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Support for bereaved fathers offered by The Compassionate Friends

Author: Jimmy Edmonds
13 December 2017
  • Jane Harris and Jimmy Edmonds, co-founders of The Good Grief Project

Jimmy Edmonds, bereaved father and co-founder of The Good Grief Project, writes about volunteering and running a fathers group at the 2017 The Compassionate Friends (TCF) National Gathering for over 100 bereaved parents and siblings in Northampton.

“Having experienced what many would call the worst loss of all, having suffered such a huge catastrophe, I had a sense that we had all come to a point in our lives where we had already junked that script about being men…”

What was it that our Chair of Trustees, Maria Ahern, said about looking forward to those who are further down the road of grief for inspiration – and looking back to those more recently bereaved for the helping hand we can offer them. 

I guess this is at the very core of purpose for TCF, a unique charity in the world of bereavement. As the only truly peer to peer grief network in the UK, TCF has been a lifeline for myself and my partner Jane and we suspect for many, many others.

This was our third visit to the National Gathering at Sedgebrook Hall since our son Josh died in 2011 and I suppose we have got our hands reaching out in both directions. Personally I look forward to the father’s group and have had the pleasure of facilitating a few for TCF. 

Bereaved dads are still very much in the minority when it comes to seeking out help. We all recognize that as men and as fathers we grieve differently from women and mothers. There may be some good biological reasons for this and we could usefully debate the nature/nurture business’ til the cows come home, but in the fathers group these differences were not really at the forefront of our minds as we shared our grief.

Our ability or inability to express emotion was not really an issue as we shared tears and laughter in the telling of our stories. Themes that emerged were in a sense more ‘ungendered’ – the quest for understanding (why has this happened to me), what have we done to try and heal the fracture in our lives (what are our coping strategies), how does our grief progress over time (do things get better). 

Issues and feelings that stereotypically belong the male domain – anger, repression, helplessness, our propensity to be fixers, to do stuff rather than just be with stuff, and importantly our resistance to displaying any kind of weakness or vulnerability – all these while present in the room, had taken second place to our need to express our grief as bereaved parents, not just as bereaved dads. 

Having experienced what many would call the worst loss of all, having suffered such a huge catastrophe, I had a sense that we had all come to a point in our lives where we had already junked that script about being men and that grief was working on us in ways that while acknowledging our maleness, our masculinity, and our role as fathers, was actually revealing our strengths and our compassion and our loving natures in ways that were both surprising and true.

It seemed to me we were all working with our pain rather than against it and I would like to thank TCF for providing us with the space to explore our feelings in such a safe environment. And thanks also to all those dads who came, shared their sorrows and gave us all hope.

Another highlight of the weekend was the opportunity (and the honour) of showing our new documentary “A Love That Never Dies.” I have to say that was it not for the support and the strength that we have had from TCF, we would not have had the wherewithal to embark on this journey – a trip across the USA to meet other bereaved parents. 

Indeed without the TCF we would probably not have had the idea that grief needs a voice. And that is what we have tried to do with the documentary – to give grief a voice - especially grief for a child. 

In our culture where grief is seen as a desolate place, in our society where conversations about death, dying and bereavement are so fraught with anxiety, in a world in which thousands will mourn in silence, we have become very aware that grief really does need a voice. And we hope we have given grief an authentic voice – we are after all the bereaved talking to the bereaved for the bereaved – something rarely if ever seen on our screens. 

We would like to thank TCF for inviting us to show the film at the National Gathering; we would like to thank TCF (USA) for their support as we researched the film; and we would like to thank all of our contributors who were so open with their grief and for sharing their experiences.

After the screening a question came from the audience - what had we learnt from making the film? So much, but three things immediately came to mind:

  • There is real value in sharing the story of your grief both for the speaker and for the listener.  
  • Accepting the pain of loss and ‘leaning into grief’ is so much better than shying away from grief and shutting out ones feelings. 
  • Rituals matter, however small, insignificant or silly they might seem. Rituals, whether invented or borrowed, are important in providing a structure for the road we must now travel.

 And a fourth thing, as a mum from Memphis told us “being bereaved gives you a wide latitude for craziness.”

A Love That Never Dies will be released to the general public in April 2018.

For more information visit The Good Grief Project and also The  Compassionate Friends

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