Along with our Aaliyah in Action Comfort Packages families are also provided books as they begin in the grieving journey. One of the books available is specifically for fathers, Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back. So often non-birthing partners are not included in the grieving conversations the way they should be. Kelly offers invaluable advice and stories from other partners who identify as fathers & he so kindly answered just a couple of questions we had for him as a father on this journey!
In addition to writing Grieving Dads, Kelly Farley also leads workshops for grieving fathers AND offers training for nurses in perinatal units, bereavement counselors and hospital chaplains. You can find out more about these opportunities, here! He also has a companion workbook to Grieving Dads, for those who are not comfortable attending support groups.
I hope you can take Kelly's answer's to these questions and recognize the important need of supporting fathers and all non-birthing partners. It's a space in the pregnancy loss and infant death community we really need to strengthen and thank you so much to Kelly Farley for speaking his truth on it.
What support did you find most helpful as a father after experiencing loss?
Honestly, after our first loss, I didn’t have any formal support and didn’t really know I needed it. I, like many men, was taught to toughen up and not given the tools to deal with something so profound. I held it in for as long as I could until it started to leak out in ways I didn’t understand. I started to have mental and emotional breakdowns about 16 months after losing my daughter Katie and didn’t fully understand why. It wasn’t until I lost my son Noah, just 18 months after losing Katie, that I realized I needed help and that I could no longer run from the pain.
I finally decided to look for help/support because I knew deep down that if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to survive. I found child loss support groups, counselors and being around others that were hurting to be very helpful for me. I wish someone would have told me early on that these support tools were available to me. It would have also been helpful to have had someone acknowledge my pain or give me “permission” to feel my pain, but the hospitals, doctors, friends or family never directed me to any of these resources.
What support did you find least helpful?
This is a difficult question to answer since I wasn’t offered much in the way of support. I would say the biggest thing you can avoid is trying to “fix” their problem. The death of a child cannot be fixed, only processed. The best gift to a grieving parent is to listen and give them the space to talk about their pain, their child, their fears, or anything else that is on their mind, without judgement.
What made you want to write GrievingDads and has it changed your personal experience as a grieving dad?
I wrote Grieving Dads because I knew there was a huge need for it. There isn’t anything else out there that is specifically written by a grieving dad for a grieving dad. I needed to have honest and direct conversations about what I was dealing with and just couldn’t find it.
Support groups are generally full of women, or couples and most men will not allow themselves to be vulnerable in that environment. Counselors, unless they too have lost a child, have no idea what it's like to bury a child. I spent a couple of years traveling around and interviewing 100’s of grieving dads for this book. I did it because I wanted a cross-section of stories/experiences so that anyone who read this book would be able to relate or connect with someone else’s story.
A lot of thought went into the tone, stories, and main discussion points. It was designed to help whoever was reading it to not feel alone. There are tens of thousands of us out there willing to help others through the aftermath and I wanted to make sure we all knew others were feeling the same pain, we just weren’t talking about it.
Writing this book forced me to surrender and to become more transparent with my pain. I thought I had processed most of what I had gone through but the experience of writing the book and everything since the book was published continues to teach me that this is a lifelong journey. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I’ve learned you can get through the death of a child, but you will never get beyond it.
How can society improve on how men and grief are viewed?
The biggest thing is to include them into the conversation. Meaning don’t just ask how the mom is doing, also ask the dad, “how are YOU doing.” This will give him permission to feel it and to respond. Just because a dad is standing there in the room very stoic, doesn’t mean he isn’t screaming with pain on the inside, he just doesn’t know how to express it. Most of society is ok with men being angry, but when that man starts to cry or share his feelings, we just don’t know how to deal with it. That’s just not what most men have been taught as a young child.
Providing support groups for men only would be helpful, but they need to be designed a little differently. Maybe they are activity based or volunteer based with other grieving dads. It is difficult to get a bunch of men into a room and expect them to share their deepest and darkest emotions. Some will, but most will not until they get comfortable with the other guys in the group.
Do you think there are a few things we can all start doing right now to help with how society views men and grief?
The biggest thing is to make it clear that you are there from the beginning. That their pain is not overlooked and that the acknowledgement of it is just as important. I love that you provide something for the dads in the self-care boxes. It’s a subtle acknowledgment that the dad's pain matters too. I have learned that dads will often take action and do something to help others as a way to acknowledge the child they lost. Try to provide those opportunities with local volunteer events and make it a day about helping others as a way to honor the child they lost. It gives them a purpose, a “why” that is bigger than themselves.
What does it mean to you to be involved with Aaliyah in Action?
I am truly honored to have my book included in your support packages. It makes me smile knowing that the mission I started over 10 years ago is still having a ripple effect in bringing awareness to the impact of child loss on the dad as well as the mom. This conversation is becoming a little easier when support organizations like Aaliyah in Action make it a point to also acknowledge the dad’s pain as well. You are making a difference in not just the individuals you support, but also their families and circle of friends.
If you'd like to contact Kelly Farley about trainings or counseling you can email him at GrievingDads@gmail.com.