being a bereaved father is not something I ever considered, nor something I wanted to be. However, it is now who I am. In many ways it defines me. Being a bereaved father is complicated. It changes your life… forever. “A Bereaved Father” tells the story of my own experiences as a bereaved father, while giving other parents the opportunity to identify similarities with their own experiences, and find some solace in knowing that they are not going crazy, they are not abnormal, and they are not alone.

6. Atlas, J. C. (2010). They were Still Born : Personal Stories about Stillbirth / edited by Janel C. Atlas ; with a foreword by Elizabeth McCracken. Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield, c2010. [Find in an Australian Library]

Contributions include: Blindsided / Alan Goldenbach | Two Children, One Living / David Hlavsa | Invincible No More: What my Daughter’s Stillbirth Taught Me about Life / Tim Nelson

7. Mayer, D. E. (2010). Letters to Peter: On the Journey from Grief to Wholeness. Wipf & Stock [link to Angus & Robertson]

Retired minister of the United Church of Christ, advisory board chair, and adjunct faculty for the School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle University, WA, USA

That middle-of-the-night phone call, life for the Mayer family plunged from ““best-ever year”” to months and years of dealing with the oppressive presence of Peter’s unending absence. A letter from his father to the freshly deceased Peter, intended for the memorial service, became the first in a torrent of letters from his dad to Peter, though which his dad poured out agonized and angry grief. In the letters, Peter’s dad laments the way events otherwise beautiful for Peter’s wife, five-year-old daughter, and the rest of the family are relentlessly punctuated with the pain of the loss. ““Dammit, Peter, why didn’t you . . .?”” Ultimately, slowly, the letters begin to reflect on the strange mystery of healing. …

8. McNamara, K. (2009). Do I have to Cry to Say Goodbye?: Birth, Death and Inspiration, A Man’s Journey. Camberwell, Vic: Think & Grow Solutions. [Find in an Australian library]

9. Apple, D. L. (2008). Life After the Death of My Son: What I’m Learning. Beacon Hill Press [More information]

On the morning of February 6, 1991, Dennis Apple discovered the lifeless body of his son on their family room couch. Eighteen-year-old Denny had died without warning from what was later explained as complications due to Mono. Sixteen years later, Dennis still struggles with living in a world without his son.Life After the Death of My Son shares a glimpse of the unspeakable pain, helplessness, frustration, and eventual healing that Dennis and his wife, Buelah, have experienced since losing their son. Using excerpts from his journal—which he began the day after Denny died—Dennis explores the dark, lonely road of grieving for a child. He discloses his anger and disappointment with God, discusses his frustrations with friends and family, and shares how he’s dealt with the grief attacks, which continue to sneak up and surprise him. His painful, yet promising story offers comfort and connection to those walking similar paths. With understanding and compassion, Dennis offers grieving parents insight from 10 lessons he’s learned—and continues to learn. His gentle words and honest understanding will guide those with grieving hearts on their difficult journey; giving them hope; helping them to discover ways in which God is able to continue the life of the child they loved.

10. Pidgeon, C. (2007). Life after Stillbirth: A Father’s Story. RCM Midwives: The Official Journal of the Royal College of Midwives, 10(6), 288-9. [full text]

Colin Pidgeon, father of stillborn baby Daisy shares his story and discusses the value of the correct, sensitive approach by midwives and other healthcare professionals when dealing with bereaved parents.

11. Fleming, David (2006). Noah’s Rainbow : A Father’s Emotional Journey from the Death of his Son to the Birth of his Daughter. Baywood Pub, Amityville, N.Y

This book is for parents who are grieving the death of a child, and is particularly geared toward fathers. The scope of the book, however, is broad enough to appeal to anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one or who cares about someone who is grieving. It will also serve anyone searching for perspective or hope in life. It’s a book a father would feel good about recommending to another father.

12. Don, A. & Sands (Society) (2005). Fathers Feel Too: A Book for Men by Men on Coping with the Death of a Baby. Bosun on behalf of SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society), Shepperton on Thames

When Andrew Don’s baby Lara Jean died at five months in the womb, the hospital consultant sent his wife a condolence letter. Andrew flipped - ‘what was I - a non-person? Lara Jean was my baby too’. For five months Andrew had dreamed of what it would be like to be Lara Jean’s dad. Now, in a cold, impersonal letter, the hospital did not even acknowledge him or his grief. Andrew turned his experience into a book and now, for the first time in a single book, men from the UK, USA, Canada and Australia confront their grief and describe how they have eventually begun to live again. This is a book for men who are grieving, and for those who love them. It is essential reading for medical professionals and all those who provide support for bereaved parents.

