“That was and still is the great disaster of my life – that lovely, lovely little boy…There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were before.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower (His 3 year old son died from Scarlet Fever in 1921)
There is a lot of truth in those words. Things do not get back to the way they were before. How could they? Everything around us has been forever changed.
- The way we see the world – It’s not as innocent as I once thought it was
- The way we see others – I see pain in others that I never noticed before
- The way we see ourselves – I realize I no longer have the energy or desire to conquer the world.
Whether you like it or not, you have been forever changed. It’s how you respond to that change that defines the new “you”. It took me a couple of years to realize that I had been changed forever.
As part of my healing I started the Grieving Dads Project to help other men through this journey. As many of you already know, the mission behind this project is to
- Develop a resource that brings awareness to the impacts child loss has on fathers and to let society know that it’s okay for a father to openly grieving the loss of a child. A father shouldn’t have to hide his pain or feel ashamed to show his emotions.
I have spent the last year traveling, speaking to and interviewing dads that have experienced the death of a child. One of the things I have learned is that although our circumstances are all different, the actual emotions we experience through the aftermath is very similar.
I have spoken to hundreds of men over the last year. Some of the dads are still very stuck in their grief while others have found hope again. The one thing I have learned from the dads that have found hope again is the fact almost all of them are doing something to create a legacy for their child as a way to honor them and their life.
Living to honor our children’s life can take on many forms. The way we honor our children is very unique and personal to the individual. It’s important to do things to honor our children throughout the year, but it’s especially important during the holiday season.
As you all know, this time of year can be very difficult. I remember a few years back I had experienced a melt down at a local Macy’s department store. I found myself hiding amongst the fake Christmas trees. I was hiding because I was unable to control my crying and I didn’t want others to see me. What triggered it were the pink and blue baby ornaments that they had displayed on the tree. My mind was thinking about the “what if’s”, the “what could have been’s” and the “what will never be”.
These days the holidays have become easier for me. Not easy, but easier.
One of the simple things I do to honor Katie and Noah is to decorate the large pine tree in my backyard with blue and white lights as a way to let them know that I am thinking about them. It’s the only thing I decorate on the outside of my house. However, the small Christmas tree on the inside of my house is decorated with ornaments such as those pink and blue baby ornaments that use to trigger many emotions. No, the Holidays are no longer the same. I have no living children to enjoy the holidays with. All I can do is find ways to let Katie and Noah know that they are with me and find ways to honor them.
I have spoken to many grieving parents regarding how they handle the holidays. Some of the ideas that they have given me include: donating gifts to less fortunate children, sponsoring a family in need, volunteering at a food kitchen, visiting a children’s hospital or a retirement home. These are all excellent ways to honor your child. Some may appeal to you while others may not. If you can, try to find a cause that reminds you of your child. If you’re not feeling strong enough to take on big tasks, you can do something as simple as lighting a candle in their honor. But as hard as it is, try to do something.
I encourage each one of you to:
- Reach out to help someone else this holiday season – it’s a way to honor your child. There is healing in helping others.
- Acknowledge what you have been through – It’s beyond most peoples comprehension
- Be kind to yourself and;
- Most importantly, be patient with yourself. Healthy grieving takes time.
Happy Holiday’s to all of you who celebrate them!
Thank you all so much for sharing and thank you Kelly most of all for creating this wordpress site as space for grieving and healing. I will list this site on my own website when I add a resources section. I know of parents who are grieving the loss of a child and I think it’s great that you have opened up space for dads in particular.
Your post really struck a cord in me, something very deep inside. The quote from Eisenhower, I had no idea someone so accomplished – former president and general in WWII – lost a little boy. And that after all he went through by sending others’ children off to die on D-Day, his greatest tragedy was losing his little child.
And your conclusions are spot on. 100%. I’ve been trying to frame them in my mind as well. Here they were in 3 bullet points. The world is not an innocent place, and some hope has been drained from it. I notice others’ pain and am more humbled by it. My energy and desire to conquer the world has been drained. It’s been 7 years since my six year old and I were run over in the crosswalk in front of my house, and I still miss my Nicholas as much as ever. It’s just now that I am beginning to remember him …as a beautiful child…rather than the tragedy and horror that I witnessed around his death. And his mothers’ suicide attempts, and his little brother suffering.
I have remarried and have a 1 year old son. Those three things: loss of innocence, the way I see pain in others, and the loss of energy. They have had a huge effect on the positive outlook I am supposed to have with a new baby and marriage. What sort of world is my baby growing up in, and will I have the fortitude to see him through it, and is the world the place of hope and opportunity I once thought it was?
It’s been very hard. But having Nicholas’ brother with me, and now this new baby, has given me a sense of purpose. I feel things much more intensely now. It’s like a crazy French existential poem…joy and pain are linked forever.
I am searching for a way to honor Nicky. I have ideas, but have not acted to the extent I want to, yet. I hope that it will give me the strength, hope and sense of peace I am looking for.
Thank you for your post. And thank you for having this group.
I am happy you found this post useful in some way. I am so very sorry for the very difficult journey you have found yourself on. Most people cannot comprehend how the death of a child can truly turn everything in your life on end. It becomes a matter of survival and as much as we want to help the other person involved, it takes all of our own energy to help ourselves. Things we use to take for granted like “peace of mind” slips away for a long time for some and forever for others.
I think the fact that you are starting to remember Nicholas as the beautiful little boy rather than the trauma of the events is a sign that you have maybe turned a corner in processing what happened to you and your son.
Celebrate him and what he gave you, start working on those ideas that you have to honor him and you will see hope, strength and a sense of peace return to you ever so slowly. It will take time, but if you continue to work toward that goal to honor him, these things will return along with a huge sense of pride.
Stop back here anytime John and if you would like to bounce some of those ideas off of me for some brainstorming sessions, please do so. I am here to help anyway I can.
It’s been 5.5 years since our son went to heaven, and as you said it does get easier, but never goes away. I was blessed with 3 children and my 2 daughters are very close to us. Now we have 3 grand sons. I really don’t think I would have made it if it wasn’t for my daughters. I went though several years not knowing what to do and still have a hard time. There is not a day that goes by that he is not on my mind. Now with my grand sons they look at me and give me new life. I’m there only grand father both of the other grand fathers have passed. So I look at my self as I have to do the job of 3 grand fathers. I want them to know that there other grand fathers were good men and would have loved them as I do. Thank you for your post it really touched me.
You will always on some level have a “hard time”. It’s the result of experiencing something so profound and traumatic, the death of a child. Our nervous systems have been stressed to a point that is not 100% repairable. I too think about my children and our experience every day. Most of my thoughts no longer trigger those raw emotions I had early in this journey, but I will say that it took a lot of processing to get to that point.
It sounds like your involvement with your grandchildren have become you purpose in life and has helped relieve some of your pain. Embrace that gift and pour the love for your son into those grandchildren.
You’re welcome for the post; I hope it helped on some level.