When a mother loses her battle to cancer, fathers are often left unprepared to raise their families.
Not only must they deal with their own grief and their children’s, but without a lot of resources in the community, they must face the challenges of parenthood alone.
Bruce Ham knows all about the questions, the struggles, and the regrets of losing a wife to cancer.
“Lisa was the foundation,” Ham told Ivanhoe. “She was the glue that held us all together.”
At 39, the mother-of-three died after a six-month battle with colon cancer.
“We spent so much time trying to be positive and trying to fight the disease that we did not spend as much time talking about what life would be like when she was gone,” Ham explained.
Dr. Justin Yopp says it’s one of the most important conversations a couple in this situation can have.
“It’s so difficult and there are so many obstacles to making that happen, that we see it now as an area that’s really ripe for intervention,” Justin Yopp, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Associate Professor, UNC Cancer Center, told Ivanhoe.
That led Dr. Yopp and Dr. Donald Rosenstein to start a first-of-its-kind support group for widowed fathers.
“These men all describe a sense of being lost at sea initially,” Donald Rosenstein, MD, Director of UNC Comprehensive Cancer Support Program, Dept. of Psychiatry and Medicine, UNC Cancer Center, told Ivanhoe. “They feel so badly for their kids after they’ve lost their mothers that they relax a lot of rules in the house.”
From navigating the challenges of parenting to moving forward, singlefathersduetocancer.org is a lifeline for dads.
“You’re going to make mistakes,” Dr. Yopp explained. “Your kids are resilient [and] you’re resilient, [so] you can get through those mistakes.”
Three years after joining the group, Ham is doing the best he can.
“Life can be beautiful again,” Ham said.
The group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is working to get similar support groups set up at major cancer centers across the country.
As for Ham, he’s gone on to write a book about his experience called, “Laughter, Braids and Tears.”
You can learn more about the book and the support group at www.singlefathersduetocancer.org .
BACKGROUND: The Single Fathers Due to Cancer program is dedicated to the thousands of fathers who lose their spouses each year due to cancer and must adjust to being only parents. The program includes an ongoing local support group, a developing research agenda, and educational efforts to oncologists and other care providers. The website is a resource for fathers. It contains information, resources, and a series of short videos for fathers adjusting to being sole parents and working through their grief and that of their children. There are also materials available for health care professionals in oncology and clinical settings.
SUPPORT GROUP: Program at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital have run a monthly support group for single fathers whose wives died from cancer. The support group allows fathers the opportunity to connect with other fathers who can best identify with their experiences and helps them adjust to being a sole parent. The men have been encouraged by each other's successes, and have provided support and guidance during individual setbacks.
GRIEF IN CHILDREN: There is no perfect way for a child to grieve the loss of a parent. A parent's death is not something a child should be expected to "get over" and there is no universal timetable for how long a child's grief will last. Each child grieves in their own way and at their own pace. Common behaviors shown by grieving children include:
* Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
* Poor attention and concentration
* Poor school performance
* Talking often about the deceased parent
* Anger (sometimes directed at the surviving parents or siblings)
* Physical complaints (such as stomachaches)
* Idealizing the deceased parent (Source: http://www.singlefathersduetocancer.org/children.do)