Often times throughout my life when I experienced something stressful or painful I would just put my head down and try to fight through it. This approach had always worked for me. In fact, I implemented this approach after the death of my first child Katie. I put my head down and tried to fight through the pain and the stress. Since I grew up with a blue collar background were fighting was a rite of passage. I thought I was doing a bang up job battling this enemy. However, about 18 months later and just a few weeks prior to the death of my son Noah, I started to notice small cracks in the façade I had put up. These cracks would prove to me the downfall of the strong foundation I thought I had created. Over the 18 months leading up to this point, every time an “emotion” would show up, I would squash it. Push it back down as quickly and as forcefully as I could. I actually thought I was winning this battle, but this enemy is ruthless and would blind side me every chance it could. This constant beating was starting to take a toll on me.
The death of my son was like a swift kick to the groin and it sent me to my knees. Every time I would try to get back up it would strike again, more force. I was a slow learner; in fact I would try to give myself pep talks. Literally, there were a few occasions where I would stand in front of the mirror in the morning while I was getting ready for work and I would catch the look of pain on my face; that sad depressing look that appeared to age me by several years. I would lean into the mirror and try to give my best pep talk. “You fucking need to pull your shit together and fight though this”. I would then punch the vanity top to pump myself up. It’s kind of embarrassing to even admit to such behavior, put I was doing what worked for me in other difficult situations in my life. In the past, if something wasn’t going my way, I would take control of the situation. But this approach was not working for me no matter how many conversations I would have with myself. I thought by pumping myself up, I could win this battle. Not a chance. This pain would dare me to try to shake it off and when I would try, it would add on a little more until the load became so heavy I surrendered to it.
Yes, I surrendered. Gave up and quit fighting it. I finally became so exhausted from this battle that I just said okay, you win. As soon as I changed my mindset and surrendered to the pain, I started to actually feel all of the pain and emotions I had suppressed the previous 2 years. I mean really feel it to the core. I let it take its course. I let it “be what it was” at that given moment. I allowed it to sweep over me and consume almost every thought. I wasn’t sure I was going to survive it and in fact, I would constantly ask my wife, counselor and a few trusted friends if I was going to survive it. They assured me I would, but I even started to see the concerns on their face and realized they really didn’t know if I would.
I think taking a break from fighting it and allowing it to be what it was help me to regain my strength to start the long, drawn our process of rebuilding my life. I can now look back and say I lost a lot of battles over the last several years, but in the end, I knew when to surrender and I knew when to come out swinging. I can honestly say that I am in a good place in my life as a result of surrendering to the process of grief.
I want to be clear here, I am not saying you shouldn’t fight, but don’t “fight” the fact that it’s there, that it hurts, that the death of your child has impacted aspects of your life that you don’t even realize yet. What I am saying is pick your battles and live to fight another day. This isn’t a onetime battle, it’s thousands of battles. You will lose some of them and you will win some of them, the important fact is its ok to throw in the towel when you need to. Know your limitations and learn to allow the process to run its course.
Any thoughts on this topic you would like to share?
I have comments to two buds here on this sit.
First, Kevin – I lost my daughter Leslie two days before you lost Shannon. So the grief is still raw and will be for a while. And probably for the rest of our lives — I learned that last night in a group I attend(which I’d suggest you try and find in your area) “Compassionate Friends”. It’s for parents who have lost a child of any age to any cause. There is no benchmark for a parent’s pain, but it helps to hear other fathers(and mothers) who feel like they’ve lost their mind, who, 16 years later, still can’t believe their child won’t be here. It’s a long damn road we are on and the only hope, and it is a hope I cling to so hard, that at the end of the road, we will see our child again. Visit this site whenever you go down. I do a lot. Of late, I’ve written a lot. Hopefully not boring too many, but it helps.
Second – to Tim. Thanks for that insight about trading places. The last thing I’d want is for Leslie to feel pain about my sorry ass. It’s a small compensation, but it does ease things just a bit. Of course, I’d still trade places because she should be here. As all children should be. At the Compassionate Friends meeting. one of the parents told a story of her 90-year old grandfather who’d lost this person’s mother at 70. And the grandfather kept asking himself what he could have done to save his “baby.” We are, all of us, soldiers for our children.
