Forgotten Fathers of Child Loss

Fathers are supposed to be the strong ones. The one whose shoulder his wife cries upon. The one who seems unfazed by suffering as he hides his pain from others because few will understand. But whose shoulder does he cry upon?

One phone call can bring you to your knees. I’ll never forget that one phone call. It was my wife on the other line, sobbing. I immediately stepped outside of my office building. She told me our daughter’s heartbeat had stopped. Our daughter, whom we later named Angelica Rose, was only seven weeks old. We were devastated—again. 

A year earlier, we’d had a miscarriage, so Angelica was supposed to be our rainbow baby, “a healthy baby born after losing a baby from miscarriage, infant loss, stillbirth, or neonatal death.” We had prayed so hard for over a year to conceive again. We sought various physicians’ help, all in conformity with Church teaching. But instead of rainbows, we experienced the second greatest storm of our marriage. Utter darkness surrounded us. 

The first storm was the loss of our son, Thomas John, who died around six weeks in my wife’s womb. What many fail to realize is that miscarriage can often lead to PTSD. Recent studies have confirmed this, and I can testify fullheartedly that losing a child hits spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Just as certain sacraments confer an indelible mark on the soul, losing a child at any age leaves an invisible wound in a father’s or mother’s heart.  

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After calling a few relatives to notify them of our daughter’s passing, I went back to my desk twenty minutes later to “return to normal.” Because I worked in a small company, I could not head home to be with my wife. A year earlier, I had mentioned my miscarriage to one coworker in the hope of receiving some support, but none was given. Few people offered true consolation. Instead, most would ask, “How is your wife doing?” Sadly, in many companies, including Catholic ones, a father is not given time off to grieve for his child, especially when it comes to miscarriage. Thanks be to God, some organizations are offering paid leave for miscarriages. 

Although many pro-life organizations abound in the Catholic Church, few focus on child loss. And no pre-Cana classes prepare you for, let alone mention, the cross of child loss. In fairness, most celibate priests have never lost a child, so they don’t know that pain personally. Without much support, where do fathers of child loss turn to? After all, fathers are supposed to be the strong ones, or so they say. The one whose shoulder his wife cries upon. The one who seems unfazed by suffering as he hides his pain from others because few will understand. 

But whose shoulder does he cry upon? Most fathers do not wish to burden their wives with their sorrows because their wife’s grief seems even greater. At the same time, the resources to help a Catholic father of child loss are scant, which led me and two other Catholic men to write the newly released book titled The Grief of Dads: Support and Hope for Catholic Fathers Navigating Child Loss, published by Ave Maria Press. 

Child loss is one of the greatest threats to marriage; some estimates say that a couple is 80 percent more likely to have a divorce following the death of a child. Regardless of the exact percentage, any married couple who loses a child will never have the same marriage because the fruit of their womb is gone—though not forever. At the same time, losing a child can lead a couple to question and abandon their faith. 

While the Catholic Church must wage war against Modernism and other ideologies that threaten her being, she also can never forget the greatest battles that are happening in a couple’s home. Make no mistake, child loss is the heaviest cross any couple will experience in their marriage. To bury a child at any age is something no parent should have to do. But sometimes, God permits it. Even many married saints lost a child, sometimes several. No one is untouched by loss. 

The pain of child loss is augmented by our culture of death. For instance, fathers of loss, especially those who have had a miscarriage, are surrounded by a world that sees children as a right rather than a gift. Seeing two men “having a baby,” couples using in vitro fertilization, or large families that are no longer open to having another child can easily pierce the heart of a father of child loss. 

And when the human heart is wounded, it can easily wound those around it. Anger is one of the greatest emotions that fathers of child loss experience. Anger can easily spill over to one’s relationships with God and with man. To find true healing, dads of child loss need to learn to address their anger in healthy ways. From a spiritual perspective, dads ought to cry out to God in heartfelt prayer. Literally, cry. Bring that pain to the surface and present it to God. King David, who was inspired to write the Psalms, knew the pain of losing multiple children. 

Seeking a competent spiritual director or Catholic psychologist can also be beneficial in identifying those triggers and dealing with them accordingly. In addition to the spiritual, men who are angry or need a healthy distraction can engage in some physical activity, like exercise or a new hobby. Developing friendships with other dads who have experienced the same loss can bring significant healing as well.

Losing a child can harm how a dad identifies himself. He must hold fast to the literary treasures of the Church that speak to his identity in Christ. Many spiritual masters have written about how aligning our identity with Christ helps us align our wills with His. And only by surrendering our will to His can we find lasting peace in the face of suffering.  Losing a child can harm how a dad identifies himself. He must hold fast to the literary treasures of the Church that speak to his identity in Christ.Tweet This

I will never forget watching the television interviews of a few fathers who lost their children during the United States’ botched exit from Afghanistan on August 26, 2021. Thirteen U.S. soldiers died that day from a suicide bomb. My heart literally broke for these fathers. They were proud of their children for paying the ultimate sacrifice, but deep down inside, they were scarred for life. Seeing these fathers’ grief opened my own grief. Many dads of loss will never know what it is like to attend their child’s wedding or ordination. They will never know so many future memories. But at the same time, the spiritual connection to  our departed child can keep us going when all seems hopeless. 

In the movie Gladiator, the protagonist, Maximus, at first wants to give up on life after finding his slain wife and son. But later on, it is their memory that keeps him alive. They give him the courage to fight on as he longs to be reunited with them. I believe deep down inside every Catholic father of child loss is a gladiator, whether he knows it or not. He fights for his freedom, his family, his Faith, and especially the memory of his departed child. He longs to see his child’s face for all eternity, to embrace his child forever and, above all, for his child to be embraced by God. 

For any Catholic parent, that unexpected and tragic phone call can come at any moment. With God’s help and the graces of Holy Mother Church, fathers can weather the storm of child loss because Christ dwells in our boats, but especially when we realize that we are not forgotten. 

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]


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