Lost and Found
This past Saturday my daughter Katie would have been 11 years old. In six weeks my son would have been 10. These days used to be very difficult, but now I find myself proud to be their dad. I only wish I can just hold them and let them know how much I love and miss them.
As I mention in my book, the first couple of years I carried a lot of anger inside along with great sadness and the need for someone to take the wheel from me for a couple years. I didn’t want to be the one that had to keep things going forward. I didn’t want to have to figure out how to pay bills, mow the yard or anything that landed on my “to do” list. I just wanted to be still and taken care of like a kid, but I knew that wasn’t an option. I had to move forward, because other than my wife, there wasn’t anyone there to care for me, to provide and make sure we kept a roof over our head. In some ways I am sure it was a good thing, being forced to move forward.
One of the best things I ever did after the loss of Noah was the 3 months I took off from life. When Noah died, I couldn’t function, I just needed to remove all other distractions in my life and deal with his loss and Katie’s loss because I had been running from her loss for about 18 months. It finally caught me.
Fortunately we had a small nest egg to live on so my wife and I took 3 months off during the summer of 2006 from work and we just lived. We went to bed when we wanted to and woke up when we woke up. We mourned, cried, prayed, smiled and even laughed at times. We held on to each other as if one would slip away if we loosened our grip. We were outside most of the days, sitting on our patio, staining the fence, doing yard work, biking, jogging, afternoon cocktails and grilling out. We were lost but not having the pressure of life allowed us to do and be whatever we needed at that moment. We unplugged from people and kept to ourselves for the most part.
As the 3 months started to wind down, my anxiety started to set in. How was I going to do my job? I needed to be with my friend, my wife. I wasn’t sure if I could make it through the day with the pressures of work, the expectations or being back in the grind. In the days leading up to the inevitable, my anxiety had gotten so bad, I just needed to take off so I started walking and thinking. After several hours of walking, I finally called my wife to come pick me up about 10 miles away.
The walk helped a little, but the next morning I had to report back to work. I was throwing up with the uncertainty of how I was going to get through the day. How will I face people I haven’t seen in 3 months? Will my projects still be waiting for me, piled up on my desk requiring me to work long hours? Will I be able to get through the day? I didn’t know the answers to these questions, but I assumed worst case across the board. I lasted about 5 months before I requested to go part time. I spent the next 18 months working 24 hours a week. It helped me tremendously because my wife was also able to change her schedule to 24 hours.
We spent our free time grieving and thinking about our next direction in life. We both were thinking about career changes that allowed us to have careers with much less pressure than the high pressure deadline driven engineering jobs we had at the time. I started pursuing a career as a professional counselor (180 degree turn for me) and my wife pursued her masters to become a special education teacher.
Fast forward 10 years and I’m back working full time as an engineer, but still searching for the right direction in life. The publishing of my book Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back provided me with the sense of making a difference and helping others. My book replaced my drive to be a counselor because I know it helps other grieving dads (and moms) every day. I know this because I hear from many of them thanking me for the book. This book will probably go down as one of my biggest life accomplishments due to the impact it has had around the world. I know Katie and Noah are proud of their dad and that’s what drives me.
My wife has been a teacher for nearly 6 years now and loves working with the kids as she says, “our kids would have been friends with.”
Ever since that summer away from life, I dreamed of doing it again under much different circumstances. As I continue to move forward in life, I still search to find my passion, something that makes me happy rather than pursuing the dollars. I am confident I will find it, eventually.
In the spirit of making a dream come true, my wife Christine, my dog Buddy and I will be spending a month this summer in a house we rented in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Hiking, biking, fishing kayaking, exploring, drinking craft beers, reading and relaxing is our plan. It’s a way for me to get away, do some thinking about my future path, celebrate our 20 years of marriage and reflect on the 10 years since we lost Noah and the summer we held on tight to each other.
If you are going to be anywhere near Steamboat Springs, CO this summer, stop by and say hello.