“You need to suck it up” – words, spoken to me by one of my older cousins about a week after my son died, that rock me now as much as they did two years ago.  Pain is weakness leaving your body!  Real men rise above the pain!  Men don’t cry, they water their beards!  All of these sayings are nothing more than euphemisms that hide the truth about men and our “strength”.  The reality is that many men’s greatest weakness is the facade they build to demonstrate their “strength”; a paper armor that cloaks weakness yet offers no protection.

I am done hiding my feelings behind the paper veil.  It is only weighing me down and keeping me from truly healing.  The truth is I am weak.  I cry, a lot.  In fact I am crying right now.  I cry myself to sleep at night when no one is awake to hear my sobbing.  I cry in the shower where my tears are but a drop in the torrent.  I weep in the middle of the day only to feign a yawn or blame it on an imaginary irritant.  It happens in plain sight, yet my mastery of the art of camouflage conceals it perfectly.  I know the facade works – every comment regarding my apparent “strength” confirms its effectiveness.  I don’t want to hide behind that veneer anymore.  I am tearing off the armor.

Two years later and I am still broken into little pieces and no, I am not “over” it.  It hurts more than I can possibly describe.  There are times where the pain of losing my little boy literally causes me to stagger, forcing me to right myself.  I sometimes want to run away and hide – and often do by distracting myself with mindless activities like playing video games or watching movies.  My ultimate distraction?  The foundation that Samantha and I founded in Rees’ name.  The more I do with the foundation, the less my mind focuses on Rees.  It’s ironic that something we made in his name is the very vehicle I use to escape his memory.  I am constantly on the run from my feelings.  I don’t want to run anymore.

I am jealous.  Every story shared by friends about their son’s milestones is a reminder of moments I will never have with my little boy.  Every birthday party, communion, graduation, wedding, or other milestone event reminds me of what I will miss out on with Rees.  Seeing fathers smiling with their sons invariably causes me to wonder what those moments would be like if only Rees was still here.  The truth is it hurts more than you can imagine, but the only way I can avoid the pain is to avoid being with the people I love.  I can’t cut myself off from others and I can’t help how I feel.  I am stuck being jealous for the rest of my life.  I don’t want to be jealous anymore.

I am angry.  So many things that used to be mild irritants now cause a rage to boil within me.  Hearing people complain about the minutiae of life’s little annoyances now stirs something primal in me.  The perspective forced upon me by Richie’s death makes hearing people complain about things of no consequence almost unbearable.  I often find myself wanting to shake people and tell them to get a grip and think about the things that really matter.  I find myself ignoring things that I should do, but I just don’t want to be bothered with because I feel those actions have very little consequence.  This of course affects my relationship with those around me, as they cannot wrap their heads around the fact that no, I am not going to drop everything and do X, because in the long run, it really doesn’t matter.  I don’t want to be angry anymore.

I am lonely.  Losing a child isolates you in a way that is difficult to describe.  People are put off by grief, especially if it goes beyond the arbitrary expiration date we often seem to place on the grieving process.  Friends and family try so hard to get you come back to a “normal” that is simply out of reach.  These attempts are concentrated in the beginning, but wane as time goes on and eventually dropped all together.  Friends and family eventually just settle back into a belief that time will heal this process and eventually believe that you are “ok”.  I am not ok.  I never will be.  I wish I could say that “I’m over it”, but the truth is that will never come to pass.  My love for my son was limitless, and the pain of losing him is commensurate.  I completely understand why others think that I am fine, or that I should be over it – but the fact remains that I never will be, and I know this alienates people who simply cannot understand it.  I don’t want to be lonely anymore.

