I often hear from grieving dads as it pertains to their career. Many grieving dads have found it difficult to stay focused, engaged or even interested in their careers after the death of a child. Even men that were on the fast track in their profession want to walk away to a simpler life. A life not filled with high pressure deadlines or work that in the grand scheme of it all, really doesn’t matter.
There was a time when impressing others in the work environment was important to me. Trying to climb the ladder quicker than others. I was the “go to” guy. I would get it done when no one else could. I fed on high pressure and the allure of making money. My wife was very much the same way except she fed on the recognition of being a successful professional woman.
I suspect a lot of our internal drive came from our background. Both of our parents were typical blue collar workers and they took their work seriously. We watched our parents struggle and knew we never wanted to have that type of stress of living paycheck to paycheck. So we both bought into the rat race mentality. Go to college, get a degree, get a job, buy a car, buy a house, etc., etc. Even though neither one of us liked the type of work we were doing, this approach worked great for us for a while. We looked at it as a means to an ends. We put our heads down and kept working and working and working.
The more we worked the more we realized it was not sustainable. The good thing is that we didn’t buy into “keeping up with the neighbors” like many people do. We always talked about leaving our corporate jobs as engineers and doing other work that was more in line with who we thought we were, but we never acted on it. I have learned that the dollar is an elusive thing and you can chase it your whole life and never have enough and never find happiness.
In November 2004, we lost my daughter Katie. Her death sent me in one direction and my wife in another. I took the “I need to work more” mentality as a way to cope with the pain I was experiencing and she took the “I can’t work because my heart is broken beyond repair” route. This worked for me for a while, but you can only run from your pain for a short period of time before it takes its toll on you. In June 2006 my son Noah died. His death rerouted me to the path my wife was on. I couldn’t work. I lost my confidence, ability to focus and desire. I didn’t care about much of anything other than the fact that my two babies were dead. I was off work for several months before I was forced to return.
I wasn’t ready to go back to the pressures of the rat race. However, I needed to earn a paycheck, so I went. I don’t really know what I did for the first year back, it’s a blur. I still struggle with “caring” about my job. I do it, because I am being paid to do so, but I could easily walk out the door and not look back. It’s not the company or the people I work with, they have been great. It’s the lack of interest in the work I am doing. It really doesn’t seem to make sense to me anymore. I find it boring and unsatisfying.
I find the work I am doing with this Grieving Dads Project much more gratifying. Maybe in some small way I can reach another dad that is feeling alone and isolated as they to sit there in their cubicle and try to cope with what has happened to them and their child. As they try to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense.
The loss of a child has truly made me question all aspects of my life and how I have been living it. What use to be tolerable is no longer. I challenge all grieving parents that read this posting to think about what their life has become and how much it has changed the way you see life, how you really want to live it moving forward and what changes in your life do you have to make in order to live it the way you want to.
Our nervous systems have been stressed to a point most people cannot understand. Keeping life simple after what we have all been though is almost mandatory in order to continue surviving. I just asked this question to a group of grieving dads last weekend. “Have any of you ever wanted to sell everything you have and move somewhere to a simpler way of life with a lot less stress?” I was a little surprised that almost all of them said “Yes, we think about it all of the time”. I have always been a bit of a dreamer so I thought I was the only one that “dreamed” of making those changes in my life.
How about any of you reading this posting, ever thought about just walking away from it all?
Thank you for having the courage to tell your story. I know how hard it is to say those words (type them in your case). The reality of what happened to your daughter is heartbreaking and it hurts, deeply.
Although I really hate the reason you found this blog, I am glad you found it. There are several grieving dads that are here. Some just stop by and read while other participate with stories or writing comments. Everyone is welcome here. There is a brotherhood here on this site, so please keep coming back for support.
It is still very very early in your loss. If you need to talk to another grieving dad, know that I am here. Feel free to call me anytime. I know what its like to need to talk.
What a blessing it is to find your site. I’ve been searching for someone, something or some way of letting my emotions free without seeming like a lunatic, even though I feel like one at times. My wife and I lost our only daughter, Allison, 3 weeks ago. She was only 24-years-old and had been married for two years. The cause of her death is unknown, which makes it all the harder to accept.
Sorry, can’t write more at this point. It’s taken me 30 minutes to write this much.
John in Texas
My wife and I suffered the loss of our little baby girl on July 23 2010. Her name is Luka and she was born with Trisomy 18, a rare genetic condition which is always fatal, usually in utero. We had no idea this was going to happen, but had 3 precious days with her. It was the most heartbreaking experience of our lives and we’re still struggling. However, we’ve really reached out to friends and family and have had a pretty good support system.
In terms of work …. My wife and I are both teachers in the same school. It’s an elementary school so it’s quite hectic. I love kids and I’ve come to realize I need job change to high school(where I was trained). Before Luka was born I really needed out… And now that I dont have Luka and I don’t enjoy my job, I really really want out.
I would quit or become a sub teacher but we really want to buy a house and are afraid to take the risk.
