I write a lot about life after loss because it’s the easiest way I’m able to connect to my children. Thinking about who they would have been or the kind of dad I would have been for them brings me a sense of peace, almost letting me feel like a normal parent in a way. Well… everyone else’s normal, anyway. The idea that I can think enough or work hard enough or write enough to reach out and touch them is intoxicating – every bit as addicting as feeling like we’re drifting after having our purpose stripped from our grasp. It’s a hard balance to strike.
In all of the days that have passed since we said goodbye to Jonah I have tried to look inward, hoping to find something that wasn’t there before; something to hold on to. I find myself hunting for something that’s grounding, not only to help me trust that it’s ok to be where I am but also to hold my feet to the ground while I weather this storm. I say these words because I’ll burst if I keep them to myself and I make them known because I know I’m not the only one hurting, but it isn’t always enough to give me that sense of calm. Still, I keep reaching. I keep searching.
Waking up every day after loss is as much about making the choice to move forward as it is to decide how to identify yourself now – as a father, husband, brother, son, coworker, and friend to many, but also to myself. How do I conduct myself as Dad now? How do I find a way to be the man I want to be? How can I find the time to serve others when I can’t find a place where I feel at peace right now? In the end, those turn out to be directions rather than questions. I don’t know how to conduct myself as Dad because there’s no manual for this – just like any other parent. I find a way to be the best version of myself because that’s what is in my heart; love people, allow room for them to be themselves without giving an image of who they think I want them to be, and look for good in their hearts. You don’t look for instructions, you look for opportunities to change. You look for a chance to make a difference in someone’s life by being the difference in your own. And I find a sense of peace in pulling back the curtain on my own pain because we are in this together. So many parents are out there wishing they could hold their children that I can’t help but reach out and let them know I’m here with them.
When I wake up I take a second to think about myself, as odd as that sounds. I look over and thank God for my wife and for the life we’ve built together. I settle my nerves before I walk by Jonah’s room, letting my hand graze the door as a ‘good morning’ to our boy. I remind myself that this day is my opportunity to make a million choices that determine what I hear when I go to bed. I try to keep in mind that I am deserving of grace while I give it to people around me, and those moments are what will give me the chance to be the dad I want to be. When I go to bed every night, it’s with the hope that I’ll hear the one thing that calms my mind and fills my heart with hope. It’s the only time that I can settle myself enough to listen to what is really there, and the only time I slow down enough to find those words in the silence.
“I never left”
Almost nine months after saying goodbye, I still can’t let go of questioning why we don’t have a laughing, crying, rolling baby in that crib or why we have to love so hard in such a difficult way. I still have angry moments with God, jealous That I don’t get to spend time with my children and angry that the pictures and memories are all I have. But then I sit and listen. I realize that he’s right – our Jonah, who lives in every choice I make and every opportunity I take advantage of, is still with me. Our Luke, filling our hearts with gratitude that Cassy and I have come closer together in love and loss, till death do us part. We can’t hold them, but they carry on with every word we speak. I might always fight this kind of parenthood and I’ll never feel whole with children who have been called home but in my most quiet moments I feel their warmth, and I hear their words. And my heart heals just a little bit more.