Tuesday, August 11, 2015


  Another vital realization about dealing with grief is that change is an inevitable result of a grief-inducing event. It has to be. Oh, we can try to deny grief's impact on us, we can pretend that it really doesn't bother us, we can try to rationalize it away, we can try to hide from it in some way, but sooner or later, if we are truly to begin the healing process, we must accept the unwanted changes that are threatening to take over our life whether or not we choose to acknowledge them. As I struggled to deal with these changes in my life following the death of my son, I often had to admit that I felt a little foolish at times. Of course, it was beyond obvious that my life had drastically changed and not for the better. It was also an indisputable fact that, for the most part, these changes could never be undone. They were permanent. What I could change, at least to a certain degree, was how I reacted and responded to these life-altering changes. I could go on either pretending they weren't such a big deal or I could search for ways to begin to face up to them. If I was to begin to heal on this journey I knew which course I had to follow.

Monday, August 10, 2015


   The realization that all the things I was feeling and thinking were actually quite normal aspects of the grieving process was a liberating thought up to a point. However, I also began to realize that there was so much more with which I would have to deal. Grief, by its very nature, sets us on a course of unbelievable, uncontrollable, and, most definitely, unwanted chaos. The level of this chaos depends on many factors: our age, the age of the deceased, our relationship with that person, the circumstances surrounding the loss, to name just a few. When my brother died at the age of 22 when I was 12 years old, it did not have nearly as severe an impact on me as the death of my son. My brother had been born with severe cerebral palsy which meant he had never been able to live any kind of so-called normal life. He actually lived many years beyond what the doctors had initially predicted, but he needed full-time care for his entire life. In a similar way, the deaths of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even the death of my father when I was 22, did not affect me nearly as much as the death of my son. We almost accept the death of elderly people as a part of the natural order of life, feeling that they lived a good, long life and have gone on to their reward in the next life. The death of my son was different. He was only 14, just barely getting started in life (although I know he would definitely argue with me on the validity of that point) and was in excellent health. He literally ran out the front door of our house and was gone forever just minutes later. There is just no way to prepare oneself for such a horrific occurrence. There are no classes or seminars to attend beforehand like there are for other parts of life (preparing for marriage, having a baby, changing jobs, buying a house, etc.). I suspect that if someone wanted to join a grief group to prepare themselves for grief before even experiencing the grief-inducing event, other people would perceive such a person to be, at the least, a little crazy. I have come to believe that grief cannot possibly be understood at all until you are already deeply mired in it. Only then are you able to begin to grasp the enormity of the chaos that has begun to fill your life and slowly, ever so slowly, begin to come to terms with it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


   One thing I realized fairly early on in my grief journey (thank goodness) was that in spite of my great concern for how my wife and surviving son and daughter were dealing with what had happened to Curtis, I really couldn't be of much help to them until I started to help myself. Indeed, since all of us were trying to figure things out in our own ways it was often impossible to truly understand each other's
perspective. One thing I had to accept (whether I wanted to or not) was that what I was feeling was entirely normal. The chaos, the anger, the confusion, the uncertainty, the hopelessness, the sorrow, and all the other things grief had suddenly unleashed on my life were completely normal and understandable. My life was not normal, and never would be again, but what I was feeling was normal.
Once I began to accept that truism, I was able to stop being so hard on myself. I realized that I didn't have to try to be in control of an absolutely uncontrollable situation. My problem was not going to go away easily, if ever. There were no quick fixes, no easy solutions, no short-cuts, no magic spells. I had to just take things one step at a time. As I was able to allow myself this freedom, I found myself in a better place to be able to help the rest of my family as well. I didn't expect my journey to be much easier, but I hoped I was becoming a little more prepared for what lay ahead. There would still be much to learn.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


     In my journey through grief, there were several realizations that came to me that helped me to try to put things into perspective in dealing with my grief. These did not usually dawn on me in a single moment of clarity, rather they more often appeared over time as I tried my best to work through what I was facing. In some instances, they were things I had to learn more than one time. Oftentimes I was not at a point in my journey where I was ready to accept a particular concept as being something that was true in my situation. There were many times when I refused to believe or accept what I suddenly perceived to be a truism about dealing with grief. I was fearful that if I believed and accepted this new thought regarding grief I would be led down another difficult path where fresh challenges would await.
I thought it was better to stay on the road that had become most familiar to me, and where I felt most comfortable, even if that meant I was often going in circles. Grief is like that. You can honestly believe that you are doing what is best for you and the people around you and that you are making good progress, when in reality, you are spinning in circles. You find yourself passing the same landmarks over and over again, dealing with the same issues over and over again. The question becomes: How do I get off of this not-so-merry-go-round of grief and keep moving forward?