I am restless.  Losing Rees shattered my unfounded belief that the world follows a specific set of rules and orders.  Children are supposed to outlive their parents.  Children spend a lifetime coming to grips with the eventuality of an empty chair where their parents once sat.  I saw this play out this weekend as I watched my family say goodbye to my Aunt Carol.  Her four children were at her side as she slowly succumbed to the cancer throughout her body.  In talking with my cousins I saw the realization of that fear of the inevitable coupled with the acceptance of the natural order of things.  Even though she was only 66, there was an air of acknowledgement that this is what we as children spend our whole lives preparing for.  Children build a natural foundation designed to bear the burden of that loss because we expect it to happen.  Losing a child affords the grieving parent nothing on which to buttress our distress.  The loss of a child upends the natural order and calls into question every other aspect of life we assume to be a given.  This disruption permeates every decision, every action and every emotion going forward.  It creates an acute awareness of threats lurking around us and makes you anticipate the dropping of the next shoe.  It is unnerving.  I don’t want to be restless anymore.

I am different. Losing a child creates profound changes in the heart and soul of grieving parents, but there is an almost imperceptible change on the outside that occurs as well.  Look at the eyes of any grieving parent and you will see it – especially if you have a photo of that person “before”.  The eyes are said to be the windows to our soul and when that soul is shattered, the eyes reveal the fissures.  Last night, as I was looking at pictures of my wife, I noticed it.  Her smile before losing Rees was different than after.  In almost every picture from the past two years her eyes belie the pain she is hiding within.  It stands out to me like a scarlet letter emblazoned on her soul.  It’s a look that is shared by almost every grieving parent and once you see it, you cannot ever “unsee” it.  I hate seeing the pain on her face, and I know she feels the same about me.  The hint of sadness behind her eyes is a reminder that we will never be the same again – and I hate being reminded about it.  I want to be same… I don’t want to be different anymore.

I don’t want to run, be angry, restless, different or lonely anymore but I have no choice.  My favorite movie told me I need to “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”.  I don’t want to die, but it is almost as if I am to afraid to truly live – that doing so would leave behind even more of Rees’ pieces.  I know now, perhaps more than most, that life does not ever follow the script we write for ourselves.  In fact, I don’t think there is script at all.  Life is improvised.  We never know what the next moment is going to bring and the past is something we leave behind every moment.  The only thing I have is right now.  Right now I was supposed to have Rees by my side, but that just isn’t possible.  If I can’t have him beside me I will simply move forward with the pieces that remain behind as reminders of what could have been.  I am what I am, take it or leave it.  In many ways I died along with Rees in that pond, but that was a different person.  I need to accept the new person I am, baggage and all.  I will not stop moving forward until the day comes where my body can no longer keep up with my soul’s will.  Until then, I will spend my remaining time making others lives better in memory of my little boy.  I will fight to prevent other children from suffering the same fate as Richie.  I will pick up the pieces along way and proudly make them a part of me.  I don’t want to be the person I was… he’s gone.  I just need to be the best me I can be right here and now.  I don’t need to adhere to some social stereotype that says I need to suck it up and hide how I truly feel.  I don’t want to be anyone else but me – and that’s a real man.

I would trade all the treasure in the world to hold my little boy again.

I would trade all the treasure in the world to hold my little boy again.

 

 

 

 

 

26 thoughts on “Real Men Grieve…

  1. I lost my wife suddenly as we were on our way to see my father who had a heart attack. 1 month later my father passed away, the result of another massive heart attack.3 weeks later my mother also died. Your grief and pain are something that others have no idea how you feel if they have not been in your shoes. My prayers to you

    • Your words are so honest and true. They captured most of the feelings and thoughts that I have experienced in the past 4 years since my son was killed in a motorcycle accident. My husband of 32 years couldn’t bear the pain and he died of a heart attack 1 1/2 years after my son died. We are being forced to accept the unacceptable. We do what we are supposed to do to get through it, but we will be elsewhere for eternity.
      Wishing you the best in your journey.