I’d love to walk away from all the chaos, and trying to impress people and all the meaningless meetings. It’s a super challenging job managing 30 kids at once and it’s become more difficult to achieve in the past few months. One of things I did for myself was to take Sept and most of October off from work. My wife chose to return a month before me. One of the things that really pissed me off was when my female principal asked me “why do need more time off than your wife?”. I want to let this go but it’s hard to. Such ignorance. Stereotyping.
Parents at school, for the most part, have been supportive. But many don’t say anything. Id really rather get a big hug from everyone than a diversion of eyes. I find it amazing how uncomfortable people are with loss. I guess people, including myself, like to experience pleasure more than pain.
Thanks for creating this wonderful blog. I’ve just discovered it today and will continue to follow your reflections. Good luck on your journey of healing. My wife has happened to write a blog on her experience. I know this blog is for Dads but thought I’d share my wife’s experience, for those interested (perhaps some of your wives)
Thank you for stopping by this blog and for having the courage to share your story for others to read. I know its hard to go back and relive many of those early moments. I am so very sorry for the death of Luka. I understand the pain and journey you are on. I am also sorry that you find yourself part of this brotherhood of grieving dads, but know we are here to help you with what you are dealing with anyway we can.
Thank you for stopping by and please feel free to post here anytime.
I admit it, I can’t wait to leave my job. It exhausts me, and not from the work involved. It all just seems so trivial.
I do “my job” but I don’t try to push it much. I work in a Toyota plant in maintenance. They’re big on teamwork. I tend to look for the things I can do alone.
Many of us are within a few years of retiring, so they’ve brought in some new guys for us to train to take our places.
The one currently working on our shift is 22 years old… the same age Richard was when he died. I have mixed emotions about this. He’s a good kid and it’s sort of fun working around him. But he also brings back some hard memories at times.
I’m not old enough to tap into my 401K without having to give a huge chunk of it to the government. Can’t do that, so I’ll probably have to tough it out for several more years.
But I can’t wait to get out of there.
Joe – I totally get teh whole “trival” thing. I find myself drifting off to other thoughts at work quite often. I manage a group of engineers and talk about some pretty boring stuff most of the times. I really could care less about 99% of what they talk to me about. I have also been toughening if out for a couple of years now and I am not sure how much longer I can do that. I have a couple more years of classes until I get my MS in Counseling. Who knows where it will take me, but I am looking forward to a change. My wife was also an engineer and just made the change to Special Ed Teacher which is much more rewarding for her.
Thanks for sharing here on this blog, it help a lot of other people that come across it.
I am in a very similar situation. I am an elelctrical/electronic/mechanical technician in a food manufacturing plant and I lost my daughter to unknown causes on 29 Dec 2010. I didn’t like the job before I lost my daughter, but I especially don’t like it now.
I think part of it was making the mistake in going back to work just 5 days after she was gone. Relatives were all over the place and all I wanted was some peace and quiet…I wanted things to go back to the way they were “before”. So going back to work seemed like the best way to do that.
Unfortunately, my company only offers 3 days of paid time off. I took two of those and am now in the position of having to ask for some more time off because I had a breakdown yesterday…I’m emotionally exhausted.
I wish I could offer some type of support other than bitching about my job. Just know that you are not alone.
John in Texas
I work for FDNY/EMS…I am an Institutional Aide (I remove trash and I clean offices/ hallways and toilets) among other things…after 21 years and the last 4.5 without my son Jason, I have been doing an awful lot of reflection/withdrawal and reassessing my “place” in my work environment…when your only son is killed in car crash that was so avoidable, your perspective changes considerably, if not drastically…you know this pain, your children have died and you have survived…you can’t explain it with full comprehension to ANYONE that has NOT had a child die…
yes, I am choosing my words carefully… to me, Jason was not “lost” and the concept of where he might be now, if at all, does not follow any religious dogma that comforts others…I do NOT impose my thoughts of such things on others and resent others insisting I will be “happier” if I accept vagaries for “answers”…this (the death of my son) is difficult enough to deal with standing on it’s own and it only hurts to get into philosophical debates that quickly turn into arguments because the other party will not respect my point of view…
this is where I get the NEED to walk away from it all…I find from what I have read on The Compassionate Friends site and the few others I have touched on, that I am not alone in noticing the amount of blatant disrespect we endure if not before, then most certainly after a child has died…yes it is commonplace and “human nature” that people will walk over a wet floor even as it is being moped because they or what they are about to do are/is more important than me and my mop…this I have managed to “work around” for the most part since I have noticed I am “less tolerant” of such arrogant immature behavior from supposed adults…
one saving grace is that I am just about 2 years from retirement and the mrs and I are looking forward to relocating shortly thereafter…with all we have learned as a species surviving on this planet it amazes me how little we know or have learned about respecting a “bereaved” parent…family is surely no help for the most part…friends try but don’t know how to help unless…but a few do “get it”…they listen and don’t offer “advice” or a quick fix to “get over it”…and if they last or stick around long enough, they drop the word “closure” from their vocabulary when speaking to you…unless they’re talking about a bank account…
I am quicker to anger…again…these days…I had that beat since my early thirties but now @ 52…well, let’s just say anger’s trying for a more permanent position in my personality…I’m hoping it doesn’t win…I am expecting a Granddaughter, Olivia in January and i don’t want to be the bitter/ angry old man she calls “grumps”…my stepdaughter dubbed me Grumpy years ago, so many things have changed since then…me among them…with any luck the geographical change will be some of the “fix” I need and will put some distance between me and my present irritants…I am tired of “fighting” the inanities and stupidity I face almost daily…that’s the way I see the “drama” people try to involve me in or at least keep me informed of…I don’t see the need to get all worked up as others do over the most insignificant “events” in life…some things just aren’t that important…and maybe they’re right…I’m no fun anymore…so then leave me alone…we’ll both be happier…
thanks for letting me vent…
Thank you so much for stopping by and “venting”. That’s exactly what this blog is for, to get it out. Your thoughts on life after a death of a child will provided insight and help another grieving dad that feels alone in their thoughts. Thank you for have the courage to share your thoughts and your experience.
