They Walk Among Us
I had a unique experience last week while I was at work that took me a little off guard. To give you some background leading up to this experience, it started the Friday before New Year’s weekend and I was on the phone with someone (Mark) I had never spoken to before and we were talking about the possibility of his firm doing some sub-consultant work for a project I was managing.
I am the type of person that is genuinely interested in other people; I think everyone has a story to tell which I find intriguing. Therefore, as with most of my conversations, we started making small talk. The conversation turned to the subject how each of us was planning on spending the New Year’s weekend. Mark shared with me his plans and when it came time for what my plans were, I mentioned that I was writing a book and I was planning on spending most of the weekend putting the finishing touches on one of the last chapters. His question back to me was, “what type of book are you writing.” I then explained to him that I was writing a book for men that have experienced the death of a child. There was a few seconds delay and then he asked me why I was writing this book and if I had experience with the subject matter. I then gave him a brief overview of my losses and what prompted me to write such a book. He then said something that got my attention, he said, “I have experience with that, I lost a baby in the mid-80’s.”
This has happened to me on more than one occasion when a general conversation turns to someone sharing with me that they too have lost a child. Of course I hear from grieving dads daily through my Grieving Dads Project blog, but I am talking about the kind of people in your community that you speak with that you have no idea of what you have been through. I think this goes to show that there are millions of us out there. The problem is we often keep that “secret” to ourselves not really wanting to talk about it or burden others with our experiences. The reality is, if we do not talk about it, we don’t make the connections I made with Mark, who was a stranger before our phone conversation. There are many grieving dads (and moms) that we pass by daily. People that understand and can connect with what we have been through. They may not be people that are newly bereaved; they may be like Mark and be almost 25 years out from their loss, but these people still “get it.” They remember those deep dark early days (years) of grief and how debilitating they are. Not to mention the thoughts we all have about not being able to survive this blow.
I got sidetracked in my story, so let me bring the story back to last week, the firm that Mark is with had planned to come in and do an hour presentation some new technology they were using. I was really looking forward to meeting Mark since this was the first time meeting him face to face. He arrived with two other guys from his firm and I got them set up in a conference room. When I met him, I felt an instant connection with him, a strong connection. We didn’t speak about our losses, but there was an understanding, at least on my part, that this dude knows what I have been through because he has walked the walk.
I know this is going to sound weird, but during his presentation, my mind drifted off from the presentation and I found myself looking at him from a different perspective. Not from a business perspective, but I looked at him as a fellow survivor; a survivor that I know has been through hell, just like me and the many other grieving dads I have met. There was a point where I became emotional thinking about what he has been through and what I have been through. I know this is also going to sound a little weird, but I wanted to get up and walk over to him and put my arm around him. The thought of doing that brought even more emotion and a strong sense of compassion towards him.
This is a common response for me when I meet a fellow grieving dad, but this was the first experience I’ve had with a grieving dad in the business world. There is a brotherhood between all of us and we should try to use it to help each other along this journey.
I never said anything to Mark after his presentation about what I was thinking. I know he occasionally reads this blog so when he reads this story I am sure he is going to think “I thought that guy was looking at me a little weird”.
When Mason died this past April, we had a lot of people come to his viewing and funeral. A whole lot of people I didn’t even know. A whole lot of people I haven’t seen in years.
One man in particular. I hadn’t seen him in 10 years or so. The instant I saw him, it all flashed back to me. Mason spent a lot of time in the hospital for the first 2 years of his life. I was working with this guy during that time frame, so we talked about Mason quite a bit. When I saw him at the funeral home, it all came back. He had lost his son many years before. He knew what it was like.
By he time I saw him that evening, he was already pretty close to me. He’s a big fella, and gave me a great big bear hug. During this hug, he told me: “It will get easier, but it’ll NEVER be easy”.
I’m still new at this. 4 months out and if anything, it’s getting harder.
I located our local Compassionate Friends group and contacted them. My wife and I will be attending the next meeting.
I understand that.
I am completely deaf and rely on lipreading and know sign language. I recently started a Deaf Grief Channel on YouTube in hopes of finding other deaf parents for grief support. ANYWAY… my point is, I rely a lot on body language and subtle visual cues that go missed by many.
I often think when I’m out in public I can tell who has lost a child. I’ve talked about it on my blog before. Something changes in their eyes. I cannot explain it. Sometimes we recognize each other.
Of course I’m not going to go up and ask but… I do think it’s there. This aura.
They “walk among us” in different ways if you know how to see them.
There IS a brotherhood (and sisterhood) but it’s hard to know when or how to tap into it sometimes. We learn to keep quiet…
Having lost our 5 month old girl Ella to SIDS has been such a devastating experience and a daily hell to live through. I am so happy to have found this site. Ella has been gone only since Oct. 11, 2011. I hope to find others to help me as a father get through this.
I am sorry for the loss of your sweet baby girl Ella. There are other dads on here that have also lost a child to SIDS. There is support here by many dads please keep showing up and adding your comments. Vent when you need to email/call me directly if you need to speak or need some support in the “daily hell” you are living in.
