This is an excerpt from Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back, which is available at Amazon.
If it were up to me, I probably would change the “five stages of grief” thing so it included a brand new category. I’d call it “Shock and Trauma,” because those are really the things that hit you first after the death of a child.
“Shock,” minus the awe. And “trauma,” minus the blood. Leastwise, trauma minus your own blood.
The experts call the first stage of grieving “denial,” and I can promise you that you will indeed experience denial when you go through the loss of a child. You just won’t get there without experiencing shock and trauma first. The kind of trauma that impacts your nervous system to a point that is irreparable. The crossing of a threshold that has lasting effects on your mind, complete with images and words that forever will be with you.
For a glimpse into what I’m talking about, consider the story of Nick.
Nick was making breakfast for his seven-year-old son one morning. His 17-year-old daughter, Michelle, should have been downstairs by now to join them for the day’s first meal. Instead, Michelle was still in her room, lying dead from a heroin overdose, the wall beside her bed covered in vomit. Her face already a pale blue.
Nick’s wife had been trying to get Michelle out of bed, but she wouldn’t wake up. Little wonder. She was gone, a victim of a new epidemic sweeping the nation’s teenage population. Michelle got caught up in this new heroin epidemic before the community even knew it was an issue. And lest you think that Michelle was a troubled child that had shown all sorts of “warning bells” related to the choices that led to her death, you should understand that Michelle was an honor roll student. The kind of kid that had so many friends, over 500 people showed up for her funeral.
To this day, Nick blames the person who gave Michelle the tainted drug. Finding Michelle asleep, forever, in her bed that fateful morning will forever haunt Nick. So will the fruitless attempts at CPR. The screams of his wife. The call to 911. The cop car showing up first, the ambulance after. All for nothing, because it was too late for anyone to help Nick’s little girl by the time the sun rose on the day she died.
In a survey he filled out, Nick tells me, “You will never experience a pain like this.”
Well, he’s right. Like I said, shock and trauma.
Grief from the death of a child is trauma — a fact I simply didn’t understand when I was a newly bereaved father. But time and time again, this wisdom proved true for me and for all the dads I interviewed. Some of us watched our children die slowly over weeks or months. Some of us were left reeling by a sudden, unexpected death. Some of us actually witnessed one of those sudden, unexpected deaths.
Tags: traumatic reaction