It’s that time of year where many of us do some personal reflection.  Many people like to spend time looking over the last year, in this case it’s 2012.  Looking back over how your life has changed or has not changed and trying to find ways to improve upon it.  I no longer look at just the last twelve months; I now look at by life as before and after the death of my children.  The losses have become moments of my life that I measure myself against.  My wife and I will have conversations about things that happened in the past and we find ourselves asking “did that happen before or after Katie and Noah.”  I have found that there is a very clear difference between the two.

Before my losses (2004)

I was a self-absorbed asshole who really only worried about one person, himself.  I really didn’t care about other people’s opinion of me or their problems; they were not mine, so why bother myself with them.  I use to think that people used their problems as excuses for where they were in life.  I was driven by all of the wrong things such as money, status, material and image.  Back then I told myself that it was ok to be that way because I had a “plan” and no one or nothing was going to get in my way of achieving it.  For those that follow this blog, you know that “my plan” didn’t go so well.  However, it took me a while to realize this.  I tried to pick up the pieces and get back on my plan shortly after the loss of my daughter, I didn’t know better.  I went back to what I knew; I tried to fast forward as quickly as I could.  Bad idea.  I went to depths I never thought was possible for someone as “strong” as me.  The pain eventually got the best of me and literally brought me to my knees.  I so desperate wanted to come up for air, but I didn’t know which way was up so I continued to sink.

After my second loss (2006)

I had to be hit with a sledgehammer twice before I realized how wrong I was in the way I was living my life.  I look back and just shake my head at how young, cocky and naive I was.

  • I now live simple because I now realize money, status, image or material things do not come in and help you out of bed when you don’t think you can go on another day; days where you don’t care if you live or die.
  • I have gained compassion because strangers taught me what it was by example.
  • I became humble because it’s part of survival.
  • I became transparent because I realized it’s harder to hold it in than to let it out.
  • I became ok with sitting with someone in pain and speaking with them without dancing around the subject.  I know what kind of gift this is because I have been on the receiving end of many of these gifts.
  • My new “plan” is to enjoy life and not take things so seriously.  Conquering the world is no longer my objective.  Being able to smile and laugh is.
  • I now use my “drive” to help others through the profound loss of a child.
  • I no longer judge others.  You never know what the person next to you has gone or going through.

I wish I could say all of these changes occurred overnight, but they didn’t.  There were a lot of growing pains with the new found me.  These growing pains and changes would not have occurred if I hadn’t lowered my guard and allowed myself to grieve and grow as a person.

We all know that it’s not possible to go back to the person we were before the loss of our children.  However, I must say I like a lot of things about the new me.  I also dislike some things about the new me that I will save for another time, but most of them revolve around the impact child loss has on one’s psychological/mental health state.

Have you done some personal reflection as we head into 2013?  Tell me about the person before and the person after.

Leave a Reply to Tim Hayes Cancel Reply

User Comments ( 27 )

  • Matt L

    For those “experienced” with grief, what was your turning point when you realized the days were getting better?

    I experience the ups/downs every day and I am keenly aware of my feelings including anxiety, mild depression, irritability, occasional smile, but mostly a “humbug” attitude. I feel much better when I can talk to people about my feelings or my daughter.

    I accept that it takes time, but some days I wish I could feel “normal”. I’m currently going to therapy, griefshare, exercising (walking), and seeing a naturopath doc for supplemental remedies. My wife would say it’s working, but I have a tough time seeing the shoreline through the fog.

    Your responses are greatly appreciated!

  • Pat

    Depression is holding you back, John. I feel it as well. It’s like a “force field” from some old Sci-Fi flick that has been turned on and holds me in place.

    “give up or go for it” here often hinges on what I’m thinking about. If I think about all of the crap I have on my plate to do…most of which are now cold leftovers (responsibilities) from my previous life..I simply want to “give up”.

    But if I’m thinking about Graham..and what has been lost and all of the things he will never get to do….I find I want to brave the new world more than ever and “go for it”.

    At this point, it just seems like time is wasting. 100K a year is good money but what is truly being sacrificed to make that wage? If I was to find I had cancer and had only 6 months to live…>how much< would the time I spent working that I cannot get back be worth?

