“Dads Grieve Too”

Today has been really hard, and I’m not sure why. I mean, I know why, but I’m not sure what makes today different. But it is.

Maybe it’s because today is a harder than I expected, and maybe it’s because I deserve (or need) to have days that kick my ass like today did, but the fact that today has sucked makes me want to rant a bit about something that has been bothering me for a while.

“Dads grieve too.”

I hear it all the time now. I see it on Instagram posts and Facebook pages are dedicated to the idea. There are books (or at least chapters of books) with that exact title. And on the surface it seems like a good thing to share and make sure people realize.

But here’s where my rant starts, and I apologize if it doesn’t make any damn sense, but quite frankly, this post is for me, not you.

Of course dads grieve too. And for anyone to suggest otherwise is either completely out of touch or completely insensitive. Likely both. The reason I say this is to say that there shouldn’t be a need to tell people that I have a heart and that it is shattered. I shouldn’t need to explain to people who know about Simon why I’m not so smiley or why I’m having a shitty day. Dads grieve too because -NEWSFLASH- dads are parents. Dads are people. Dads like me lost part of themselves.

I firmly believe that no one with an ounce of compassion would ever wonder why a mom who lost her child is sad, crying, grieving, broken. I would never ever question a mother’s pain, and it would be utterly asinine to do so. Hell, no one questions why a mother whale is grieving the loss of her calf. So why don’t dads get that same automatic consideration?

I didn’t carry Simon inside me for nine months. True. But I did carry him in my heart for nine months. From the instant of our embryo transfer, a part of my heart was living outside my body. I did everything everything within my power to make sure he would be happy, healthy and here. Turns out none of that mattered. For nine months, a part of me was growing, thriving, living, I just couldn’t see or feel that part of me aside from the periodic ultrasounds and the nightly kicks (once they were strong enough for me to feel.)

And now, that part of me that was living apart from me is gone.

I never got to know what it was to hold our Simon as he squirmed and wiggled around. I never got the chance to know him, to teach him, or to laugh with him. I lost a part of me.

So dads grieve too, huh?

No shit we do.

The Day After

The day after we said goodbye to Simon was a fog. We cried almost constantly, we knew we needed to be there for each other and for Nolan so we got out of bed and did what we could. We got out of the house and went for a walk to the end of the block and back. It was all we could manage, and we were proud of ourselves for making  it that far.

There have been a lot of days after since then.

The day after we picked up Simon’s ashes. Something we never thought we would have to do, and something no one should have to do for their child. The day after, we were still in the fog and being pummeled by the waves.

The day after our first support group. We were told about the so-called grief-hangover that we should expect. It was real, and it hit hard. It was another day in the fog and while I was glad we went and glad we were beginning to learn we were not alone, I was still unable to see any light.

The day after we decided to honor our son with a bench at a beautiful Denver park. I had a task. A job to accomplish. I had to find out how to do it, what it takes, and I had to get it done. It was a job I wish I didn’t need to take on, and a job that I am so glad I did throw myself into. There was an end result. A perfect bench at a perfect park.

The day after we met with the specialist and confirmed what we already knew. We were scared about what we might hear, what we might learn. The day after, I felt a little stronger and more confident in what happened to our Simon, and at the same time, more confused and unsure of our next steps.

The day after Nolan’s surgery. Relief. A healthy, safe, happy boy. He woke up. He was fine. Our weeks (or months) of worry about the outcome were all for naught. We had our boy at home.

Now today.

The day after our memorial for Simon.

The day I was dreading.

It was a day of utter heartache. A day punctuated by a speech I never thought I’d get through, a song I never thought I’d want to hear again (but I am so grateful I did), people we hadn’t seen in weeks, months, years, even decades coming together to cry with us, laugh with us, and to remember Simon.

It was a day that my grandpa, Simon’s great-grandpa, comforted me and gave me a lifetime of advice without uttering a word.

Simons_Bench-42.jpg

It was a day we’ll never forget.

I was dreading yesterday right up until yesterday happened. Then, and now (the day after) I am so glad we did it the way we did, and so glad I gave the speech I never thought I could. Everything we did was for Simon and it showed us how much support we have, and he has. And that support will be there for our family of four, always and always.