I too am happy you found this site.
As always, very thoughtful post. At our Compassionate Friends meeting last night I was the group leader for the first time. May 21 will mark 4 years since John Robert died at age 18. I never knew such a group existed, and I really wish no one ever had to know. But how grateful am I to sit in a room with people who have lost their children 20+ years ago … to see how tender they still are in their feelings about their children … and to see them as wounded healers. Reaching out to those who have lost children is second nature now. And it seems to me to be necessary for hope to regain a foothold in the hearts of the bereaved.
I applaud you for not only attending these meetings, but now your are leading groups and helping others through this mess. We all remember the first times we showed up at a support group and thought “what am I doing here”, this isn’t for me. But once we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, the put our guard down, the healing can begin.
I’ve been thinking about your entry here for a few days now, Kelly. I think your description of how “weird” you felt about thinkng about reaching out and giving Mark a hug illustrates how we are taught throughout our lives to sweep such intense feelings under the rug. Toss in the entire “macho’ thing that permeates our society and further restricts the flow of true emotions between us…as men….and it is not hard to see why we are all floundering in a sea of people who just don’t know how to deal with us or our grief.
>>>HUGS<<< all around!
Pat – I agree with your assessment, even though I have gotten much better about reaching out and giving another guy a hug when is is crying or hurting, its still a little uncomfortable at times. You are corret, if we can put this way of thinking aside and reach out when others need it, there would be a lot less people feeling alone in their pain.
Thanks for sharing you thoughts on this.
Jack, I think that’s so beautiful, laying the dead into the earth. The lingering presence at the graves — that too would be a comfort to me, and to explain that? There are not enough words. Peace to you.
After being out of work for 2 years I was offered a job at a very famous Georgia cemetery. We lost our son in 2005, I had really lost my way for several years and just didn’t care anymore. I took the job because I felt a presents that was encouraging me. (weird huh) . I now have been there for 4 months and I get a lot of comfort in helping lay a love one to rest. Everyone that we lay to rest is someones child,bother,sister etc. I stand at a distance during the funerals. When someone has had a full life it’s easier for me to do my job.( note easier not easy). But when I have to lay a child to rest (very hard) I have the same thoughts that you had. Wanting to go over and put my arm around them to comfort them. normally the mother is very upset and you can hear them from a distance. But the father usually is quiet , and as a father that has lost a child I know what he is feeling. The grief is so new that you never know what to say. There are a lot of things people will say after losing a child and you think I DON”T WANT TO HEAR IT! So I have to be very careful what I say. All I can think is they have just joined a club that they didn’t want to be in or can’t get out of for the rest of there life’s. God be with them
You are doing some good stuff working at that cemetery. God with his is right. It must be hard to see the newness and rawness of being newly bereaved. The pain, blank stares from the shock. The fog with no expressions. Tough stuff. In time you will find a way to put your arm around them without saying a word.
It is amazing. I recently joined a support group-“Compassionate Friends” which is for parents who have lost a child of any age due to any cause. And I was amazed, saddened and also felt lucky to have finally met others in person who walk in our shoes. There is no way to really understand what losing a child means to a parent .. unless you, too, are one of those parents. As they say, “I am sorry to have to meet you this way, but I am happy to know you.”
My wife and I attended SHARE organization for people that have lost babies. It was a great expereince to be able with connect with others and in fact some of our best friends today (6 years later) are two couple we met at the group. We get together for dinner parties and stay connected in their personal lives which has been great. Early on we would get together and talk and cry. Now we get together and talk and laugh. We still have heavy hearts but great friends that get it are priceless.
Keep going to those meetings.
Where I work, we have over 10,000 people on Center. Given the number of people, it is statistically impossible to not have several people who have had a child die, and when people found out that Colin died, word spread quickly and many of these people sought me out to talk to me about their experiences as well as offer an ear or shoulder, or both. I have become friends with several of them and close acquaintances with others.
The perspective that they gave/give me is something I cherish because no one other than someone who has been there can truly understand. They know what a “bad day” is and when I am having one…most of the time without me saying a word. My only regret is that I met all of these wonderful people only after my son died. However, since Colin is not coming back, at least these people understand the importance of keeping him alive and present, and they never stop me when I share one more thing about him and how much I miss him.
I had a similar experience with someone that works in the same building I do. We were one day having a causal discussion when he asked me about a pin I was wearing on my lapel. I told him it was a pin I had made to memorialize my daughter. That’s when he looked at me and told me how he had lost a daughter too about 9yrs ago. Since them we have continued to have our conversations on a weekly basis. And while they may not always be about our children we both know and as a lot of us say we “get it”.
I do count my blessing for all of these interactions I had have, whether its one like the one described above or meeting a new set of parents at a support group meeting or reading a parents blog about how much they miss their children. All of these interactions help us cope and understand our own grief. Thank you to all of the moms and dads for sharing your stories and the stories of your wonderful children. Thank you for “getting it”!
It is always good to be able to connect to others that have gone through or are currently going through. No subject are off limits. It also helps with with not feeling so alone in our journey.