People talk a lot about how to handle grief after the loss of a child. This blog, in fact, has a ton of great resources if you need it. But what people don’t talk much about is how to handle happiness. As a guy, I think that’s where I struggled most.
See, the grief and the anger I expected. My son had died. I was supposed to be mad, supposed to be heartbroken. That felt “normal.” But as time grew on and other emotions slowly started to make their way back to the surface, I didn’t know how to process those feelings and my grief turned into my guilt.
Our son, Julian, was 33 days old when he passed. He had a rare chromosomal disorder so we were “prepared.” My wife and I had done the counseling and read the books. But in the end, when my son lost his grip on life, nothing could prepare me for how real the pain was. In my chest, I felt my heart truly and deeply ache from sadness. I promised myself then – I promised Julian -- I would never forget that feeling, that sadness. I would hold that pain close to my heart forever. I would be the grieving dad I was supposed to be.
For some time after, things were “right.” I was mad and heartbroken, just as I should be. I thought about my son every waking moment and I mourned his passing with every breath. Days brought tears and nights brought dreams reliving our moments together. I was exactly who I expected I would be. I was the picture of the grieving dad I had imagined.
At some point, though, something happened, something shifted. While still deep in grief, I caught myself having these moments, these breaks from the pain. More and more, I found myself feeling something less than despair. But with each instance, instead of healing, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. How could I find joy in a world without my son? How could I let myself be happy? How could I fail to live up to the standard in my head? My son deserved better than a broken promise I made to him in his final hours.
My anger and guilt mounted. I spent countless hours trying to convince myself to NOT let happiness creep back into my life. It was a vicious cycle of grief and self-hatred, without respite, each turn bringing me further and further from who I really was.
I became my own worst enemy, sabotaging my own happiness. Something had to change.
I realized I had to come to terms with not only my grief, but the idea that I could be happy again. I could live a fulfilled life, not despite my son passing, but in celebration of his life, to show others my son’s life had meaning and that he left this world with more joy and happiness than he found it. No doubt, some days are still hard as hell. And that’s okay. More importantly, though, I now know when I’m having a good day, that’s okay, too. I have the peace of mind knowing Julian lived a beautiful and full life, and I can find joy as a reflection of my time with him.
My hope for you, as a grieving dad, is that you, too, can shed yourself of whatever ideas you have in your head about how you are supposed to be and not let the way you think you should feel keep you from the way you do feel. Because it’s all ok.
About Anna’s Grace Foundation Anna’s Grace Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supporting families in the Greater Baton Rouge Area who experience miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. Each and every day one of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, or family members will experience the devastating loss of a baby, and Anna’s Grace is there to provide emotional and financial support so that families can focus on healing. The Anna’s Grace Quarter Marathon is on March 24, 2019. For more information or to register, visit http://www.annasgrace.org/registration.