Calling Bull____

So I’ve been taking part in a writing workshop the last handful of days. We are given prompts that force us to delve into our grief in new and unique ways.

One prompt recently was about kindness. How are you kind to yourself. Seems like a great prompt, but I couldn’t get past the opening paragraphs of the work that was chosen to get our creative juices flowing.

I may not have followed the rules to a tee, but I couldn’t get past the first words I read, and here’s what I came up with.

“Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things.”

I’m calling bullshit.

Maybe it’s too fresh. Maybe I’m still so angry. Maybe I’m still to confused about a world that would let my baby die before he had a chance to cry even once.

The idea that I can’t…or couldn’t…know kindness until my little boy was taken from me reeks of the “everything happens for a reason” that makes me physically ill and red-faced angry at anyone who would say that to a grieving dad. No. Not everything happens for a reason. And no. I didn’t need to lose Simon to know kindness.

Had he been born, had I held him when he cried, had my heart melted the first time he looked into my eyes, my ability to see kindness (and my ability to display it) would have been instantly heightened. When my first son was born, I understood instantly what an amazing place the world was. I felt the kindness of people around my family’s community as we all came together knowing that “it takes a village to raise a child” and this was our village. That is a kindness that I had never learned, and it didn’t take a crushing loss to see it.

I am a kind person now. I am kind so that both my living son and my dead son will be proud of me. And I will always know that I would have changed when Simon came into the world had he lived, too. I would have become even more empathetic than I was before. I would have seen the good in people, in the world.

So did it take my son not having a chance at life for me to know kindness? That’s a really fucking arrogant idea. He dies, I see kindness.

Screw that. Kindness has always been there, but HE never gets a chance to experience it.

From the Mouths of Toddlers

I wasn’t ready for this one.

First, a little backstory. When Tera was pregnant with Simon, we did everything we could to make sure Nolan was ready to be a big brother. He helped build the baby’s furniture, helped me paint the dresser, and maybe most importantly, he got a doll to carry around. The hope was he’d learn to be gentle with a baby.

It worked, and he was about as ready as any two year old could be to have a sibling.

A little more backstory. When Simon died, one of the biggest pieces of advice we received was to tell Nolan the truth. Not that he was sleeping, not that he went on a trip, not that he went to be an angel. Simon died, and he isn’t coming home. The conversation was harder for us than for him, and lasted just a couple minutes until he was ready to start playing.

Another tip came from a book my coworkers gave us. To tell Nolan that the reason Simon died is that “his body stopped working.” It’s hard to tell how much of our conversations have stuck.

Until tonight.

Tonight, Nolan played doctor, as he has done pretty often since we got home from the hospital. He likes to tell us we’re sick and use phone chargers to fix us. He did that a couple times tonight, then, for the first time something else happened.

He told us his baby was sick.

Then it went a step further. He told us his baby had died because he “stopped working.”

We froze for a moment. He repeated what he had told us.

Then.

Then he used his charger and “fixed” his baby so that he wasn’t dead anymore. And that’s where it got difficult. We’ve done everything we can to tell Nolan that Simon won’t come home. That he’ll never come home. That we can’t…that no one can fix him.

And now Nolan fixes his baby.

We understand that there will be different, very difficult, conversations throughout Nolan’s childhood to teach him about what happened, and most importantly to teach him about his little brother. But we weren’t ready for one of those conversations. Not tonight.

But ready or not, here it comes.

2 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back

Before you say anything, I know. The phrase is two steps forward, one step back. But that’s just not the case. Not my case.

In my case, I feel like I’m progressing, albeit in the smallest ways possible, but progressing. I have fewer anxiety attacks at work. I lock myself in a room to cry a little less often. I am running for myself, to take care of myself. I miss Simon every day, every moment, and I’m working on how I can cope. And I’m taking tiny steps at doing so.

Until the clouds roll back in.

(Not these literal clouds. I wish it was these clouds. I can deal with these clouds.)