    I'm starting to think I wanna live NOW like I've been told that kind of horrible news….just in case.

    • Grieving Dads

      Pat – You captured how I often feel. What is being sacrificed for tolerating things in our lives. Why is it so hard just to walk away. You are correct, I would be pissed off at myself if I was given 6 months to live. Although I am not 100% happy where everything is in my life right now, I can say I have started to learn how to live a life and to take it in. Over the last couple of years I have done things I wanted to do for years. Bought a camera and took classes on how to use it, still learning. Kayaking, biking, physically fit, wrote a book, helped others and working to change federal legislation. I still feel like I have so much more I want to do. My children taught me how to take life in and to live it now and not hoard money for a day that may never come.

      Wishing you peace.


  • Pat

    1/2 of my response was eaten above….

    What I said was that I understand your desire to isolate. I want to buy some land and cut myself off from the news/outside world….sit by the creek and meditate/do yoga….grow a huge garden…walking on the tall grass…. lay in the sun…. all of that and more.
    I want the LITTLE things to matter again. The beautiful the sunrise and the sunset… or the smell of the rain…

    Kind of a “tune in, turn on, and drop out” thing…but with money and a plan..and no false belief that we can change the World…only a belef that we can change ourselves and what we value to include the >simple< things in life again…

    then i went into the "logical" sentence in the above post… just after all that gobbldiegook…


    • John Wolfe


      Sorry it took so long to reply, but I’ve been frustratingly busy. Busy in the sense that I’m taking care of the things that NEED to be done. Day to day chores take up most of my time, along with working for a living. I still hold my dreams of getting my woodworking shop in order alongside improving my skills at work.

      Here’s the rub…I no longer have any passion for what I do. I KNOW it’s there inside of me but I don’t know how to unlock it. I’ll get “sneak previews” every once in a while, but it’s not a constant like it was “before”. So do I give up or do I go for it?

      I choose to keep going forward. It’s rough and it’s hard, but God never guaranteed easy.

  • Pat

    Thanks for the life experience advice and for relaying Allison’s story, john. We’ve all lost >so mucheveryone elseareourselves> instead of a dream that we are gonna change the world….

    “Logical”?? Maybe. I am figuring out that we can do anything if we give up caring what others think…which..for me…after this experience…is getting FAR easier to accomplish.

    “Emotional?” Damn straight. How could change now NOT be? And if you are going to change… how much?

    Ironic as it may sound….I’m thinking “GET crazy…not GO Crazy” may be the only way to regain ANY sanity whatsoever after all of this sadness and pain.

    hang in there my friend. Tightly.


  • John Wolfe

    It’s been two years now since Allison’s sudden inexplicable death in Dec. 2010. For some reason, this year was especially tough, more so than the first anniversary.

    I became increasingly withdrawn as this year’s anniversary approached, and actually became angry because relatives were encroaching on my special time. Christmas and New Years no longer mean anything to me. All I want is peace and quiet and time to reflect; not only on my past, but what the future may hold for me.

    To be truthful, I’ve always been a forgive and forget type of person, but I find myself becoming very cynical about life…”Leave me alone, I don’t need or want your help, just let me deal with my pain in my own way!” I used to be “happy go lucky”, now I’m not so happy and not so lucky.

    Don’t get me wrong, pieces of the old me are still there and I recognize that I need to remain positive in some ways, but sometimes, it’s so…damn…hard to keep a positive attitude. I’ve literally been reduced to living a day-by-day existence sometimes. It’s hard to plan for the future when you’ve lost the only “future” you had.

    This fight between my “logical” mind which tells me I must move on, and my “emotional” mind which tells me I mustn’t move on is a hellish battle at best. I fear that finding a neutral ground is going to be a lifelong battle.

  • Pat

    It’s interesting to see how we have all chosen to (attempt to) cope with such immeasurable loss.

    The old me was far more negative about many things. He >thought< he was depressed at times during this life, but Graham's passing set him straight on the true definition of depression and he now realizes that what he was feeling was mere growin pains and the daily challenges of life.

    Fortunately the old me was a good dad who learned from being raised by a judgemental mom and a dad who though his only job was to "provide" financially that spending time with your sons is key to their develpment as solid, respectable men.