13. Jenkins, C, Merry, J (2005).‘Fathers’ in Relative Grief: Parents and Children, Sisters and Brothers, Husbands, Wives, and Partners, Grandparents and Grandchildren Talk about Their Experience of Death and Grieving. Jessica Kingsley Publishers

And whether you have a whole lifetime of them - like partners who’ve lived together all their lives - or you have a child who dies at three-and-a-half, and there have just been a few - well, frankly, even if there is only one, so what? There’s been one. And that’s the sense in which it’s a small life but it’s a life. It’s a life all the same. [Tim Whewell]

14. Livingston, G. (2005). Only Spring: On Mourning the Death of My Son. Marlowe & Co [Angus & Robertson link]

The loss of a child is every parent’s most unspeakable fear. Gordon Livingston survived that tragedy not once but twice in a 13-month period, losing one son to suicide and another to leukemia. Only Spring, based on the journal he began keeping when the family received six-year-old Lucas’s diagnosis, traces the excruciating ordeal of witnessing his child’s courageous battle and the agonizing cycle of faith lost and hope regained. As a memorial, Only Spring will introduce you to a remarkable child whose legacy of hope and love can enrich each of us. As a portrait of survival, it will infuse us with the strength and faith to confront the most profound challenges in our lives.

15. Stanfield-Porter, A. (c1995?). A Dad’s Story: Never enough time to say hello and no time to say goodbye. Canterbury, Vic: Bonnie Babes Foundation [full text].

Publication by bereaved father Allan Stanfield-Porter of Bonnie Babes Foundation, a Melbourne charity 1994-2011. Includes poems and stories from bereaved fathers and summaries various bereavement publications regarding support and coping strategies for grieving fathers.

Music & Literature:

16. Kellin, M. (2011). A Father’s Grief- A Collection of Poems. CreateSpace Independent Publishing [Booktopia link]

The raw poems of a father who has lost his son. David Kellin wrote a poem a day for the first month after the death of Chandler Mahlon Kellin. These are those poems. Not a poet, but a grieving father, his strong emotions are present as he challenges the notions and ideas of what a father grieving is all about. He shows us the personal side of death of a child. the poems convey anger, sadness, and confusion.

17. Floyd, G. (1999) Angel in Disguise. In Gregory Floyd, A Grief Unveiled : One Father’s Journey Through the Death of a Child (pp 127-8). Brewster, MA. : Paraclete Press1 [Find in an Australian library]

Little boy I loved you

about as much as one can love another In fact it was my only consolation

that now you know how much I loved you

I could not begin to count the many ways you filled our life with laughter

Old enough to bring us such great joy

but young enough that no dark sorrow crossed your brow

It makes the anguish deeper now

And when I walk the streets at night or sit by the fire’s dying light

or when I’m watching for the dawn I can almost touch you

There are times when I look up

then I see you standing there before me The thing I always notice is your smile and all the light that’s in your eyes

Were you an angel in disguise?

And when I walk the streets at night

or sit by the fire’s dying light

or when I’m watching for the dawn I can hear you clearly saying

I am always with you

I am always by your side I am always with you

I’m everywhere you are.

18. Clapton, E. (1992) Tears in Heaven [YouTube]

In this beautifully mellodic song, blue/rock guitarist and singer Eric Clapton wonders if his son Conor, who died at four and a half, would still recognize him. It’s a question that haunts many bereaved parents - especially those who lose young children. Where are they? And after a while, will they know us? Conor fell to his death from fifty-third floor of his mother’s New York apartment after climbing unnoticed onto a window ledge. A housekeeper, cleaning windows, had left one open to dry. Afterwards, Clapton wrote a cycle of songs for Conor, believing that some-how, in some spiritual way, his son would hear them. “I have to pay my respects to that boy, in my way,” he later told an interviewer, “and let the world know what I thought about him.”

Source: Anne McCracken, Mary Seme A Broken Heart Still Beats: After Your Child Dies

For bereaved fathers:

19. Golden, T. R. & Miller, J. E.(1998). When a Man Faces Grief : 12 Practical Ideas to Help You Heal from Loss. Fort Wayne, Ind., Willowgreen. [Find in an Australian library]

20. Davis, D. L. (1996). Especially for Fathers. In Empty Cradle, Broken Heart : Surviving the Death of your Baby. Golden, Colo. : Fulcrum Pub. [Find in an Australian library]

Academic recommended reading:

21. Donnelly, K.F. (2015). The male viewpoint. In Recovering from the Loss of a Child. New York: Open Road Media. [Purchase]

22. Campbell-Jackson, L., Bezance, J., & Horsch, A. (2014). “A Renewed Sense of Purpose”: Mothers’ and Fathers’ Experience of having a Child following a Recent Stillbirth. BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, 14(1), 398-418. doi:10.1186/s12884-014-0423-x [full text]

Oxford Institute of Clinical Psychology Training, Isis Education Centre, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, UK

