Thursday, May 9, 2013

You're Going To Be a Daddy

An article was posted to Facebook from a friend of mine.  In it, the hidden world of a bereaved father was shared.  Bloggers who discuss pregnancy and child loss are primarily women; it isn't that the fathers don't grieve but because many don't grieve the way that we do, their voices are silent.  I've read less than a handful of blogs or books written by fathers but, from talking to Peter, it is clear to me that their feelings of loss and longing are just as clear as those of the mother.  In many ways, they already feel out of sync because they aren't physically carrying the baby that has died; to add to that, they are invisible to the outside world. When a child dies, friends and family often ask "How is {mother} doing?", bypassing the father altogether. Routinely, boys are raised to "be men" and to hide their tears and emotions.  When they need to do nothing more than share, for many of them the ability to break down has been sheltered away.  Or they feel that they have to be strong for their partners, hiding away their own sorrow, guilt, and pain in order to help shelter some of hers.  Last weekend, we remembered our children who passed with International Bereaved Mother's Day, but where is the International Bereaved Father's Day?

It is with a very grateful heart that I reprint with permission the following article, entitled "You're Going To Be a Daddy", written by Sean Hanish, and an original piece for Reconceiving Loss, a site that promotes men and women speaking out about the impact of pregnancy loss.  I encourage you to visit the article's direct link and leave a word for the writer, if this story touches you the way it has touched me.

Should you wish to share this article, you are welcome to link to my post or directly to the Reconceiving Loss article, but please do not reprint the article without permission from RL, as this work is copyrighted. 


You're Going To Be a Daddy
by Sean Hanish
Reconceiving Loss
(c) 2013

“Next time I see you, you’re going to be a daddy.”

Those were the last words I heard before my phone rang late on a sun-filled morning in Malibu on July 11, 2005.

For some reason those words on that day, “you’re going to be a daddy”, landed in a way they never had before. Perhaps it is because I had space in my brain to take it in having just finished the biggest project of my commercial directing career minutes earlier. Perhaps it is because those words were said to me by Cindy Crawford in the driveway of her picturesque Malibu estate. When she said those words I realized that we had crossed the threshold from colleagues to friends.
Most likely though, it was because my wife had gone to the doctor that morning and, late in the third trimester of our first pregnancy, I could very well become a daddy at any moment. I would come to find out days and years later that when I heard those words for the first time that Cindy was wrong, I was already a daddy.

We’ve all had those moments when we’ve received a call, the call. And even before a syllable reaches your ear the silence, the stillness, the fear reaches you first. The feeling starts deep inside—you know something has already gone terribly wrong.

Filled with a serene sense of accomplishment, I pulled onto the Pacific Coast Highway. The phone rang. I answered. A wall of silence hit me and nearly knocked me off the road. Then, through gasps and tears, my wife struggled to tell me: “He’s gone.”

The next few minutes are a mosaic of memories. Images and emotions I have tried to piece into a coherent narrative but it’s gone. You can’t glue the broken glass back together as it’s breaking.
I hope that I stayed calm long enough to let my wife know I would be there right away. I know that before I hung up a flood of tears had begun. I know that after we hung up through the disorientation of disbelief and white hot anger I screamed, alone, thrashing at the wheel, trying to put the broken glass back together piece by piece.

It felt like traffic conspired against me, a full two hours of torture on the LA freeways until I walked into the kitchen and saw my wife seated next to her mother and our doula. Another realization hit like a jab… our son was still inside her.

To be asked how you want to deliver your dead son… to be asked if you have thought about having a burial or cremation for your son who is still in utero, these are questions so macabre as to make Edgar Allen Poe blush, but they are so very real. The shock helps. A simple but effective protection mechanism, tens of thousands of years of development, leaves you detached, dizzy but able to go through the motions of breathing, walking, surviving. Shock is your friend at first. And that’s what it is in those minutes, hours, days, weeks afterward—shock. The goal is simple: survival.

There is nothing you can do, nothing you can say to make it better. It is torture. I wanted to fix things… to do something, anything. And yet there I was at the kitchen table helpless, at the delivery of our son hopeless, then holding him in my arms lifeless.

As a husband, a partner, a man you are a passenger on the pregnancy express. You can look out the window and watch the scenery go by, her belly grow, her skin glow, and if you’re lucky, catch your baby’s elbow as it presses against her belly like the dorsal fin of some alien sea creature making it more real for you. But you’re not the engineer.

When the crash comes you are struggling with your own emotions, grief and loss, desolation and depression, and watching as your wife, your partner, your life jumps the tracks. Twisting metal tumbling out of control in slow motion. Prepare for impact.

The crash came, our son born into silence. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Holy. And then gone, forever.
The two of us entered our home, prepared for a family of three now stripped bare in a few hours of all infant accoutrement by my wife’s family who swept in like a SEAL team. Our stark baby’s room remained a visual metaphor for the gaping hole in our hearts.

The need to do something, anything became overwhelming. We were gifted a rose bush. I decided to build a patio for that plant, a memorial to our son. The only thing I’ve built in my life up to this point was with Legos. To call me a novice in the construction arts is to insult novices.

I enlisted the help of my handy father-in-law who helped lay the foundation and steer me clear of disaster. After that it was me, a ton of bricks, buckets of cement and a case of beer. It was like some kind of zen trance. Brick after brick. Line after line. I kept at it.

The days were punctuated by visits to my wife’s bedside to check on her dutifully though looking at her brought back everything that hurt… everything that I wanted so desperately to change and forget. Not only have you lost a child, but you’ve lost your wife. For some it’s temporary, others permanent, and most of us somewhere in between. Your relationship never recovers from this, it can only grow together or apart. Neither is wrong.

Brick after brick. Sweat. Wipe. Following a steady rhythm of sadness. I finished the patio—by far my greatest (and only) construction achievement of all time—the day before the memorial service. Goal reached, yet no reward.

The balloons disappear into the sky–my wife and I strain through tears to see them. Surrounded by family and friends, nearly everyone invited made the trip from miles and states away. All of that love helped. The support was incredible. But eventually, their sorrow fades as it must. The neighbors stop the parade of dinners from the oddest pot luck ever. And there we are, left with each other—I never thought that looking into my loved one’s eyes would be like staring into the void.

We all grieve differently, especially in this instance. The engineer blames herself for not seeing the signals. The passenger who survives the wreckage blames everyone, everything and nothing. What does it matter when everything you thought up to that instant, everything you believed in is lost?
The change lasts forever. You’re never the same. Your relationship is never the same. Yet, here we are, my wife and I nearly eight years later still together. Three children in our heart, two in our home. We love each other, but so very differently than before. I’m not sure there is a tomorrow but each day builds on the next like bricks in that patio, but this memorial will never be finished. It is work now, this marriage, like all marriages but unique in its difference.

Two years ago I quit my commercial life and dedicated myself to building a different kind of memorial—this one with images, shots and scenes—one which I’m (hopefully) better at building. It’s a miracle that this film was made—a testament to leading with your heart. We built it and they came, the actors, the crew, and the parents of lost children like wind at our back when we needed it the most.

I’m just one dad. This is one story. One life. And no matter what is gained with this film it will never fill the void that was created the day I lost my son.

What I have learned is that I was a daddy on that day in July 2005. And I am a daddy now–a daddy who never met his first son until after he was gone. Yet, that son has left me a precious gift–I lost one life and found a new one, one which I cherish with all of my heart and will for the rest of my life.

1 comment:

Fran said...

So so beautifully written, thanks so much for sharing, I, of course, have tears streaming down my face.