I’m new to this site, in that this is my first time leaving a reply. My wife suggested that I find a “Mens” group that I felt comfortable enough to read and relate too. My story is this.. I lost my youngest son Shanon, today marks the eight month since he passed away. Shanon passed away on July 3rd 2011 he was 17 years old. Shanon was basically my special son, he and I did so many things together. I had coached him in baseball since he was old enough to swing a bat or pitch a ball. His personallity was one that I would call “infectous” , he was a prankster, loved to make you laugh. He was cool with kids and adults. The day he passed away was like any other day, nothing out of the ordinary. The night before was like just any other Saturday night at my home, he sat on the couch next to his mother watching T.V. and playing on the laptop. His mother said that she was tired at around 11 p.m. and said she was going to bed, so he grabbed the laptop and headed off to his room. She knocked on his door, which he opened and she told him good night. Little did we know that would be the last time she would ever utter those words to him. I had gotten up at 5 a.m. to got to work, I passed by his room more than 3 times, his door was shut (not unusual), I heard no sounds. I left about 6, arrived at work started the day. At around 11 in that morning I was approached by my boss who said I needed to go home, I was stunned. I asked were you pulling my chain or something, is this some kind of joke. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, but replied “no it’s not a joke”. So callled home , my wife answered the phone and I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying . Then a police officer got on the phone and all that he would say is “you need to come home, there is something about your son Shanon that we need to figure out”. I asked the officer more than twice what was wrong, he hung up. So I drove more than 40 miles home as fast I could go,calling anyone I knew that lived around me to go to my home, there is something wrong. When I arrived , I saw many police cars and firefights standing outside. As I got out my truck, my oldest met me and said “he’s gone”. I ran into the house and no one would allow into his room to see him. All that was said was “He’s gone”. ..After reading all of the above comments, I’m very glad that there is a place I can come. Everyday since that day, has been a challenge. I feel all of these things all of you have posted. Everyday I wake up with the same anger, misery, guilt, pain in my chest that all of you feel. I used know who I was , now I have no clue. It took four long months for a coroner to tell that my Shanon passed away from a heart condition, one that I had no idea what it was, he exhibited no symptoms prior to him passing away. All that I know is this is shitty way to meet good people. I fight hard most days, the pain and misery, I still have two other sons and a wife, but it isn’t easy. I heard comment once about a month ago or so , the question was “How are doing ?” the reply was “I’m fine” .. the truth is “I’m better at faking it”…I wish to apologize for my long ramble, I ramble sometimes. I also want thank everyone for their comments , I thought I was loosing my mind. I am thankful there is somewhere I can go, where I can share my pain.
I want to start by saying how sorry I am for the loss of your son Shanon. We all know the pain you carry. I wish there was something I could say or do to take away your pain, but there isn’t. All we can do is be here for you and offer our friendship and support.
I also want to say thank you for the courage to tell your story. Trust me, I know how hard it is to say/write those words of your and your sons story. The fact you are here and willing to say those words is a great first step of dealing with you pain, grief, guilt and love that we all experience.
I want you to know that you can call/email me anytime you need to speak with another grieving dad. We are here to support each other and to let others know they are not alone on this horrible journey.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your son Shanon. I wish I couldn’t say I know how you feel…but I do.
I’m glad you found this website. Regardless of how you choose to participate…I believe you will find a comaraderie unlike anywhere else. I read here regularly, post only occassionaly. Usually I read and weep…over the losses of these men and my own.
May the peace of Christ be with you and your family,
Hey Tim Hayes-
You are definitely NOT an asshole. Although I feel that way so many times every day — for all of the shitty times I wasn’t the parent I thought I would be or should have been. I know the gurus and all those people who mean well say to live each day as if it might be yours or someone else’s last day on earth. Okay, I get it. But who, in their right mind, really thinks that way? I didn’t even when I spent the last few months of Leslie’s life up in Canada with her at the hospital every day, praying for a miracle, not knowing what to do, and for damn sure, knowing what to say. You tell your child you love them, I prayed to God to let me trade places right then, but in the end, we just watch, helpless. I am more forgiving of people now, but I have so much rage inside it’s hard to imagine. And while it’s the worst goddamn group to be in, this one we share, I appreciate being able to vomit emotionally on this site. I am not a religious man any more, but if it’s possible, Bless us all.