Background: Most research has focused on mothers’ experiences of perinatal loss itself or on the subsequent pregnancy, whereas little attention has been paid to both parents’ experiences of having a child following late perinatal loss and the experience of parenting this child. The current study therefore explored mothers’ and fathers’ experiences of becoming a parent to a child born after a recent stillbirth, covering the period of the second pregnancy and up to two years after the birth of the next baby. Method: In depth interviews were conducted with 7 couples (14 participants). Couples were eligible if they previously had a stillbirth (after 24 weeks of gestation) and subsequently had another child (their first live baby) who was now under the age of 2 years. Couples who had more than one child after experiencing a stillbirth and those who were not fluent in English were excluded. Qualitative analysis of the interview data was conducted using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis. Results: Five superordinate themes emerged from the data: Living with uncertainty; Coping with uncertainty; Relationship with the next child; The continuing grief process; Identity as a parent. Overall, fathers’ experiences were similar to those of mothers’, including high levels of anxiety and guilt during the subsequent pregnancy and after the child was born. Coping strategies to address these were identified. Differences between mothers and fathers regarding the grief process during the subsequent pregnancy and after their second child was born were identified. Despite difficulties with bonding during pregnancy and at the time when the baby was born, parents’ perceptions of their relationship with their subsequent child were positive. Conclusions: Findings highlight the importance of tailoring support systems not only according to mothers’ but also to fathers’ needs. Parents’, and particularly fathers’, reported lack of opportunities for grieving as well as the high level of anxiety of both parents about their baby’s wellbeing during pregnancy and after birth implies a need for structured support. Difficulties experienced in bonding with the subsequent child during pregnancy and once the child is born need to be normalised.

23. Chaffey, E and Whyte, J. (2014). Dynamics and Dimensions: Ambiguous Loss and Disenfranchised Grief of Partners following a Miscarriage, Stillbirth or TOPFA. Grief Matters: The Australian Journal of Grief and Bereavement, 17(2): 52-57.

Master of Social Work Program, RMIT University, Melbourne, Vic, Australia

The significance of a pregnancy on the woman is hard to overstate, inextricably impacting and interweaving all aspects of the woman’s life. This significance is exponentially compounded depending on how the pregnancy ends. While there is a substantial body of research exploring the senses of loss experienced by women after a miscarriage, stillbirth or termination of pregnancy for foetal abnormality (TOPFA), the experience of their partners has not been examined in as great a detail. Although the partner does not directly experience the pregnancy, they may have their own expectations or anticipations to loss, exposing them to the phenomena of disenfranchised grief and ambiguous loss. This raises many questions about the origins, dynamics and impacts of these types of grief on this population. What are the social, psychological, cultural or existential dimensions that might form or shape their expectations? Does this change the experience? What attributions exist? Is it God’s will? Is it punishment? Is it controllable and, if so, who influenced the outcome? What are the dynamics through which grief might be denied, minimised, acknowledged or transcended following this type of loss? And what do various theorists posit as key factors to be addressed? In this article, the authors interconnect two conceptual frameworks to provide a complex context of social reality that facilitates the pursuit of much‑needed research into this phenomenon. In doing so, they also interweave understandings of personal and social dynamics to guide and negotiate explorations of this domain.

24. Bonnette, S., & Broom, A. (2012). On Grief, Fathering and the Male Role in Men’s Accounts of Stillbirth. Journal of Sociology, 48(3): 248-265. doi: 10.1177/1440783311413485

University of Queensland

Stillbirth experiences are a traditionally under-researched area of health, with the limited research available focusing on women’s perspectives. Drawing on qualitative interviews with 12 men in Australia who have experienced stillbirth, this article explores how they engaged with their unborn and stillborn child as fathers and the perceived legitimacy of male grief. The results reveal the complex ways in which these men identify as fathers to their unborn and stillborn child; how they develop dynamic and ongoing relationships with their child post-stillbirth; and the problematic of expressing grief in the context of ‘the male role’. Our findings suggest cultural constructions of the ‘male role’ are both manifest and contested in the context of stillbirth, and that fathering and grief are situated within a highly gendered and relational dynamic. These findings suggest that further work is needed to explore and conceptualize the interplay of gender identity and bereavement for Australian men.

25. Edwards, S., McCreanor, T., Ormsby, M., Tuwhangai, N., & Tipene-Leach, D. (2009). Maori Men and the Grief of SIDS. Death Studies, 33(2), 130-152. doi: 10.1080/07481180802602774 [full text]

Whariki Research Group, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand

The loss of a baby is always hard to cope with and the grieving process is likely to be difficult. Interventions to work with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) families have improved grieving outcomes for many but the needs of Maori fathers are not well understood or catered to by existing services. This article presents narrative data from Maori fathers who have lost a baby to SIDS and analyzes these narratives in the context of the literature and of traditional Maori constructs about grief. The authors document a rarely discussed Maori concept, “the attainment of mauri tau,” as the desired outcome of the grieving process; and begin a discussion around the changing face of the Maori grieving process and its implications for the grieving practices of Maori men.


Last reviewed: 19/12/18