I have been posting a series of “Truisms About Grief” that I received from fellow grieving dad and friend, Charlie Schmidtke.  I met Charlie as part of this grieving dads project.  Please share your thoughts or stories regarding this subject.

Grieving is a time to give yourself permission to follow your heart and accept the reprioritizing of your life.  My wife has been working very hard at getting me to reorient my attitude in life away from living by all the “shoulds” that seem to control what, when, and how I “ought to” behave.  It’s okay to cry; it’s okay to relax: it’s okay to do that chore tomorrow; it’s okay to do nothing.  It’s okay to have this attitude!  It’s also okay to deeply feel that anxiety that attends to the unknown.  We really do not have all the answers about who our children are now becoming and what their transformed life is all about.  These issues will remain a mystery for us, even as we develop theories, beliefs and explanations to try and help assuage our anxieties.  It is okay to have some level of anxiety; just prevent it from becoming an overpowering dread that consumes and destroys your capacity for continuing to live and have meaning in your life.

This is something I struggled with early in my grief.  Giving myself permission or a “pass” to adjust things in my life didn’t seem acceptable.  I had always been driven, and had always kept 2-3 separate to do lists; one for work, one for home and one for my personal life goals.  I had things to do and enjoyed crossing things off my list.  It gave me satisfaction to know that I was getting things accomplished.

Prior to my losses, I would put a lot of pressure on myself to perform to the highest level.  I had gotten to the point where I would wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks and even found myself in the hospital on one occasion because I thought I was having a heart attack.  I was caught up in the rat race of life and my priorities were way out of line.

After the loss of my daughter Katie, my first loss, I thought I could go back to the person I was prior to her death.  I tried suppressing the pain and was successful at it for about a year before anger and depression started to take over.  A few months later, I lost my son Noah.  These two losses forced me to reevaluate my life and how I approached it.

During my grief I met a lady which became a very dear friend. I was looking to hire her to do some real estate consulting for my small business.  She had invited me to her home office for the meeting.  During our meeting our conversation turned to my recent losses.  She then shared with me that her hair was a wig and she was currently going through her third battle with breast cancer.  We sat there for 3 hours crying and telling each other our stories.  It was a gift that we had given each other.  After our meeting she sent me an email saying that our meeting that day was not by accident and that she believed we were supposed to meet that day for a reason, to provide comfort to each other when we both needed it.  She would continue to check in on me over the next several months, when I needed it most.  On one occasion I told her that I was feeling depressed because I didn’t have the drive or desire to go back to the person I was before.   Her response to me was “Kelly, there are no “should’s” in your life right now unless you put them there.  Allow yourself to grieve and allow your wounds time to heal”.  Her words really hit home with me.  I started to reflect on my life up until this point.  I realized I had been chasing things in life that really didn’t matter.  What really mattered was the love I have for my wife and my children.  At the end of the day and when you look back on your life, no one will remember all of the tasks that were checked off the “to do” list that was completed or the deadlines you were able to meet for work because you worked all weekend to get it done. 

The message I took from this truism is:  Give yourself permission to reevaluate your life and make the necessary adjustments in order to cope with what you have been through.  You will never be the same person you were before the loss.  To be honest with you, after I spent the much needed time reflecting, I realized that I didn’t want to be the same person I was before the loss.  It was a hectic and empty life filled with deadlines and unrealistic expectations I placed on myself.  I wasn’t living, I was surviving.  Allow yourself to learn to live again.

My dear friend has since lost her battle with breast cancer but her words and wisdom will always stay with me.  Thank you Lynda for being there for me and for being my dear friend.

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User Comments ( 18 )

  • Matt,

    Thank you for having the courage to tell your story and share your thoughts. It took me many tears and missed days at work to also figure out that I am not the same man I was before. It took me even longer to realize that it was ok not to be that guy. I too felt like I was letting myself and others down. However, once I processed it and final accepted this fact, I started to feel a sense of peace come over me. (Trust me, this didn’t come overnight.) Not at peace with the death of my children, that could never be, I was at peace with who I have become as a man as a result of these profound life events. It was almost someone lifted the weight from me. I was the go to guy to get “it” done guy at my office prior to the events. I liked being needed and the that could outperform others. I was burning myself out long before everything happened with my children, I just would have kept going. I still struggle with this at times, because it has been 5 years since the death of my son and almost 7 for my daughter and I still have moments when the old me trys to take on more and I get frustrated because I can’t. I now can recognize when I am doing that to myself and rather than trying to keep pushing forward at full force, I take a step back and assess what the “shoulds” are and adjust accordingly.