John – Thanks for the compliment, but it is the other Tim who deserves it. I really AM and asshole (at times), no matter how hard I try not to be 🙂
Your comment about not being a religious man anymore makes me reflect… For most of my life, I would have called myself religious because I didn’t know a better way to say it. I’ve often heard (and said) that it isn’t about “religion” but about a “relationship” with God that matters. Walking through the loss of my son, I have honestly questioned everything about Him. I guess the best way to say it is that I trust God – with caution. His ways sometimes really suck, and I am afraid of the pain. I really have no idea what is right or wrong, but I cannot deny the times when I felt a powerful presence and inexplicable peace during some of the worst times. Since my son walked through cancer treatments, he contemplated his own death. (The only journal entry he wrote during the year of treatment, he spoke of it.) I know that he came to a place of trusting that God was in control – even if it didn’t go the way we wanted. I’m trying to believe, but at times it is very difficult. And I certainly try not to judge anyone who has given God the finger, because I was there yesterday and might be there again tomorrow.
Just as you did with Leslie, I had so many moments when I prayed that I could take my son’s place – to bear the suffering for him. What I have realized since then… My son was very relational. If I had taken his place and died, he would have been the one sitting by my grave. In essence, I have been given the opportunity to suffer in his place – now. He never had to face the world without one of his parents. He never experienced the power of missing someone more and more every day. This almost makes it all worthwhile… wait… strike that. Nope. It simply sucks, and I wish none of it had occurred. But that sure isn’t going to happen either… Thanks for sharing.
“It makes no sense that we can actually feel better after we have allowed grief to kick the shit out of us”
So true, Tim Hayes.
“If I am driving, I pull over and sometimes let loose a primal scream because it’s all I’ve got left.”
John, I feel that too and I’m so sorry. Fuck those who say you’re done. You’re never, ever done. Harbor the sadness. Protect your grief.
And fighting? Every day. I fight every day. While my son was alive I worked on stuff instead of spending time with him. Now he’s dead. I want to vindicate the time i spent away from him. I fight that his absence not go void in my ambition. So I work and I work and I work. I’m an asshole. I know this. I don’t care: everything ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ will pale in comparison to the blue fingernails and dead limbs I held in lieu of my son the night he died. Want to talk about being healthy? Or what’s appropriate? Horrible, pretentious words. There’s nothing remotely appropriate about the death of a 4-year old. I still ache. Every day. Avoiding the ache makes me grow sicker. I’m sick enough as it is.
Tim – You are correct, you are never done. Its been 8 and 7 years for me and I still think about it everyday. My life is not the same. I am not the same. The thing that happens is you start to realize it and make changes in your life that matches these changes. I dont work or stress like I use to. If I dont feel like doing something today, I dont beat myself up for not crossing it off my to do list. I do the best I can. I use to say to my wife, “i never was like this before”, and in reply, “you hadnt lsot two children before”. We are quick to judge ourselves but we need to stop and say “hell I was able to get out of bed today, thats pretty good considering what I have been through”.
Most people have not clue. You cant explain it to them, no words can capture it. So you are right, fuck them if they dont understand. Thye cant even begin to understand the trauma in which every grieving parent goes through.
Death is that 600 pound gorilla in the room, that everyone pretends isn’t there, that we tiptoe around in case it roars and eats us alive. I am still new to the process, March 1 will be eight months since my youngest daughter Leslie died from colon cancer. But her older sister never wants to talk about it and if I mention it I am poo-poohed away with, “It is was it is.” At first when friends that I hadn’t seen asked how I was doing, i would tell them. Now, unless they are really close (and if they were that close they’d know), I don’t say anything. The friends that do know don’t mention it. I’m not sure if they expect me to be over it or what. Reading other father’s comments here helps tremendously, but is also daunting — because while I know it to be true, your comments prove it: We never get over this loss. Not that “accepting” it means you have forgotten your child, but that this is the most devastating loss of all. I never know when thoughts of Leslie will hit. But when they do they’re blindsided hits from a Mack truck that sometimes bring me to my knees. If I am driving, I pull over and sometimes let loose a primal scream because it’s all I’ve got left. Thanks to all of you and especially you Kelly for creating this site.
Like one dad I interviewed for my book said. A man in grief is “the 300 lb beast at the bar that know one has the balls to manup and confront” It is daunting and I still get pissed that this is now my life, but I have changed in ways I never would have. I am more understanding, less judgemental and more forgiving. Things that I was not to good at before.
I know the primal scream. I use to make sounds I never heard before when it would build up to where I couldnt hold it in anymore and then it was like a flood of emotion that would release.
