Monday, June 20, 2011

A Child's Grief.

I'm writing this on Sunday, Father's Day. I just returned from visiting my folks, about 2 hours away. It seems that whenever the kids and I visit our extended family, especially on holidays, we end up having a debriefing of our thoughts and emotions on the ride home.

Before I start, let me share with you my own reactions to days such as this. I love my family, and enjoy being around them. We always have a really good time, but at the same time, it is always a reminder of what I no longer have. All of them are married, and without thinking, they often begin describing what each spouse did, or bought, for them for whatever holiday we are celebrating. I sit there hoping none of them ask what I received for the holiday, as it is usually nothing. This isn't meant to be a sob story, just the dynamic of how things go down when you are widowed, or a single parent. And, like usual, nobody did ask me. So I sit there, forced to witness my perception of their idealistic life.

Tonight as I was driving, my 13 year old began talking about how he feels very jealous of all of his friends' families. He was explaining how they all seem so happy, and that they all get along so well. I reminded him that what he is witnessing is how those families act when a guest is present, which isn't necessarily how things are during private family time. At the same time, I tried to honor the reality of his perception.

I let him know that yes, our family has probably had more challenges than most. First, each of my children were born from a mother who had a severe substance abuse problem. So even prior to their birth, there were some givens as to the challenges up ahead for them. Next, within a two year period they learned of their birth mother's death, their step father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and he later died. I also pointed out that up until 21 months ago, we had a full house. He had two loving parents, a big sister and an older brother, all under one roof. Now he finds himself living in a new home, with only his grieving father. His sister and older brother no longer live at home. What was a very noisy and busy home, is now a very quiet home for the most part.

My son then went on to share about how sad he feels at times. An example he shared was that recently his friend's pet rat had died. When he learned of this he began to cry. He said he felt like something was wrong with him, because it wasn't his pet, and it was just a rat. I reminded him of all the loss he has experienced, and how because of that he is always going to have a deeper response to any loss. I explained how a small, insignificant occurrence, can trigger these underlying emotions. He seemed to understand what I was explaining.

Later, after discussing many other things on his mind, I reminded him that given all that we have been through, that we are doing fairly well. I told him that I would try harder to bring joy into our home. I also acknowledged that I, as his father, have changed considerably since losing Michael. Right away he nodded his head, "yes, dad, you have changed." I reminded my son that I, and we as a family, are getting better, but that it will take more time.

How I wish things were different. I too catch myself looking at others around me, and wonder why they got the ideal life, and I got this one. More and more, I remind myself that no one's life is perfect, and everyone has their challenges. Yet even as I say this, I can't help but notice that there is not a single sound in the house, and since my son went to bed, not a soul to speak to.

Not so easy, is it?

***In an ironic twist, I found myself, and my son, reflected on a movie screen tonight. Here is a link to my personal blog, where you can continue to read about a child's grief.

Super 8.


  1. Dan I also struggle with some of the same things you do.Although, I am happy and grateful to have that which I have (it is more than a lot of people who still have their significant other), I just keep thinking that I do not have what I want most!My daughter graduated from High school had very surpportive friends who came so I would not be sitting alone. But even with that, I could not help seeing the dads with their daughters. It was the one wish of my husband to make it until my daughters graduated from high school. And it was also painful to sit with friends who daughter will also to graduating, and listen to know that they will have the alone time with their spouse again, that I will never have. I also thought about how the world views our situation as temporary when it is not! It is a lifetime sentence even if some other special person comes into your life.

  2. Hi Dan,
    As usual, I relate to your blog. The thing that resonates most with me is that I too am no longer the same person I was before my husband's death. I really miss Dave and I really miss the woman who was passing through life with him. I am getting used to this different, quieter, sadder version of myself.
    By the way, Happy Father's Day, Dan. Your family has been through a lot and you have been there for your children every step. Kudos to you and your good heart.
    Dorthea ;)

  3. I sure can relate to the heartache of dealing with grieving children. One thing that popped into my mind as I was reading your post is maybe your son would benefit from attending a grief camp like Camp Erin. There is one in San Diego and I know that although my sons weren't able to go to a Camp Erin, the grief camp they went to was incredible. Just a thought. Love ya!

  4. Ditto on dealing with grieving children. Actually my 25 yr. old daughter is truly an adult, but she is so childlike when it comes to missing her father. Father's Day was one of those many times that I felt ill equipped to handle her grief. We downsized by two as my husband died and my son moved out. Many nights the quiet brings on the tears.

    Thank you Dan and wishes of peace for you and your son.

  5. Dan, I love the honesty of your posts. I lost my husband of 40 yrs 2 1/2 yrs ago, and our 2 sons live in different states, as do my sisters. My only brother died tragically 38 yrs ago. My father died when I was 23, and my mother died 6 yrs ago. So I am really alone, especially since my husband died. But my 28 year old son is home for the summer from law school. After I reflected earlier in the day on memories of my Father and what a poor parent that he was to me due to his alcolholism, I decided to just spend some quality time with my son just talking. Luckily, I had planned a special cookout for the two of us, with steak and rhubarb dessert, so we sat outside and talked as he grilled. This son is difficult to talk with. But I thought of how my Father never spent time with me, and so I decided that instead of focusing on my losses of my Dad and husband on this Father's Day, that I would focus on listening to my son and let him take the lead in topics and not be critical, but just affirm his perceptions. It turned out to be a nice day with just the two of us. Many of us have so many losses and so much pain, and I think that I'm figuring out that I just have to let myself go through the grief and be in it and not try to fix it, and some healing will come. I will never get over losing my spouse, but I'll be able to appreciate the memories and find a path to peace and acceptance of what my life will be without him.

  6. I wanted to share with each of you how this theme continued to play out today. I have added a link at the end of this post which will take you to my personal blog, where you may continue reading.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  7. so very sorry for your loss. being a single parent isn't easy. i was looking stuff up and found this place. i was especially glad you told your son that the behavior of what appears to be happy two parent families is what they present to a guest. my kids have two parents yet i raise them alone. he does not want to be part of their lives. yes they are his. he says they won't be people he can relate to until they are almost 18. so you're right in that not all two parent families out and about are being raised by both those parents. if you look closer, you might see something wrong.