The clouds I thought I had taken baby steps to cope with are the clouds that turn my brain into a ball of anxiety and make what used to be simple tasks feel daunting. They are the clouds that make me wonder how I can ever truly smile again. They are the clouds that make me doubt myself as Nolan’s and Simon’s dad. The clouds are terrifying.

And at least right now they are back.

The scary thing, or one of the scary things about these clouds returning is that I don’t know where they came from. It might be the grief hangover from a holiday that I didn’t expect would be so hard. It may be from the amazing changes in Nolan and the utter pride I take in seeing how our little boy is learning and growing and the knowledge that our other little boy will always be stuck in a moment in time. It might just be because it’s Thursday.

The other scary part is, I don’t know when I’ll take those two tiny steps forward again. When these clouds roll in, it feels like they’ll be here forever. There is no end in sight. No “light at the end of the tunnel.” Only more tunnel.

For now I feel like I’m back at square one.

Two steps back and just missing Simon, and missing what our life, our family of four should look like.

Simon’s Smile

A while after we lost our perfect little boy Simon, Tera had an idea. A perfectly simple, perfect idea. A way to honor our little boy and allow him to make an impact on the world.

We created “Simon’s Smile”.

We have business cards that tell a bit of his, and our, story and we give them out along with a random act of kindness, asking (but not expecting) that people will pay it forward.

It’s a way to feel Simon’s presence on a daily basis, and a way to make sure he is never forgotten. And hopefully it puts a smile on someone’s face.

I give out a card every time I run. I put it on a random car windshield along with a note wishing the driver a happy day, or a peaceful afternoon, or just that they have at least one reason to smile that day. I don’t know the result, I likely never will. All I can do is hope that the message of Simon’s Smile hits its mark.

Today I got a firsthand example of what a little act of kindness can do.

I was running, nearly to the top of the hill and struggling. As I approached the crest of the hill, I saw a mom wrestling with her little one to get her in the stroller. I’ve been there. The straps and buckles and a squirmy toddler are a tough combination at times.

As I passed her, her daughter was safely buckled in and I had conquered the hardest part of my run. She said “good job”…I said thanks and echoed her good job. I was a bit past her, but I could hear her laugh as she yelled “thanks” in my direction.

They were random acts of kindness. She applauded my effort running, and I acknowledged that her task at the moment was harder. We both smiled.

That moment hit me with a renewed vigor to continue or Simon’s Smile mission and to do what I can, what Simon, Tera, Nolan and I can, to add some kindness to the world.

It makes a difference. It really does.

Be kind to each other in Simon’s name.

(Oh, and if you get a card, let us know how Simon made you smile…put a picture of the act of kindness on Instagram with #SimonsSmile. His mom and dad love to see how he’s impacting the world.)

Three Months

Three months ago today we said hello to Simon.

That should mean that we are watching him grow, start to smile and coo, wiggle around. We should have started to figure out by now how he sleeps, how well he eats, maybe even a little bit of what his personality would be. We should be waking up a few times a night to feed him, change his diaper, console him.

We should.

But instead, three months ago today we said goodbye to Simon.

Every day is hard. Every time we wonder about what he would have been is hard. Every time his big brother talks about the baby brother he won’t meet (as he did just a few minutes ago…”daddy, why Simon not play with this toy?” or “why is Simon at his house?”) is hard.

I geared up mentally for today, knowing that the three month mark since we said goodbye would be an especially trying day.

But I’m learning something.

It doesn’t take an anniversary, or a moment, or a specific thought to make a day tougher than the last. All it takes is knowing that no matter what we do, no matter how much we wish, Simon died and he won’t be coming home. (That’s how we tell Nolan, and it’s the blunt, brutal, heartbreaking truth.)

So yeah, three months is a hard day. But so was two months and 12 days. And 1 month and 23 days. And…..

I don’t know when, or if, this pit in my stomach will ever go away, and honestly, I’m not sure if I want it to. It’s been my constant companion for three months, and in a weird way, it’s a way to carry my little boy with me. (Not sure if that seems crazy, but it’s honest to myself.)

Three months. Three damn months.