    The "new" me is less angry. I wanna be angry at someone for all of this but the only person I can truly be angry at is my son. To me, he suffered enough. Being angry won't bring him back…and I realize now that I've spent far too much of my existence here in a pseudo-angry mode.

    Unlike others, we are not religious and do not believe in "God". Instead, we have choosen to look inside ourselves, and to believe in ourselves and the strength of our love together. We respect others and what they believe in, but we often feel that the whole "praying for you" is more of a ego/feel good boost to the person praying than the person "recieving". If you pray for me and then you never contact me to tell me you were thinking of me…WHO does the practice truly serve? For us it seems like a mechanism to wipe the mind of general caring and the responsibility we should ALL take to reach out to folks in need. I "thought" about you (prayed for you) just isn't enough anymore… and does absolutely nothing to benefit the recipient when it STOPS AT THOUGHT. To us, "we pray for you everyday" or "we think about you all the time" is shallow and hollow unless you back it up with action.

    Simpilfying life and finding a smile/happiness gain is our goal as well. We are grappling with whether or not staying here in the house/town we raised our kids in is a good idea or not. We cherish the memories, but at the same time, we also feel like we have no way to avoid those memories when we are going to all the same places we went with him in tow for all of those years. Just the Post Office will bring me to tears…then there's the bike shop he used to work at…and the school…and the…and the…and the
    I WANT TO remember…but I've learned how important CHOICES are since his passing. I want to choose when I remember..not be reminded all the time and have it all coming at me from all sides.

    Jobs/houses/material stuff….are only important now as mechanisms to survive. However, CHANGE through the hard…as I'm sure many of you know. Our decision-making skills have taken a huge hit through all of this. the plan we had just went to Hell instantly…and like the rest of you reading along…we never thought of any sort of "other" plan.

    We miss you Graham. Love you…always.

    • I AM a religious person, and I certainly appreciated the ‘prayers” especially while my son was sick. But it was those people that actually DID something MORE than just pray that I remember the most! Same thing since he died. Those that have DONE things for us – called, brought us things, done things in my sons memory (donations, walks, donate blood, etc), mean so much more than those that just pray. And then there are those “you have been on my mind” – so CALL ME and tell me that!!!!! Send me a card – do something, anything!

    • John Wolfe


      I am not a religious person in the popular sense of the word, which means I don’t attend organized religious activities such as church services, etc.. I do however believe in God…I think. Nonetheless, your observation of prayer is a good one. Thank you for stating something that should be obvious too everyone.

      On another note, concerning your pending decision whether or not to stay in the same place where you raised your kids, I personally say to move. Of course I don’t know your circumstances, but mine are as follows:

      We bought a two-story house in Corinth, Texas in late 2000, right after I retired from the Navy. Allison had just entered high school and we bought this house in part because Allison wanted “Prom Stairs”. Her dream at the time was when her date came to pick her up on prom night, she would descend the stairs in her beautiful dress and dazzle her prom date.

      Prom night came in 2003 and she froze. When she finally did come down at the coaxing of family, she was beautiful, but she tripped and slipped a couple of steps. She gathered herself fairly well, but to her, the moment was ruined.

      Fast forward about 6 years, and she was married and renting the house from us, a house she had partially grown up in, a house she had thrown “just because” sleepovers for her friends, a house of a thousand memories for us.

      On Thanksgiving 2010, she and her husband announced they were having a baby. 3 weeks later, she had a miscarriage. 3 weeks later, she was dead of Thyroidal Hashimotos Disease.

      Cindy and I tried to unload this house, which we eventually did, and it lifted a huge burden off our shoulders. Going back into that house was NOT an option.

      While we did move to another town, we still have to pass by the hospital where she was pronounced dead and it’s not a pleasant experience for me.

      Like I said at the top, this is just my experience. I hope that I might have helped in some small way.

      One last thing…I’m sorry to inform you that you cannot control when and where you will be reminded of Graham. It WILL come at you from all sides and at the most unexpected times. It will be through people you know, a scent you smell, a song you hear, or a place you see. It’s unavoidable.

