Traditionally, men have a more difficult time processing strong emotions such as grief compared to women. But if kept to oneself, grief is insidious, slowing eating away inside until things come to a boiling point. And once that happens, the results can become even more tragic for those involved.
And when it comes to losing a child, the grief is especially stinging. And this makes processing the grief even more important. But how can this be done for men who are not used to expressing their sorrow?
That was a question that had no easy answers. But a step in the right direction occurred last year when the Sands United FC soccer team was formed. Standing shoulder to shoulder in their bright-orange uniforms, they look like any other weekend soccer team.
Playing out of Northamptonshire, they are comprised of players from all ages and background. But they all have one thing in common that unites them all: they have all experienced the devastating loss of a young child.
They came together thanks to the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (Sands) and came up with the brilliant solution to form a team not only to raise awareness but also to provide a means of support for the men and their families.
Just looking at a few of their stories is enough to realize how important this undertaking is for their mental and emotional health.
Rob Allen is a 32-year-old carpenter and roofer. He and his wife Charlotte have two children, a son, and a baby daughter. But they used to have a third.
He recalls, “We lost our baby girl Niamh only four days before her due date in October 2017. She looked perfect, with tiny fingers and toes. We felt such shock, but my overriding emotion was that I needed to protect Charlotte.”
He helped set up Sands United to honor Niamh and it was one of the best things he has done in his life.
“No one in this team will ever tell you to ‘man up’ because we all understand you can have good and bad days. For me, the team has been my medicine,” he says.
Leon Gavin, 25, is an occupational therapist assistant. His partner Eloise, 22, is a health care assistant and they have a four-month-old son named Arlo.
“December marked the one-year anniversary of losing our son Nolan, who died before he was born. Welcoming Arlo into the family in October has been bittersweet. I feel guilty that I’m happy when Nolan should be here, too,” he says.
But signing up for Sands has helped him manage his guilt and grief in constructive ways.
“Eloise signed me up to Sands United as she thought it would be good for me. Now, I have friends I can text at any time who’ll be there for me. It’s given my father Declan a voice as a grandfather, too.”
The other members of Sands United have similar stories of loss and have experienced the same type of healing that the physical outlet of playing soccer has given them.
It’s also a tribute to their courage that they are facing their loss in their own way while managing to help others realize that while the loss of a child is never easy, they don’t have to be alone when dealing with it.
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