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I Need Help To Help A Friend

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Hi, I need some help to help someone that's become very close to me. He lost his 13 month old baby girl during an operation for a kidney transplant about 2 months ago now and I feel like I'm at a loss on how to help him.

I've read some things that say to go round their house and help out with things etc, but the problem is things are kind of complicated between us and me going to his house wouldn't be wise at all.

He talks with me about pretty much everything, but i feel he avoids the topic of his baby which is understandable, he's a man and doesn't want his pain to show in front of me... every time a little bit shows he shakes it off and tells me he's sorry... it doesn't matter how many times i tell him it's ok to let me see the emotions, each time he just shakes it off. I got him talking one day and he told me about how his little girl used to smile at her first name and kind of frown at her middle name (he chose the first and his wife chose the middle name).

I manage to get little things, but as soon as his eyes start going he'll shake it off and change the topic... I don't want to force him to talk about it all because i know it'll come when he's ready... I just don't know what else to do.

His wife has attempted suicide twice so he has a full time job of looking after her when he's not at work or when the family isn't there to help (I believe they're there quite a bit which is good...even if he doesn't think so)...

I feel that on one side he's just trying to get his wife through and on the other side he feels he has to always be happy around me because he doesn't want to drag me down (his words).

I suggested he write a letter to his girl which he did... I've also suggested that we go to starship and take a teddybear to a little girl who may need some cheering up... he said he'd like that but he doesn't think he could handle it... I've told him to let me know when he's ready and I'll be there for him.

I don't know what else to do for him... I don't know if he's actually grieving yet or if he's just trying to get on with everything around him (his wife, work, holidays, me).

He had one day where he found the baby monitor at home and sat there switching it on and off hoping to hear something, then when he continued to hear nothing he dissapeared for a day... turned his phone off and just went out into the woods to dissapear... he does this every now and then. xmas day included.. don't get me wrong I fully understand why he does it... but is he grieving or is he just shutting it all away?

I hope I'm not offending anyone but putting this all out there, I just didn't know where else to turn to for help on what to do.

Thank you in advance.

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My dear, I commend you for your efforts and for seeking suggestions on how to help your friend ~ and needless to say, I am so very sorry to learn of the tragic death of his beloved child. I'm afraid I cannot give you THE answers that you're seeking, since everyone's grief pattern is unique to the individual experiencing it. There are so many factors involved that are different for everyone: the bereaved person's gender, basic personality and individual strengths, his usual style of coping with crisis, his past experience with loss, the age of his child and his relationship with her, the degree of unexpectedness of the death, his available support system ~ just to name a few. Since he is not the one who is writing to us, we're also limited in learning (directly from him) what forms of support would mean the most to him. Furthermore, when someone is in the freshest throes of grief, he may not know himself what would be helpful or supportive. Like most bereaved fathers, I'm sure that more than life itself, all he really wants and needs is to have his daughter back ~ and that is the one thing no one can give to him.

You don't elaborate on the nature of your own relationship with this man, other than to say things are complicated between you, and that he is married to a wife with a history of attempted suicide. As a grief counselor, I would assume that as horrific as this death is, the particular circumstances you describe are complicating his own normal reactions to the death of his daughter. As I said, I don't know any more about him than what you've told us, but I can tell you that most bereaved fathers struggle with a boatload of guilt, feeling as if they've failed miserably in their perceived "duty to protect and save" their children. Add to that the (false but deeply felt) perception he could have that he is being punished for whatever sins he thinks he has committed. What is more, I cannot imagine how his wife is reacting to this death, given her past struggles with severe depression, and how responsible he may feel for all of that. So if he were the person writing to me, I would strongly encourage him to seek professional help from a counselor or a therapist who specializes in grief (see Seeing a Specialist in Grief Counseling: Does It Matter? and Are You Reluctant to Seek Counseling for Grief?)

As for you, my dear, all I can do is encourage you to learn as much as you're willing to learn about what is normal in grief, most especially following the death of a child. That way, you'll at least have some understanding of what is commonly experienced by most bereaved parents, and you'll gain some ideas of what you might do to offer your support. Just bear in mind that this is his grief journey, and it is not your place to take his grief away from him; he must discover for himself what helps and what does not. It's important to let him take the lead, and follow his lead as best you can, even if you don't understand or agree with his approach.

You can present him with some of the information you may find along the way, but you cannot force him to pay attention to it.

Here are some resources I suggest for you ~ and for him, if he is open to the suggestion. You are welcome to copy and print out any or all of these articles and invite him to read them, if he is willing:

Understanding the Grief Process

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Grief

Understanding Different Mourning Patterns

Helping Another in Grief

In addition to the posts you'll find in this very forum, be sure to check out Kelly Farley's insightful website aimed at fathers whose children have died: Grieving Dads Project.

Hoping this helps, and wishing you peace and healing,


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Thank you for your reply :)

I will defiantly give the articles a read and see if he's open to reading them as well.

some days I feel that just being there for him isn't enough... even though I know that's all i can really do is be there. So I will continue to be there for him and I will read all the information i can in order to try and get an understanding of what he's going through.

Thanks again

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