      I try to take comfort by thinking that every time I think about Allison, it’s her talking to me and telling me to, in her words, “Chill out”. She was an absolute wonderful human being.

    • Tim Hayes

      Pat – Thanks for sharing so authentically about your journey. It seems some of your anger has subsided since some of your earlier posts. As Kelly has said here many times, I am learning that it takes time for the anger to lessen. Giving myself permission to feel better… that is part of it as well, and it seems to be taking a bit longer for me. It sounds like you are making great choices in that regard. Keep it up.

  • Matt L


    This blog is dead on. As I have mentioned on your other page, Christmas 2012 wasn’t the best. It’s a daily struggle to experience the joy of Riley’s living twin, while grieving for my loss of Riley. This year, I have adopted two words for my life style: ACCEPT and FOCUS.

    Anxiety and depression have set in again, but not as bad as the first round. I have chosen to fight back with diet, exercise, and help from my naturopath doctor. It’s only been a couple weeks, but I can see some improvement. For me, it’s not a New year’s resolution…. It is ACCEPTING my life right now and FOCUSING on the new ME.

    The old me was an avid athlete (rugby/crossfit), mildly selfish, and was always right. I’ve had to ACCEPT that I’m older and my body doesn’t respond like it used to. My FOCUS is to lose weight… it’s part of simplifying my life…. I don’t need to carry the excess 20+ lbs anymore. So I do aerobic exercise now, no weights. Professionals will tell you, when you are depressed or anxious, exercise is one thing you can do to help. I’ll admit in my darkest days, I only managed to exercise a few times.

    I was selfish in that I was doing everything for my own gratification. From retail therapy, to bro-weekends, to indulging at restaurants. I was only serving my personal needs and trying to fill some sort of void in my life.
    Now, I serve GOD first. Part of doing that is FOCUSing on my family, working through my grief, taking care of my health, and simplifying my life by eliminating all the other bullshit.

    I’m also, back in therapy, taking my supplements, eating right, exercising, and above all…praying. These are my focal points as I work through and accept my “new” life.

  • Steven Stuart

    “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down happy. They told me I didnt understand the assignment, and I told them they didnt understand life.”

    John Lennon

    This quote sums up everything about me after the death of Colin. All I want out of life now is to be happy again. Everything else is superfluous.

  • Leif Kelly

    I too see my life as divided into two parts. There was the old me. He was arrogant and self-assorbed. He was absolutely confident in his abilities and knew there was no situation he could find himself that he couldn’t handle. Whilst everyone was running arround losing their heads, he was the calm in the ocean. Unemotional, logical and detached. He needed help from no-one.
    (He certainly needed all those skills at the time of the accident.)

    After the accident, he went back to work as a travelling sales rep after 10 days, though his boss insisted he take more. He was confident that he didn’t need anti-depresants, or any other help. This was just another challenge to be dealt with.

    Till one day, I found myself 200km from home, and i had no idea why i was there and what i was doing, literally. I was having a minor breakdown.

    That was the day the old me passed away. I had to admit that I wasn’t that strong person anymore. The old me went down fighting though. I was placed on anti-depressants, but i would keep going off them , determined I didn’t need chemical help to me keep my mind under control.
    My family bore the brunt of the after effects.I was short-tempered, obnoxious to be around. There was a lot of anger, anger at being unable to control my own emotions and life, and they bore the brunt of it, until my fiance would give me an ultimatum, take the drugs or she would leave.

    Eventually, the anger subisided. I began to realise how much of an arrogant twat the old me really had been. I opened my eyes and the world i thought of as being black and white , began to show shades of grey. I realised there wasn’t always a yes/no answer to every question. Where once i could watch the TV news and see a story about a tragic accident and not give a second thought about it, now i wanted to reach out to the survivors and tell them that they are not alone. I wanted to help people. The accident gave me a new focus in life, it gave me compassion that the old me thought he had, but in hindsight was sadly lacking.He thought he was a great father, a provider and authority. I realised that he didn’t spend time appreciating what he had.
    So i now sit with this strange world; one part is the new me, the new normal, the better me with all the positives that i have gained over the past 6 years. The other part of me knowing that i would willingly, gladly give up all of it to have Zac back.