You are welcome for the site. I am glad you find support here John. Thinking about you today here on March 1st. I hope the day was as kind as it possbility can be.
Holding everyone else “up” is an impossible and inhuman task, Aaron. And really, who are you to interfere with the grief others feel…or should feel? Who exactly gave you that responsibility?
It’s sad to see how we’ve been programmed to avoid grief and to think that we are dealing with it via that avoidance. Nope. Still there. Yup. Even worse.
From the get-go, we as a family chose to face all of this head on in reality-based mode. We went to the accident site. We talked to the witnesses. We headed directly into therapy (and are still there). We enrolled in a grief Class. We started taking classes at the local college. We saw a medium/clarivoyant. Anything and everything we can do to ease the pain and try to “understand”…we are doing. To do any less would do my son’s ever-inquisitive spirit a disservice in my eyes. The LAST THING he would want is for us to be in a funk and to tear ourselves down over his passing.
I urge any/all of you to grab the Grief Recovery Handbook at your local bookstore. This book WILL NOT HEAL YOU…but it opens many doors that were closed for most of us AS CHILDREN when we we “taught” INCORRECTLY how to “deal” with our grief. (aka…NOT DEAL with our grief)
respect to all for sharing the love you feel so openly.
It is sad to see how we’ve been programmed to beleive certain behaviors is unacceptable or considered weak. I use to care what others thought. No anymore., I know those are lies. Because I have tried it both ways and holding it in causes long term impacts to your health. “Nope, still there. Yup, still hurts”
It is sad that men are not always given the opportunity to surrender to the grieving process. Some of it is the nature of the recovery and rebuilding role we often play in society. Someone must pick up the pieces. Some of it is merely us – individuals feeling that showing emotion is a sign of weakness (a load of crap, in my opinion). At times during the past year, I *thought* I was grieving well. Even my counselor told me I was allowing myself to feel the pain as I should. But I so easily have fallen into the trap of believing, “Okay. I’m better. Time to move forward.” When I think this and the overwhelming sadness rears its head (which I am learning it always will), my first reaction has been to fight it thinking, “I am better, dammit!” Rather than continuing to embrace the grief process, I have fooled myself into believing it has done its work on me, and I should simply be over it (also a load of crap because it will never be “finished”).
About six weeks ago, I started to find some strength by practicing surrender. When the cloud of sadness appeared, I consciously let my son go. For me, that was picturing myself handing him to God (as best I could – he was 25 and bigger than me) and saying out loud, “Keith, I love you, and I’m letting you go. You will never again experience the pain you did.” Initially, it was like I had found IT – THE solution to my pain. I love my son enough to let him go – to let him escape a life of chemo, central lines, blood transfusions, stem cell transplants, pain meds wearing off… you get the picture. Of course, even that has grown wearisome, plus we faced the one-year anniversary of his last hospital stay (January 24th – February 20th). Today, however, I am not fighting. One year ago today, we buried him. I visited his grave at lunch and felt what I have before – that last A in the grief process (Denial-Anger-Bargaining-Depression-Acceptance). I am tired of picking up the gauntlet when my sadness challenges me to a duel. I have NO choice but to accept reality – this alternate reality from the one in my dreams.
It makes no sense that we can actually feel better after we have allowed grief to kick the shit out of us, but I am finding it is true. The only way to survive grief is to let it be what it is. My son fought his cancer – very valiantly. I fought in every way I could. It is time to rest – at least for awhile. Thanks for the reminder.
I experienced the same thing you are with regards to thinking you are feeling/doing better then you have a couple of bad weeks/days and then you forget the good days. One of my counselors encourged me to set up a chart that tracked the day AM and PM as to how I was doing or feeling, Meaing did I cry today, get anger or whatever. I did this for almost a year. I would have a couple of good weeks and then I would get sucked back into the darkness. My wife would have to remind me to go an look at my chart of how many good days I was having before the bad ones. I was able to see small patterns of improvement, which helped take away the panic of always being in a “bad place”. I woould start calculating percentage of ok days versus bads days. I know what you’re thinking, this guys is anal. Maybe a little, but I like to see results and progress. It helped me a lot.
As far as feeling better after “grief kicks the shit out of us”. I think it makes perfect sense. Mainly because out bodies need to purge the bad emotions. When ever I started to feel the heavyness in my chest, I would go upstairs to my home office, shut the door and write the words “Dear Sweet Baby Noah”. Once started to write those words the emotions would just poor out for 20 minutes. I felt completely different afterwards. I just allowed it to pour out of me. i didnt fight it. You will need tissue for all of the snot and tears that will also flow.