  2. I just came upon your site today. Thank you for your very frank and open words about grief. I lost my husband 4 years ago at the young age of 48 after a very grueling 10 year illness, he was my world. While I think losing a child is even harder than losing a spouse I can identify with your grief in so many ways. I still find it so hard some days that it feels as if my heart will burst and I am crying as I type this. I absolutely understand what you see in your wife when you see a sadness that was not there before the death of your son and is now there in a very discernible way. I have seen that in myself and others have made the same comment. I remember returning to work after my husband passed away and wondering how I could ever care about trivial matters again, it was surreal and seemed as though none of it mattered. I still haven’t lost that perspective, I still feel acutely aware of how very precious life is, to have it and to lose it. To be truthful, I don’t think you are ever the same and in some ways, maybe we never should be the same. The person we love that is now apart from us has made a permanent mark on our hearts, our souls and everything that makes us who we are. It only makes sense that when they have left us we are never the same, as a piece of us has gone with them.
    I don’t know if my words will help you but I wanted to tell you that your words have helped me and I am awed by the positive way in which you are handling your grief. Your words have given me comfort in knowing that others feel the same way and have given me a renewed sense of purpose in turning bad into good. By the way….you may feel weak but I think you and your wife are amazingly strong, it takes far more to acknowledge and talk about your grief than it does to hide what you’re feeling. Thank you and you and your wife will be in my daily prayers for comfort and healing.

  3. I am so very sorry for the loss of your beloved little boy. My daughter was diagnosed with Breast Cancer almost two years and watching my child suffer through Chemotherapy following surgery was agonizing. I would like awake in bed at night terrified of what was going to happen to her.
    This August will be two years since she was first diagnosed. We never know what life will throw at us,all we can do is hope and pray for the strength to stay strong .
    God bless you always.
    Laurie Knies

  4. I’m truly sorry for your loss as I’ve experienced two losses in the past two weeks both being parents my mother and my husband’s father as we all know we experience grief in many different ways and deal with it in our own way is extremely healthy to grieve and very strong of you for putting your feelings out there for the world to see I could never imagine what you’re going through and could never imagine losing a childthis will be something that you have to deal with everyday of your life every waking moment something you will never forgetI will continue to pray for you in hopes the days get somewhat easier my heart goes out to you and your family breathe as much as hard and as long as you want because no one will ever understand your pain and the emptiness you must fill big hugs

  5. I lost my nana when I was 18 to stage 4 stomach cancer I’m 25 now and it still takes everything in my powers to just get up out of bed in the morning I still think about her and cry for her and everything I do is for her we was best friends we would share stories and talk about everything she is the resin I have the love to take care of people and the reason I’m in college to be a doctor it’s been hard to cope with but with faith in god I pull through I’m truly sorry to here about your son I will keep you and your family in my payers good bless

  6. Everyone deals with the grieving process differently and I commend your spirit and the concept of paying it forward….sometimes the worst can bring out the best! When I was in seventh grade a girl I liked broke up with me and I was trying hard to hold back the tears and be a man. At that moment a friend of mine who was a few years older, winner of the “tough man contest” and phenomenal athlete walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Hey man, REAL MEN CRY…go ahead and let it out brother.” Thats a REAL MAN!

  7. So So So Sorry for your loss. Cry all you want Richard. I have a 8 month old daughter and just imagining what you must’ve gone through, tears my heart up. Looking into the eyes of your little boy’s picture is absolutely heartbreaking. Cry Richard, and continue this great idea and great movement in honor of your little boy. Godspeed.

  8. I am very sorry for your loss. There is no way I can understand your pain. All I would say to you is to pray to God and try remembrance of God all the time. Only God can help you through this pain!!

    I pray for peace for you and your wife!!

  9. Of course you’ll never be “over it”. Your love for your son is beautiful. I am so very sorry you lost him. You are a great dad.

  10. Rich,

    As my mother once said you never get over the death of a child. I feel that way about my Joe (daughter-inlaw), and were that close. Furhtermore, Iwas told in 2004 I needed do get over it, and I had lost my mother in Oct 2003 when said it a hard X-mas for me. That statement was from a co-worker.
    Your are not only a true father, but a true man. Peace be with you, and your family.

