I am the father of four beautiful boys: one who is going to college, 11 month old twins, and my darling son, Diego; who is currently being babysat by God. As a father of four, I am pulled in several directions at any given time. For instance: my oldest asks for advice, the twins require endless entertainment, and my sweet Diego, often receives the most attention—at least in my head. Why? Because I am constantly reminded I will not see him when I get home in the evening. His absence enters my mind at inappropriate of times, for instance: at a stop light, mingling with friends or showing houses to a client, the list goes on and on. Of course, with this reminder often accompanies a multitude of emotions, which may or may not make me get choked up. If it does, then I have the daunting decision of whether or not I need to explain what I am feeling or just try to cover it up. If I do share, it often turns awkward, and the other person often does not realize silence is ok. They feel the need to say something, like the nails on a chalkboard phrase “At least he’s in a better place.” Of course I want to lash out at them screaming “there is no better place for a baby but in its parent’s arms”. But I smile and just remember, they haven’t experienced such a tragic loss as I, and for that I am grateful. No matter what the dialog turns into, I feel the pain of a dagger in my heart for a short time.
Grief has changed me at my core without permission. Since Diego’s passing, I see the world much differently. I find I drive more conservative, spend more time with family, and just appreciate life more. I have also noticed, when I talk to those I love, I do it with more compassion. I try to notice the small things: like the clouds in the sky, or the birds flying around. Although, in the end, these gifts do not stop the overwhelming questions, like why did this have to happen to me, my wife, and my beautiful son? Why did it happen to all these seemingly good people who also attend grief meetings? Did we do something wrong in the eyes of our Creator? Did we in some way create this Karma which frowns upon us? WHY? WHY? WHY? They can be never ending questions.
After the set of “why me” questions retreat, the “now what” questions develop. Since I have lost a child now what? How am I supposed to act? What do I tell others who ask uncomfortable questions? Is my main responsibility so support my wife in her grief? I understand I must grieve, but can I put a time frame on it; you know when I should get over this?
With all this running through my head, the chaotic emotions demand to be released. After all, my heart was pulled from my body with the force of a jack hammer. At first I was convinced I couldn’t go on, that life had ended. The sun would rise another day, but my head would not. People who smiled at me were silently damned. All I really wanted to do was die.
I had been beaten to a state of submission so severely that I allowed my higher power to carry me; I couldn’t walk, talk or even think without support. The days would come and go, they all meant nothing. I needed help and fast.
But I am a man, you know, a manly man; one who likes power tools and working outside. One who grew up on a farm working the fields and baling hay. Men don’t cry; so I was told. I remember my older cousin telling me “If you want something to cry about, I’ll give you something to cry about.”
In spite of my manly hood, I was forced to confront myself and realize under this skin I am only human. After all, I did lose my son who I love very much and have been robbed of the only thing a parent wants for his child: to protect them at all costs. Consequently, my heart has been stolen and my mind turned to mush. I DON’T WANT TO FEEL THIS WAY! Then again, I don’t want to feel most of the time now.
As with any father, I had untamed expectations of raising him: his first smile, first step, playing t-ball, starting kindergarten, pimples, first girlfriend and the list goes on ceaselessly. After all, it’s the progression of life, isn’t it? A constant reminder of this every time I see children who would be Diego’s age.
Shortly after returning home from the hospital, my wife and I started going to grief support meetings. After each meeting I would drink plenty of water to replenish my body from crying. Our first few meetings felt like visiting the dentist to have teeth pulled. Especially, when it was my time to speak, I would struggle to get words out of my mouth; I just cried. It did start getting easier as time pasted and the longer we attended, the easier it was to tell our story. Nevertheless, the pain was delivered minute by minute and meetings were only monthly. I required more and more support, but where; on line of course.
Subsequently, I wrote a memorial website after reading so many other parents’ websites. This allowed me to sit in front of my computer for hours reliving the short 24 hours we had together. To this day, it remains the best form of therapy I experienced as a result of my loss.
The grief website forums were a life line as well. I could read others grief stories until my eyes hurt too much to continue. Reading others stories would make me blaze in raw grief, although the pain felt so good. At the time, it’s exactly what I wanted. Grief had become my full time employer with all the overtime I didn’t want, and writing replies to others stories became my main pass time. Looking back, I realized we were just parents supporting each other through the worst pain of our lives. Henry Ellis, a famous psychologist once said “The art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on”
In my own grief walk I have found, there isn’t a magic pill to determine a timeline of raw pain. For some it may last years and others, a lifetime. I know I will always miss my son, I have learned a form of acceptance I didn’t know was possible. Others who walk before me often said “If you don’t face your grief, it will wait for you until you are ready.” These words sunk in quickly; I knew one fact: I didn’t want to feel this way forever. Therefore, I gave myself permission to grieve. Things I lived for before have lost meaning. People who I thought were my closest friends have grown distant. My wife and I don’t get along like before. Countless others who have walked a path of grief tell of similar pain and experiences which burn in their soul too. I learned something as well; men who don’t cry suffer much longer than those who do.
I have found for myself acceptance is the answer to all my problems. It didn’t come easy at first, in fact, it didn’t come easy. In spite of pain I seek hope. Day by day I am coming to terms with Diego’s absence. The world still turns after Diego’s death, even though I didn’t want it to. There is no amount of anger which will bring Diego back. That being said, for me, I try to live more in the now and less in the past or future. It was once told to me “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a present. Daily, I unwrap my present and reflect the past 24 hours before bed.
Virginia Satir, also a famous psychologist said “Life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference”.
Instead of anger and resentment, I have turned my head more into helping others. It isn’t a way to make my grief go away, yet gives it a release which I can account to Diego’s legacy. Through the help of others, Diego’s memory remains alive and well. I know someday I will see him again until then, I see him through the smiles of others I help.
If you haven’t allowed yourself to grieve as you feel you need to, I as a peer parent and telling you: “Permission Granted”
A loving father of four, three with me and one in my heart.