A few people close to me know that I have been struggling lately with some bullshit life stuff. The kind of stuff where you ask yourself, “Why am I stressing out about something so stupid?” I often will go through this process and quickly discard whatever non-important issue is stressing me out. The death of a child gives you a different perspective on life, which makes it easy to prioritize what is “truly important” versus not important at all. Most stuff falls under the not important column.
However, for whatever reason I have been unable to discard this issue. I have been struggling with it since the release of my book back in June. I think a lot of it has to do with burnout. I spent the last 3 years writing the book, taking counseling classes, running the blog, working on Farley-Kluger legislation, obtaining my Recovery Coach designation, taking calls/emails from dads that need me and working a full time engineering job. I have been busy. After the book was released, I stopped writing, slowed down with my blog and dropped classes. I still take calls/email from the grieving dads that need me, that won’t change. But I made a conscious decision to take the summer off from almost everything except my job and enjoyed the free time. I bought a camera and took a couple of photography classes. I worked out a lot; it was a great summer to unwind a little.
The issue I have been struggling with is whether or not I should continue on with obtaining my Masters in Counseling. The reason for that is, (ok this is where the bullshit stuff comes in, don’t judge me) I have been thinking about taking a different job that pays about 30% more than I am making now. It’s not about the money; a lot of it has to do with respect from my current employer (too long of a story for details). Yeah, it will be more money but also more time away, more stress, more commute time and less freedom/flexibility than I have now. It’s not that I live a lifestyle that requires me to make more money, I learned from losing my children that money can’t bring you peace. I would have given everything I owned at the time to remove the pain and replace it with peace. I longed for a moment where the pain would let off of me. So why would I even stress about “should I take the job or should I not take the job”. I don’t even like the field I am in, I find it boring and very unfulfilling. I find no passion or meaning in it. It’s a paycheck, that’s it. What I do find passion in is helping grieving dads through this nightmare. I receive emails from dads all of the time that say things like “thank you for this book, it has helped me tremendously”. That’s rewarding.
As a grieving dad that has survived the most profound event one could ever fathom, a huge part of me feels I need to stay the course with the counseling to help others though this horrific pain. I know for a fact there are not many people (especially men) that are qualified to counsel on the subject, someone who has walked in the shoes of another bereaved parent. I know it’s needed.
I have started to come out of the burn out phase over the last month, so I started my speaking engagements on men’s grief again. Last weekend I was in Madison, WI speaking to a large group of bereaved parents and yesterday I spoke to a group of counseling students at Northern Illinois University (NIU). It has been a few months since I sat with a grieving parent and just talked about their story and pain. However, over the last week I had the opportunity to meet several of them. One of them was a dad that attended my presentation at NIU. I didn’t realize this, but about a week before I spoke at the University, they placed an ad in the local paper and invited the public to come to the event. I thought I was speaking to a group of counselors, faculty and professors, but about 40 minutes into my presentation on how to help these men, a guy stood up in the back of the room and blurts out, “I lost my son in 1997, I saw an ad in the paper and thought I would come check it out not knowing what to expect. It is too much for me right now and I need to leave.” He then looked at me and thanked me and then said to the room full of counselors, “listen to everything this guy is telling you” as he was pointing to me. I met him at the door and walked out into the hallway with him. It was obvious he was under serious distress, distress I have seen in my own eyes before. I could see the emotions rushing to the surface and not knowing how to deal with them, the feeling of panic. I offered to sit and talk with him, but he was on a mission to get the hell out of there. I handed him a copy of the book I grabbed on the way out of the room and told him to call me. I then proceeded back into the classroom. I walked into a silent room full of people and walked to the front of the classroom and asked the question, “Did anyone learn anything from what just happened? Did you see the pain this man was still carrying with him after 15 years?” They asked me why I thought he bailed so quickly and before it was over. I told them, “I don’t know the answer for sure, but I suspect that he has not heard much of what I was saying. And if he did hear it, it probably wasn’t coming from another dad who has walked in his shoes. He may have felt he had permission to grieve for the first time.” I haven’t heard from him yet, but I suspect I will at some point. I do believe a seed was planted with him.
This experience was a reminder of why I wrote the book and started the grieving dad’s blog. I do find passion in this work, I find meaning in it and I know I am making a difference in other people’s lives. I have been inspired to start working on an idea I have for my next book. I will continue speaking on the subject and continue reaching out to these men. I know I still have a lot of work to do with bringing awareness to men’s grief. I have made a decision to stay where I am at with my current job and have been reminded that no amount of money will bring as much fulfillment as the work I have been doing.
Thank you to all of the people who have encouraged me to stay the course and to the people who encourge me to take breaks when I need them.