Monday, July 27, 2015


   How does a man learn to deal with grief? It's been almost a year since I posed that question at the end of my last blog entry. I'm again not sure why I have not been writing for so long, except to say that I was so focused on work and other issues that I just didn't have the energy to write. Oftentimes, my writing about grief takes me back in time to those first horrible days following Curtis's death, dredging up emotions and memories I thought were long gone. I realize at such times that there are still residual issues with which I am not finished dealing or now may need to deal with in a different way. I also understand that it is ultimately to my long-term benefit to face such things as they arise. Even all these years later, there are still ways I can help myself continue to move forward with my life. This situation again points to one of the most difficult aspects of grief-its unpredictability. I think as human beings (especially as men) it's this characteristic of grief that is so maddening-the uncertainty of it all. We may realize intellectually that each person involved in the same situation will grieve in their own way and follow their own timeframe, but emotionally, men find this to be a most frustrating factor of grief. We like to know how long something will last. We like to know how much time and energy we need to invest in this whole process. We don't like to think there may be no end to this entire thing. We don't like to think there may be times when we believe we have reached some kind of ending only to have to deal with the same things over and over again. The thought that we may never feel "normal" again terrifies us. We begin to feel paralyzed and hopeless that we will ever feel anything close to normalcy again. Why can't we fix this? Why can't we just make it all go away? Where is the magic spell or magic fairy dust that could make me feel like myself again? Dealing with grief may be the most emotionally, spiritually, and mentally challenging thing we may ever face in life. It can even leave us physically drained years after the initial event. So, after all these months between posts, the question remains: how does a man learn to deal with grief?

Sunday, August 17, 2014


   As a society, we Americans are not particularly well-prepared to deal with grief. Some cultures don't  even expect a grieving person to be ready to re-enter society in any meaningful way for up to a year or more. The person or family is given that much time to process and deal with all the numbing effects of grief. I went back to work three weeks to the day after my son's death. Mostly I did that because I was afraid that the longer I delayed the inevitable, the harder it would become to ever go back. I also wanted  something besides grief to occupy my time and energy. I had been back only a couple of weeks when it was time on our school calendar to hold Parent-Teacher conferences. All of the parents with whom I met were sympathetic to a point, but one parent remarked that I must be over it all since I was back teaching. I was incredulous. It took all of my self-control to not scream at her. This was my son's death we were dealing with not a pet goldfish. How insensitive could she be? In hindsight, it was probably much too soon for me to have to deal with people in that kind of setting, but, again, our culture does not look favorably on grieving for too long, especially not for men. We are raised to be strong, physically and emotionally. We are the providers, the guardians, the protectors. We are taught from an early age that big boys don't cry, that we should get over it (whatever "it" is) and move on. We are supposed to "fix" whatever is wrong and move forward. These kinds of attitudes are especially not helpful when men are dealing with grief. They are among the reasons that many men seem to get "stuck" in one spot
many different times in their journey through grief. Often when I would be faced with a new obstacle
grief had set in my way, my first reaction was to avoid it somehow, to try and go around it or pretend it wasn't there. I tried to lose myself in work. I tried to pretend that I wasn't really feeling what I was feeling. I would try to push away what was making me feel so bad. That only made things worse. As I stated previously, grief demands to be dealt with, but much of the time, I didn't know how to do that. I was feeling guilty that I had failed to protect my son in the first place, and now I was constantly faced with a situation I could not fix, not for myself, not for my wife, not for my surviving children. I was frustrated and angry about the entire thing. How does a man learn to deal with grief?

Sunday, August 10, 2014


   As I mentioned previously, for me the first step to surviving was the realization that I needed to allow the people around me to just love me. Many of the people closest to us felt an almost overwhelming need to do something, anything, for us in an attempt to somehow help us through this ordeal. However, often what these well-meaning people needed for themselves was not what was particularly helpful to me. Still, I slowly began to realize that we were surrounded by the love, concern, and prayers of many people, some of which we did not even directly know.
   It also began to be apparent that even with all this support around us, in many ways, my journey through grief was going to be a lonely one. While grief demands to be dealt with, it is not on a set timeline. While many people are familiar with the various stages of grief (i.e. denial, anger, bargaining,
acceptance, etc.) such stages are extremely fluid. They do not conform to a neatly set pattern or timeline. What I was experiencing or feeling at a particular moment was not what my wife or children were experiencing. What I felt I needed at a certain moment in time did not often conform to their needs. In short, everyone's journey through grief is highly personal. It ebbs and flows from day to day and often from moment to moment. This aspect of grief makes it very difficult to stay on an even keel.
Many times I would feel like I was making good progress one day, only to feel like I had taken 10 steps backward the next.
   I often became frustrated with myself because I too often felt like I had to keep dealing with the same things over and over again. Why didn't I get the message the first time? Why did I have to go through the same things again and again? Grief is like that. Make no mistake: grief must be dealt with. You can try to run away or hide from it, but it will track you down. It will slowly and methodically follow you like a stalker or a spy pursuing their quarry. Its presence will not always be overtly apparent, but you will always know it is there, lurking in the shadows, waiting patiently to strike until you least expect it, usually when you are the most vulnerable. Again, it is this relentlessly uncertain characteristic of grief that consistently serves to confound and confuse us in our journey. Yes, grief demands our attention. How we respond to that demand can make a world of difference in our journey.