Grieving the Loss of the Intangible

Involuntary childlessness is a complex phenomenon. Consequently, people that are blessed with children may not understand our world. Writing as a man in a pronatalist society, I sometimes experience bouts of unexplainable grief. There are loss reminders all around me. One of them is my calling as a pastor which exposes me to doing services that remind me that I am not a parent. For instance, praying for a childless couple or conducting a child dedication ceremony. Parishioners not only expect every married man of God to be fatherly, but also be a biological father. My expression of pain may be seen as wooing them to join my pity-party. I am not expected to grief because according to them, I have not lost anything. However, a close exploration will reveal that every individual who is childless not by choice has an ambiguous loss.

The feelings that envelop us are similar to those of someone who has lost a close friend or family member. However, they are disenfranchised. The difference is that in the loss of a close and esteemed individual, grieving will be directed to a person who was physically present. While the loss of a loved one is a severe blow that warrants one to openly grieve, the childless have a mental struggle of grieving the loss of a baby they have never handled, or they lost prematurely. Jody Day Gateway a psychotherapist, thought leader on female childlessness and author of "Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children" expresses this complication when she shares her story on childlessness. In her narration she says, “I finally accepted that I would never experience a rush of maternal love for a newborn. The emotion was like bereavement.”

There are several things that complicate the grief process. First, the African macho-man inside me says it is not proper for me to cry or else I will be considered as a sissy boy. Second, my vocation as a clergyman makes me suffer from socially imposed immunity from pain. The carer is not expected to receive care. Third, it seems unreasonable to grieve something that is intangible. The process of letting go of something I have never had confuses those who have children. This muddies the whole process. Fourth, the negative social labels that the childless people get can cause me to die in silence.

To those in my childless tribe, I have a proposal for grieving the intangible. It is developed as an acronym from GRIEF.

1. Grow with each loss reminder: The triggers for our losses should not be counted as working against us. They should help us to develop muscles in the childless journey. They should help us to see other open doors. Seeing a pregnant woman must remind me that I have conceived a dream that I must nurture to full-term. I may not have a child, but I am birthing a dream that will outlive me. In this way, I will grow with each loss reminder I encounter.
2. Release pent-up frustrations: Anything that is with me, possesses me. Anything that I give away doesn’t use up space in the recess of my mind. It is good to free up some disk space so that the mind will be able to process bigger visions. Harbouring my emotions and pretending I am not hurt will not help. Maturely expressing my pain will turn grief into relief.
3.Identify loss triggers: If I don’t know my enemy, I will always fall prey to him. Identifying and listing what triggers the loss of the intangible will help me to either avoid the avoidable or to have a way to cope so as to grow.

4.Edify yourself with positive thoughts: It is true that misery loves company. When the mind is fed with negativity, the constant inner chatter will be, “I am a never do well.” This journey calls for journaling positive affirmations. Having life changing “I am” statements makes a huge difference for the day. Below is an example of “I am” statements you can use:

I am special
I am a well of wisdom
I am a child of the Owner of the universe
I am worthy
I am not alone
I am an endo-warrior
I am a caring husband, etc

The mind believes anything it is told. If I say, “I am helpless,” I will be making a statement that being childless is being helpless. If I feel powerless, I should turn to my source of strength and speak positively to the champion that I am. I am a winner.

5.Focus on your goals: We are sometimes identified with the cats and dogs we keep. Even if we don’t have any, some people always think we find solace in them. We are laughed at, ridiculed, asked questions we have no answers to, and sometimes given recommendations that never work for us. We are also sometimes looked down upon. Ayobami Adebayo author of the book “Stay with Me” pointed out that, “There’s this idea that at the lowest rungs of the social ladder in an African family is a childless woman - and the lowest rung of all is a motherless child.” Men are not exempt from this negativity. Consequently, we are always vulnerable to being side-tracked from our full pursuit of life’s goals. In my self-funded research, one childless woman noted that even when we have done our best, we receive our accolades with a minus—which is childlessness. Let us not be deterred, but tenaciously cling to our goals and their fulfillment.

It is good to use grief as a tool to be a fuel for the dreams and visions that we are bringing to life. In the words of Winston Churchill, we “will never reach [our] destination if [we] stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” Let’s keep moving. There is more to life than childbearing. We are childless but not hopeless. Whatever your goals are pursue them with passion and condemn the world to a task of explaining who you are. Let others wonder how you afford to smile when you are ranked as the least among your people. Focusing on the goals will help us grieve forwards and not deleteriously.

Consider the words of my new poem entitled, “They Call it Grief, I Call it Relief.” As you muse on its words, may your grief bring relief.

They Call it Grief, I Call it Relief

As empty clouds that bring no rain
Threateningly dark but quaking in vain
Their thunderous reverberation may remain
So is the anguish of losing what I can’t explain
They call it grief, I call it relief

For a baby that lingers in my mind
His tangibility none can truly find
Lost in the terraces that I try to ride
Understood by those in my tribe
Pained by those who want me to describe
A club I cannot in joy subscribe
But wallow in the mud I reside
They call it grief, I call it relief

Although some feel it’s a lie
Losing what they can’t identify
All I can do is to always try
In all situations never deny
If I don’t do it, I will slowly die
I release all to Him who is on high
He hugs and draws me nigh
And understands why I cry
They call it grief, I call it relief

By Sikhumbuzo Dube, born to win, inspired to excel.