Thanks for sharing.
I fought myself trying to do the best I could for my children. Need to work more so I can do this, do that. When me and Delana went to College orientation, she was so proud, then she said dad this is expensive.No it,s not you will do great, she was in Honor Society in high school.
Anyway, I now have to fight the daily,sometimes hourly PAIN,GRIEF,ANGER,WHY,WHY.
My son has to not only deal with a loss of a sister, we all do have to deal with the loss of his Fiancee, also.
Me an him maybe going on a road trip this april,like me an my brother did last april.
In Delanas car.
Sorry to ramble, but that,s just me.
Personally, I think rambling is allowed 🙂
All I can say is, “Wow!” Taking a trip with your son in your daughter’s car may stir up a slew of emotion. My daughter now drives her brother’s truck, and it took me awhile to start seeing it as her’s (okay… I’m still working on that one). I pray the time with your son is healing for both of you. Our best is all we can give, and it sounds to me like you are doing a great job at that.
Its good to hear from you. You can “ramble” here any time. I love the fact that you are doing the road trip again this year with you son. Keep us up to date on the trip. We all would love to hear more about it. Thats a great way to stay close to your daughter and your son.
I have been “fighting” that same battle for almost 12 years now & you’re right, its exhausting. But I honestly feel I have no choice but to continue to fight… there are people (family) who depend on me virtually 24/7 & if I was to ever let my guard down & let grief take over it wouldn’t just affect me… the ones I have closest to me are either of the mind set that I should be over it already or they are still so fragile emotionally that if I break down they will break down too so I have to pull it together to support them… so with all that I am simply at a loss, I would like nothing more than to embrace the grieving process and work thru it but it seems I may never get the chance so on with the fight I guess right? Any suggestions?
If family depend on you 24/7, then they need to depend on the real Aaron, not the person who never lets his guard down. That Aaron is just a shell walking around trying to ‘protect’ everyone or shield them from something he is not ready to embrace for fearing some sort of failure in his responsibilities. Please take this as it is meant…I am calling bullshit on that Aaron. The Aaron that needs to be there for everyone else needs to be there for himself first and foremost, and until that happens, and he accepts the man he is since his loss, he will never truly be there for his family.
Embrace the man you are…every aspect, including the emotions and grief after the death of your child. Do yourself the honor of being whole again in a new way. The old Aaron can never be whole, but the current Aaron can come damn close if he just allows it.
My final suggestion…talk to other Dads. It HELPS!
My first thought when I read your post was, “Fuck! Twelve years is a LONG time!” It breaks my heart that you have carried this for so long. But – I understand why you have done it. I so often fool myself into believing that everything will be lost if “I” do not carry it all. What I am learning, however, is that my attempts to carry too much only wear me down and stunt those around me. What would happen if I am suddenly swept out of the picture? Have I enabled my loved ones to deal with it by modeling a healthy approach to grief? No matter how much we push it down, it will NEVER stay there. No one else can tell me what I am feeling. A father’s grief is unique, and if anyone says something different, maybe THAT is what you need to fight. One question to consider is… you mention the “mind set” of those closest to you. Have they actually *told* you that you should be over it, or is this what you *think* they are telling you? Grief has a strange way of clarifying and confusing communication all at the same time. The only suggestion I would have is to make your best attempt at being honest about what you are feeling. Eventually, you are going to break, and where will that leave everyone? Why do you not deserve the chance to grieve and heal? If we cannot take care of ourselves, in the long run, everyone will lose.
The fact that you have been fighting this for 12 years is impressive. Impressive from the fact that you have been able to do it. One of the words in your statement “I honestly feel I have no choice but to continue to fight” stood out to me. The word is “feel”. You “feel” that you have no choice based on the assumption that others will not survive without you. I encourage you to have that conversation with your family members. Letting them know that what you feel is real and that you need some personal time to allow yourself to grieve. I understand your mindset, I was the same way after the death of my first child. Even if you allow yourself to start attending grief support groups once a month or a counselor (qualified in grief – qualified by actually having been where you are) you can at least start letting out some of your buried emotions. Ease into it and all yourself to grieve and allow the pain to start leaving your body. The long term effect of this on your health is probably not the best for you or your family.