    Thank you for being here and thank you again for sharing.



  • Matt Bearse

    My daughter Katelynn died at the age of 9 while waiting for a heart transplant, as tragic of an event it is, my wife and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity of closure and good bye, as we were able to hold her in our arms as she took her last breath. An important part of healing, we found out later of course, as we listened to other grieving parents of accidents, suicides…etc. As I approach the 8 year anniversary of her death (June 8th) I continue to struggle….
    I work as a Firefighter/Paramedic and for many years have been witness to loss and tragedy of others and have been able to put those events in a little box in my mind, unfortunately, that box has broken down and I had to learn to “grieve” for my patients and thier families at work, which in a way, helped me to grieve the loss of Katelynn, whom I realized i had also put into that “box”. Trust me alot of crying and lost time at work had to happen first, but i eventually was able to balance both work and my own grief.
    Until now…..6 months ago i voluntarily stopped practicing as a paramedic, which work allows for and i can work as a firefighter/”EMT” there is a difference i wont bore you with details. I have struggled with the “failure” of not being able to “do the job” and was touched by the blog “give yourself permission” I put in alot of time and sacrifice for my paramedic license and giving it up permantly would be a big change, but these past 6 months at work have been a blessing to me and my family with 90% of my work stress released.
    This part of the post………..”The message I took from this truism is: Give yourself permission to reevaluate your life and make the necessary adjustments in order to cope with what you have been through. You will never be the same person you were before the loss. To be honest with you, after I spent the much needed time reflecting, I realized that I didn’t want to be the same person I was before the loss. It was a hectic and empty life filled with deadlines and unrealistic expectations I placed on myself. I wasn’t living, I was surviving. Allow yourself to learn to live again.”

    …..helped me to realize I need to do whats best for me and the family and I need to get over the “failure” piece and embrace the Man i am today and to know that professionally i may be taking a step back, but as a Husband and a father of 4, i am taking many steps forward.
    Your blog today “ways to support a grieving dad” gave me the courage to share my story here with you today…Thank you

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  • Dustin Duncan

    Everyone on here, thank,s for the support. We let 20 balloons go today ,19 plus 1 to grow on, I know Delana would have thought ,thats, cool. It was a great turn out, her best friends in HIGH SCHOOL, and her first BOYFRIEND, and other RELATIVES, It was very sad, but she had touched so many people in her short life, I was really proud of that. Dustin

  • Dustin Duncan

    I liked the person I was also, that person in a sense is gone now.I called Kelly this evening , he listened to me with my southern texas drawl, thank,s I lost my dad in 1999. 3 brother-in-laws from 2003- 2011 my mom 2009, and my daughter an future daughter-in-law, the accident was on september,24,2010. my dads birthday.september 24th, 1925. Her birthday is tomorrow May ,15, would be 19 . we are having a memorial service for her. and my wifes surgery may 19th,
    I could talk forever. Sherry, I have been giving long hair for locks of love,but I have gray in my front, so I would use just for men, to make it brown,it was accepeted,I have had my older brothers tell me why color the hair, I said because young kids dont want gray hair, lol. they told me its fake Don,t worry about the fake. It is real ,so what , but you know what I really dont care, I need to do what makes me feel good. hang in there. it,s rough . Thank you Kelly for taking time to listen Dustin

    • Dustin,

      I am sorry about your multiple losses… I know that hell. TodayI will light a candle in your daughter’s memory for her birthday.


  • It seems many of us have suffered from multiple losses or “end of the road” losses.

    My daughter’s death was preceded by my dad and grandmother’s only months prior. My aunts and uncle died as well as my cousin’s first baby. My suddenly large family shrunk to nothing. The final blow of course was her death at 34. What a blow.