  11. Real Men Grieve. Real Men have Emotion. Real men get angry and apologize. Real men become depressed. Real men talk. Real men, that is what you embody. Grieve, cry, write and do what you need to do. I found this moving and I have shared this with everyone I know.

    • Thank you. Of all the pieces I’ve written, this was the most personal, the most raw, and the most real thing i have evervputvout there…

  12. You are strong. Strong people are real and express their feelings fully – authentic and boldly. We may not like what we are feeling, but when you feel what you are feeling – and are honest about it – that is true strength.

    I am so sorry for your loss. I am also grateful for the goodness that you and your wife are bringing into the world.

    Thank your for sharing your realness with the world. I’ll be sending you light and love in my classes and personal meditation tomorrow.

    I’m not sure if it would help at all, but I have a brief guided meditation on my website. Sometimes when we are upset/spiraling/in great pain it can be helpful to have something to listen to. Maybe it will help you find a little peace when you need it.

    This post is amazing. Your honesty is pure light. Thank you.

    Love and healing,
    🙂 Dawn

  13. I found your site after reading the story about the waitress. Your Rees was such a gorgeous little boy and I ache for you. My son was stillborn the same year Rees died. I also like to remember him by doing acts of kindness. Thank you for sharing Rees’s story and for your honesty about your feelings. No one in my family talks about my son or acknowledges anniversaries. I think what you are doing is important.
    I hope time serves to make some sense of all of this for you, since I know time will never completely heal. Virtual hugs to you and your family.

  14. Your post reminded me of something I overheard someone say earlier this year, “They say it takes strength to hide your emotions, but I say it takes strength to express how you feel.” I couldn’t agree with him more.

    Best to you and your wife and family.

  15. Hi Rich. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is sometimes so painful to read them, and at the same time, so enlightening. I am so deeply sorry for you and your family. Your loss is unbearable. I hope that you know that so many of us that have come to know you after your loss, through this site, would also give almost anything to see you reunited with your beautiful Rees. That’s the beauty of true love and the measure of it. I lost my dad earlier this month to cancer. Though people try to console me and tell me ‘he’s not in pain any more’, and that ‘he’s in a better place now’, their words do little to ease my grief. And yet, I had a lifetime of memories with him, and yes, I have thought about what it would be like to lose him for most of my life. There is a foundation for my grief. And yet, it is still unbearable. Rich, I know that there is nothing anyone can say to ever take away the pain of your loss. I have two young children and your loss shakes me to my core. My heart goes to you and your dear Sam, and to your precious little ones. Your grief is your grief, and you are no less strong for sharing it with the world. You are facing a nightmare and continuing to put one foot in front of the other, to honor your son. That, to me, is strength. Even if it just feels like survival.

      • Thank you. This quote made me think of you and your family today:

        “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.”
        ― Mary Anne Radmacher

        Thinking of you as you face each new day. Courage to you.

  16. ” People are put off by grief, especially if it goes beyond the arbitrary expiration date we often seem to place on the grieving process.” This sentence really shouted out to me…I lost a grandson at birth 17 years ago & it still hurts. I have learned there is no expiration date for grief…I hope that knowing how many people care about you & your family helps. God bless you all…

  17. I acutely remember the moment I heard of Rees’ tragic drowning. It felt like I was stabbed. I didn’t know you, just knew that you and Sam were friends of a friend and lived nearby. That pain and the empathy I have felt since can’t be one iota of what you have gone through. I just want to reach out and let you know that other, unseen, hearts have been and are with you as you endure your sweet boy’s passing. Every eloquent word you write, every action in tribute to Rees that you take, elicits wonder and awe at your great humanity and heart. Bless you, your wife, and all four of your children.

  18. My heart breaks for you and your family. We lost our grandson at age 15. He was hit by a car. I will tell you that every time I look in my son and daughter in laws eyes I see the pain you are talking about. It has been 5 years and I still want to scream and cry everyday. We do move forward but the pain of our loss lives deep within us. God bless you and your family.

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