Stop by any time to vent or offer yout thoughts on a particular topic.
I’ll be back…
Peace to you as well…
Peace to us ALL…
My Dad told me early in my career, “If you give your life to the department…guess what will happen? They’ll take it every time!” I don’t think I fully realized just how good that advice was until my daughter died on May 22, 2008. The older I get and the further into my career I go, the deeper this truth reveals itself to me.
I have always thought that I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend well ahead of being a firefighter. I love my job but it does not define me. I agree with your assessment. Sadly, because of the strong influence of societal norms and parental examples, I think it is fair to say that most men gain their identity by what they do. The career comes first and the rest is a distant second. I think THIS sets up grieving dad’s to become extremely disoriented and uniquely challenged.
An extreme disorientation may happen when a grieving dad’s grief confronts his life priorities. I think it is also fair to say that most men are compartmentalized beings. When the #1 “compartment of career” is negatively impacted by grief, it’s common for men to shut their own grief off and even not participate in the grief of their wife or other children. While this behavior is not beneficial, it is deployed to protect their number one priority, their career. If their #1 priority is their career, they may feel like they CANNOT allow grief to negatively impact their career because it is who they are…their very identity.
Men are also uniquely challenged when grief penetrates the career compartment. I don’t want to admit it but my grief had a significant impact on my job. Today, the impact is much less but still there. I took two months off of work. When I came back, I didn’t care much about anything nor did I want to do anything. I was exhausted! With firefighting being so physical, that was a bad combination. I was also mentally distracted and disengaged. Also a bad combo when you are in charge of chaotic emergency scenes. I know that if I had not grieved authentically within the right priorities of a balanced life, I probably would STILL be exhausted, distracted and disengaged.
My observation of grieving men who have made their career the number one priority in life is that they tend to move forward in one of two directions. One direction is that they keep their original life priorities, strengthen their career based identity and as a result suffer deeply which inevitably also causes suffering for others around them OR they will reprioritize their entire life and find a freedom they never had before. While the deep pain and suffering of grief is still there, the pain of an out of balance life is removed. They are then freed to grieve authentically and within the proper priorities of a balanced life. This is an epiphany to some grieving dads.
Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”. Thanks for sitting down and listening and now standing up and speaking on behalf of all grieving dads.
Your friend, Steve Christen
Steve – There is a lot of truth in the “if you give your life to the department/company…they’ll take it”. Almost every boss and even myself has experienced this or issued this fact. When I find someone that works for me that is someone that can “get it done” and make my life easier, I find a way to get them involved in my projects, quickly. I guess it’s human nature to seek out the top performers and surround yourself with them. One of the things I have always said if you drop the ball a couple of times they’ll stop throwing it to you. It’s true. After returning to work after our losses, I made a decision that I was going to “drop the ball” so to speak and see what happens. Thankfully they started to throw to someone else, which took a lot of the pressure off, I do what I can and try not to stress it too much. I let the other “rats” that want to impress feed on the dangling carrots and promises of a promotion.
I also agree on your assessment regarding how grieving dads will move forward in one of two directions. I have been down both roads. After our first loss I chose to “keep my original life priorities”. I thought I could fool myself into thinking that was possible and I suffered greatly for it on many many levels. The second loss forced me down the other path. I have reset many of my priorities and I feel more peace in my life than I ever have. The other things I did to help with the peace was to acknowledge the pain I had inside and talk about it and face it head on. I allowed myself to feel the pain fully and without any expectations.
Of course I didn’t do this on my own. I knew something had to change or I wasn’t going to survive it. It took many honest conversations (with myself) in order to convince myself that it was ok to allow the process to takes it course and not to fight it. I think it’s the first time in my adult life where I have balance between work, play, personal time, working out and time with my wife. I try not to get sucked back into the treadmill of life and “take it in” and live it to the fullest.
As you say, “it’s an epiphany to some grieving dads”. It was most certainly an epiphany for me. My goal is to help other grieving dads feel this same epiphany. It releases so many of life’s unneeded burdens.
Thanks for sharing Steve. Great insight that others will find helpful.