    Since I am a woman I can plaster makeup on my face and pretend everything is fine. Thank God for lipstick.

    Thing is, my daughter’s actual death wasn’t so bad. Her dying was peaceful. It’s living without her that’s hell. I simply do not see how I am supposed to keep this lipstick thing going much longer. I guess you guys can’t relate to that part lol but it’s all fake. I feel fake. Every day is fake.

    I am here and that’s all. I’d like more than just “that’s all” but I really do not see that happening.

  • Dustin Duncan

    She then shared with me that her hair was a wig and she was currently going through her third battle with breast cancer. My dad died july 5, 1999. Cancer,I am on my 3rd ponytail for locks of love. But never thought I would be going through this. When me and my brother was on the road trip, also Delana an Rebbecca, I called my wife every night, but when I got home she has back ,nerve problems, did not let me or her family know. 19th may,surgery to keep from loosing her foot. will it ever end. Pictures ,did that also, I am basically a basket case. I am 50, I would love to have grand children, the odd,s are against me, our oldest son is 27 , but mentally challenged, he works at a store 24 hrs a week getting carts from the parking lot, Delana is not here in body, Dalton quit college, lost his sister and fiancee, so I am at a loss. I agree John thanks for listening

    • Dustin,

      Your world seems to be spinning out of control. Lots of really bad stuff that just keeps piling on. I went through a series of similar circumstances and my mind had a tendency to start worrying about the future and I would become overwhelmed thinking about how everything was going to turn out. I understand your statement about being a basket case. I wish I knew how to help you other than being here for you.

      All I can say is the dust did settle for me after the aftermath of losing two children over an 18 month time frame. Not sure what your faith is or if you have any and I am am not, by any means, preaching or saying this is the way to feel better, but I started going to a local church and joined a group of other men, just like me going through some of lifes most profound shit and I connected with and still to this day speak with and have dinner with a couple of these guys every couple of months. It was about spending time with others that “get” your pain, maybe not fully understand it, but are willing to lift you up on the days you need it and in return, you lift them up on the days they need it. As a group, we started to reach out to the homeless shelters and food kitchens. There was some peace in being able to help others during my time of pain. It didn’t make all of the pain go away, but it did allow me to surround myself with others going through some tough stuff.

      Know I am here when and if you need me. I encourage you to find a group of men to get together with and share your stories. It’s kind of weird at first because as guys, we are not comfortable with other men “sharing” their stories and their emotions, but I can tell you that it opened my eyes and my heart and allowed me to cast off some of the old fears of what others may think if I cry while telling my very very sad story. We are all in this game of life together so we should all do what we can to help others and in return allow others to help us.



    • John Wolfe


      I agree with Kelly. You’re appear to be going through quite an overwhelming time. While I haven’t found a “men’s” group here in North Texas, there are a lot of groups that deal with the loss of a loved one, whether it be a parent, spouse, child, or sibling. All of these people can help you deal with your emotions.

      I’m not usually the tyoe of person that “reaches out” to help other people, but I sense a very deep need in you to talk about what’s going on in your life, especially to someone who has lost a child. I believe our daughters were within 5 or so years of each other when we lost them, so we share a common bond, so to speak. Send me a personal email and let me know what you think. In my reply, I’ll give you my phone number and we can talk about it. I’m a very good listener.

      At the very least, call Kelly. His personal experiences may even better mirror yours, plus he has the added insight of time passed, and what you can look forward to on the “other side”.

      No matter which path you choose, know that there are people that care about you and are interested in helping you through these difficult times. I’ve never reached out for help in my life. But the loss of my daughter has made me realize that I can’t do this alone. Sharing my story is one thing, but being willing to listen to someone else’s story is another.

      We’re here for you if you’re willing to stretch out your hand…

      Sanger, Texas

  • John Wolfe

    I have to agree with Sherry, a sort of “I function, therefore I am” mentality. Kelly writes that after the loss of his first child, he tried to go back to being the person he was. I know no other person to be. I still have my likes and dislikes, the same good and bad habits, etc.

