How I Survived the Loss of My Son
November 14, 2009
A Father’s Thoughts
Today is the second anniversary of my son’s death. It was the most painful experience I have ever been through. Spencer had been growing in my wife’s belly for eight and a half months. Everything had been perfect. He was healthy, my wife was healthy, everything was great. And then it all happened. My wife started getting an extreme pain on the inside of her hip. We were going to try to wait for morning (and every one of the four doctors said we’d be ok until then), but to cut a long story short, when the pain got to be unbearable late that night, I took her to the hospital. Of course, the staff there was concerned for the baby, so they immediately used the doppler listening device, but could not find a heartbeat. They rushed out and grabbed the ultrasound machine and tech and verified the fear I had in the back of my head. Spencer’s heart had stopped, he was gone, and my heart broke.
To this day, we don’t really know why he died. We do know that the pain my wife had felt had nothing to do with it. That’s small consolation, however, when you ask and search and search and ask and nobody can figure out what went wrong. Was it something I did? Was it something that can happen again? Could we have prevented it? What if, what if, what if? Not knowing why he died only brought more pain.
My wife and I still think of Spencer every day, and we still have the occasional bad day or two.
Despite this great sadness, all in all, today I consider myself fortunate. I am still happily married. I do not live on depression medication (in fact I’ve still never touched the stuff), I haven’t taken up drinking or drugs, and I haven’t collapsed financially.
There are many things others have done to help me out with my grief. I’ve received a lot of supportive communication through letters, phone calls, emails, and visits. I know that a vast number of prayers have been said for me and my family since that day. I thank all of you who have been pulling for us.
Even with all of that support, I don’t think I would be in a good place today if I had not made a few decisions soon after it happened. I consciously chose to do these things which I thought would help me, and they did. That’s not to say that I’m some great shining example of perfect grief recovery or anything. I’m just going to say that this is what I did and I know it helped me.
I Supported My Wife
I’ve always felt like it’s my job first and foremost to be the provider and protector of my family. Upon losing Spencer, I passed many an hour feeling like I had failed in these primary duties. Or worse yet, like I had been cheated out of the opportunity to fulfill them. I felt weak and useless.
However, it did occur to me that while I was unable to prevent this tragedy, I could still, or perhaps I could finally, play my part by providing for not only the physical, but the emotional needs of my wife.
I decided that she would not be finding her way through the grief alone. I decided to talk about it whenever she wanted, and for as long as she wanted, even if it was extremely uncomfortable for me. Even if I didn’t have the answers. Even if we had the exact same conversation a thousand times. Anytime she needed to cuddle, I’d be there, no matter how uncomfortable a position in which she made me sit. Anytime she needed help getting around, I’d give her a hand. (The pain did not go away immediately after birth. It took several months. And she was in a wheelchair for about the first week.) Every time she needed anything, I’d get it for her. Anytime she wanted a foot rub, I’d give it to her.
Here’s the deal. It may sound like I became her little slave. Who cares if I did (even though I didn’t.) It gave me purpose and fulfillment to be doing something after so great a perceived failure. It kept us close, and we were able to lean on each other. It made me love my wife more than ever.
I Found an Outlet
I decided I would get out much of what I was feeling through the written word. This is when I really started pouring something new into my fiction. Even though my skill wasn’t (and still isn’t) good enough to transfer all of that emotion full force onto a page, it was good for me to create something, to get some of the pain I felt out of my head.
And it wasn’t just fiction. I spent a lot of time writing in journals, too. I filled many a page with exactly what I was going through, and what my wife was going through.
Writing helped me work through a lot of issues. It forced me to think about, define, and clarify a lot of emotions.
I Sought Out A Higher Power
I really don’t talk publicly much about my faith. Perhaps that is a mistake.
In talking with other parents who had lost kids, it was easy to pick out two types: Ones that blamed God for their loss, and ones who leaned on Him for strength. I also saw which ones were more at peace, and which ones still, years later were experiencing pretty much exactly what they were experiencing when their loss first happened.
Also, I have always been taught about, and have always believed in an afterlife. It is a basic teaching of my religion that families can be together forever. When faced with tragedy, though, repeating something in your head and knowing something in your heart are two very different things.
I decided early on that I was going to lean on Him. I studied the scriptures, I prayed more fervently than at any other time of my life, and I did what I could to serve others through my church. I haven’t been perfect, of course. I’ve had my doubts and weaknesses. I’ve had my moments where I begged the heavens “why me,â” “why us,” and “why Spencer?” It hasn’t been easy.
I will tell you this. Every effort I took to seek out my Heavenly Father was rewarded. I know now that He never abandoned me. I know now more than ever that He loves me and my family. He has helped me make my peace with the fact that horrible things happen in the world, often to good people. He has helped me and my family heal. He has made things happen that helped keep my life together.
In The End
There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. I understand it when I talk to parents who have been swallowed up in their pain for years.
For what it’s worth, doing these things helped me cope. They helped see me through. More than that, they helped me become a stronger, a wiser, and more understanding man.
If you have lost a child, I am deeply sorry for your loss. My heart and my love go out to you. If you ever need a friend, I’m here for you.