    • Grieving Dads

      Leif – I believe you and I traveled a very similar path. It hit me out of the blue as well. I thought I had everything under control until one day about 18 months after my first loss, I woke to a sense of dread I never before felt in my life and spiraled down from there. I also believe I had a breakdown. I know that because my nervous system can no longer take on the amount of stress it once did.

      I also see the gray areas now where I used to only see black and white.

      I too would give all of the positive changes in my life up to have Katie and Noah with me.



  • David

    At the age of 74 it is unbelievably rough losing a 45 year old son. He was great company, insisted that I bring our meals into his studio every evening, always cosidered my taste in music or television, and always complained that I did not stay long enough, ‘another pit stop’ he would say. I wish I had stayed longer, I wish I had given him the occasional hug, but I didn’t know he was going to leave.

    Now my life is so empty. If his affectionate dogs did not keep me going, I suppose I would just spend some days in bed. Thank God for people who email me regularly. I wish I could start painting, but who would give me hell if it was mediocre? Bernie would have! He adopted me twenty years before he died in 2011. He was a bright light who cannot be replaced.

    What a gift. Please love him Lord, as we do.

    • Grieving Dads

      David – i sounds like you had a fantastic relationship with your son. One I wished I would have had with my own dad and my son. Hang on to those loving dogs, they are great companions and counselors. They will love you and be with you no matter what is going on in your day. Start painting again and share them with us here, we’ll tell you if they are mediocre 🙂

      Wishing you peace David.


      • David

        Thanks Kelly.

        Missed a trip to visit my daughter last year in Florida, because the guy who was going to look after them watched me trying to get around 17 year old Lady one night and said, ‘Just kick her. It’s only a dog!’ End of trip.

        Trying to make better arrangements for this year. They were my son’s whole world.

      • David

        Thanks Kelly. We’ll see.

  • Tim nothum

    It’s been six month since My daughter Aubrey was murdered. I was a caring person before that, however now I am a asshole! My only motivation in life is to make them pay for what they did to my baby girl!I wish I could forgive, but fear I am lost .It would be nice to find peace and forgiveness in this life or the next.

    • @Tim – It takes time. And there is no rule on how “much” time it will take. Just keep going one day at a time. I have found that the Compasionate Friends to be very helpful

    • Grieving Dads

      Tim – I too was an asshole after I lost my daughter. Mine was more rage. I can understand your motivation to make them pay. I get that. Nancy is correct, it takes time and a lot of work and processing. I don’t know the feeling of losing a child to murder, but I am pretty sure I would feel very similar to yourself. I carried a lot of hate towards the doctors. I realized after a while that others don’t care how I feel or how angry I am. I realized at some point that no matter what, I was going to “feel” something, so i might as well feel peace. In order to feel peace I knew I had to release my anger. Vent here any time.


    • Nancy

      if there isn’t a Compassionate friends in you area with a few that have lost too…I can’t tell you enough how that has helped me and them have a place to vent and resonate …support without “judgement”
      there are others in you area ..just network …it will come together

  • David

    What amazes me is that, after sixteen months, no one mentions Bernie! I mention him when appropriate to a few close friends, but these ‘friends’ appear to be fewer on the ground. His mother and twin brother live separately some 4000 kms. away, and I don’t know how much they speak of him. So if I don’t call his name, he would just disappear from this earth! Damn them all!
    His loving dogs and I miss him every day.

  • This was actually our topic last night at Compassionate Friends -“how we have changed”

    Pretty much everything you have said about after your second loss is me.

    One thing for myself – when Alexander first died I would just “nod and smile” when people said the stupid things (“things happen for a reason” , “God needed another angel”) now however, I don’t nod and smile – I tell them flat out NO and that they are wrong! Might not be so “positive” but I need people to understand that they are staying stupid things, and realize that these comments can be hurtful!

    • Nancy

      I am with you on that one we need to educate people away from clichche’s ..everyone knows of people who die at some point in thier life and when it comes they will hate the stupid comments, it helps no one. By telling them, we educate them so they can help and comfort the next person.

    • Grieving Dads

      Nancy – I can write for days on the topic of “how I have changed”. My personality requires me to call someone out for saying stupids things. I just do it a little quicker now.