“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!