    Now to be honest, I have noticed some changes. I used to be heavily into genealogy and preserving my family history, but that interest took a serious hit with the loss of my only child. Why preserve family history when there’s no one to pass it on to? Immediately after my daughter’s death, I frantically pored through hundreds of pictures to make a “slide show” of her life for the memorial service. Since most of her life was lived prior to the invention of the digital camera, that meant going through boxes of pictures and scanning them. After the service, I went at it again, hoping to digitally preserve as much of her life as possible. That, too, has fell by the wayside because the thought crosses my mind, “Who in the world is going to look at these pictures?” There will be no grandchildren and I doubt any cousins will care. It’s sometimes very difficult to wrap my head around the idea that there is no more John and Cindy Wolfe line…it ends with us.

    And yet I continue to function on a daily basis, somehow putting one foot in front of the other, hoping against hope that somehow, someday, I’ll be able to get over this feeling of…heck, I can’t even describe it right now…maybe never. But that’s why I keep coming back here because the people here understand what my wife and I are going through and allow me to post the thoughts I do.

    Thanks for listening.


    • John,

      If all you can do on a daily basis is to put one foot in front of the other, that is a huge accomplishment. That means you had the courage to get out of bed and face the pain most people can’t even comprehend. That takes courage! I know you are not feeling the way you want to, we all want to feel better, but this grief takes time, you body, mind, soul has been severly damaged, it takes time to heal. Allow yourself that time. As one dad told me, “allow yourself to feel the pain, but do not live there and do not punish yourself”. Wise words that I never really understood until the death of my second child. I tried to push through it the first time around and that didnt work to well.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.



  • It’s really hard to accept I won’t be the same person because I kinda liked that person… the person I am now, well what can I say? I do laugh. I smile. I function “well”.

    Truth be told, I feel as if I am faking it till I make it. I guess that counts for something.

    • Steven Stuart

      Parts of you will be the same, but the overall person has new information associated with them now, often information that everyone around you has a hard time processing, let alone understanding. Be patient as this new person evolves. The one that emerges will be stronger, more patient, more loving, and more of all the good parts of the person that was there all of the time.

      I wish you patience and courage to accept the new you.


      • The one that emerges will be stronger, more patient, more loving, and more of all the good parts of the person that was there all of the time. I wish you patience and courage to accept the new you.

        There is truth and wisdom in your words Steven. There will be moments that you will not believe any of it, but with patience, courage, and soem very hard days, you will begin to accept the new you once we accept the old you is not coming back. I became more loving, caring, courageous and patient as a result of being brutally honest with myself and others around me. I removed the people in my life that didn’t understand and replaced them with the people that did.

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts.



    • Sherry,

      I liked the old me as well. I liked being naive to the bads things that can happen to people, especially me. But that is not where we are at the moment. We understand reality and trauma and grief at its highest level. I can say that when I wake up everyday I dont have teh feeling of dread I had during the long journey of grief, I laugh, tell jokes and try to take in life rather than racing around try to catch up with it. There is something to the old saying “take time to smell the flowers”. I see beauty I never saw before and have felt peace I havent felt since I was a kid. We as adults get so caught up in the “stuff” of life that really does not matter. Goign through what I have gone through has allowed me to take a step back (a very painful one) and reevaluate who I was, who I am and who I want to be.

      You may be faking it, but you will make it and that does count for something.



  • This key concept–that you are not the same person after losing someone you love–was the hardest for me to accept, but it was also the most important for me to accept. Thanks for sharing!

    • Megan,

      I agree with you, I still have a hard time accepting I am not the same person. Most days I realize this but my old instincts of trying to do many things at one time alls tries to sneak back in. I am still learning that its ok to be whoever you are at the moment. My stress level is much lower than it use to be. I think once your nervous system has been stressed to the maximum, it becomes damaged. The key is to recognize when you are having these moments and to let them run the course until you can pick back up again. The old me would keep on trying and pushing and never stop. Not sure that was the correct way of handling it either. Bottom line is give yourself permission to be whoever you are at the moment and to never judge yourself. It’s important to be kind to yourself.