A few hours after Nate passed away, I remember watching our three and a half year old son happily fall asleep next to me, wondering how on earth I was possibly going to tell him that his daddy was no longer here. I had just spent hours in the emergency room with my head on Nate’s chest, listening to the sound of silence rather than the echo of his once strong heartbeat, and I could barely comprehend what it all meant…Yet, I knew I would need to be the one to give our little boy the news that would ultimately become the most devastating reality of his short life…His daddy was dead.
Widowhood is an ever evolving journey, and while I’m continuously learning how to adapt and move forward with the cards I was dealt, the one thing I still have an extremely difficult time handling is when our son asks, “why?” I can say with the utmost certainty that the worst part of losing Nate is watching Ian grow up without him.
Ian was only three and a half when Nate died…So trying to explain to him what had happened so that he would understand in the best way his young mind could understand was extremely difficult. I don’t even know that I remember exactly what I said to him beyond the fact that something had happened to daddy at his softball game and that daddy wasn’t able to wake back up…I remember trying to explain to him that while we would still be able to see him physically in the upcoming days, that daddy was no longer here. While I was funeral planning and then even throughout the calling hours and funeral service, Ian seemed to remain blissfully unaware of what was going on. Thankfully, he was able to spend that week and half having a blast with all of his cousins…But I could tell very quickly he wasn’t quite understanding the full reality of losing his daddy nor the permanence of it all. I debated about bringing Ian in to see Nate at the funeral home as he laid in the casket, but ultimately decided based on the advice of a family member who had lost their mother at a very young age, that it was the right thing to do…As we stood a few feet from Nate’s coffin, I tried again explaining that though it looked like daddy was just sleeping, his spirit…the part that made daddy who he was, was no longer there.
Over the following months, Ian would occasionally ask where daddy was and for me to explain exactly what happened…but truthfully, for the longest time as the months after Nate’s death progressed, I thought Ian’s young age would lessen his grief. Not because he loved his daddy any less, but because he simply couldn’t understand it all. Hell, I’m 32 and I still don’t understand it all.
As the months progressed, and we discovered the cause of Nate’s death, we were also able to better explain to Ian what had happened. Anytime we talked about daddy or even a few times at his school, Ian would reveal matter of factly what happened. “My daddy’s heart was sick and we didn’t know it. They tried to save him but they couldn’t and so now he watches over me from heaven”. But then a few months ago, right around his 5th birthday, the questions about Nate really increased. He has begun having more dreams about daddy…crying over him and needing reinforcement more often that he is watching over him.
Seeing your child cry over their daddy and knowing there is literally nothing you can do to ease their pain beyond crying with them and holding them, is the worst kind of hell imaginable. The other day I found him sitting in the recliner with our family christmas card from 2014 in his hands…”Can I put this in my room?” He asked with a wobbling lip before tears spilled over. We spent the next half hour just hugging and crying together as we figured out the best place to put that card.
I’ve noticed that as Ian continues to get older, his grief is evolving just like my own. He is really starting to notice how other kids have daddies and wonder why his daddy had to die. He is beginning to look at pictures and watch videos with more emotions as his little mind tries to remember those beautiful three and a half years with his daddy…And quite honestly, I’m amazed at how much he still remembers…and in vivid detail too. I was naive to think that his young age would allow him to “bypass” the same grief that myself and our families have been working through…As he gets older, he remembers that not only did he have a wonderful father, but that his father died. He is beginning to ask “why” more often. I feel confident in my ability to handle a lot of things these days…But that one word question, from his teary eyed, beautiful face breaks my heart into pieces…Especially because I will never have an answer…We will never know why this happened…We only know that it did.
One of the best quotes I ever heard about grief is from the show “This is Us”. It was something to the extent that after a loved one dies, every happy moment will always be laced with a bit of sadness. It’s so true. While there has been laughter and smiles during any holidays, birthdays, or family get togethers the past 20 months, there has been an equal amount of tears and reminiscing. I think often about all of the memories Ian has yet to make…from the start of kindergarten this fall to his high school graduation in 13 years or even the day he may get married or even bring a child of his own into the world…I think about every memory in between that Nate won’t be here for and how that is going to impact Ian as he continues to grow older…this life without Nate and every month we’ve already lived without him is uncharted territory. I can’t say how I envision the next month to go let alone the next year or 10 years. I can say that I know Ian will miss his daddy for the rest of his life, and so we have learned how to include him in our daily lives in a different way.
Cardinals have become a huge source of comfort for Ian. Each time we see one, we feel as though it’s a little sign from Nate sent to remind us that he’s watching. Ian gets so excited everytime he sees one.
We talk about Nate openly all of the time. We open scrapbooks with his pictures, watch videos and remind Ian how much he loves him on a daily basis.
We celebrate Nates birthday (4th of July) at his grave…a tradition we begun last year. I know it may sound morbid, but his final resting spot overlooks the Gahanna Municipal Golf Course and gives us an amazing view of the fireworks show the city of Gahanna puts on. It gives us the chance to invite family and friends to visit Nate on his birthday, while also creating moments of happiness there. I don’t want Nate’s grave to be a dreaded place for Ian to visit as he gets older…So I’ve tried to incorporate ways to make him more comfortable in going there.
Ian helps me pick out the flowers I create for Nate’s grave. We work on the bouquets together, and he helps to figure out what colors we want to incorporate.
Our holidays and family get togethers still involve Nate. Like I said earlier, while we have been able to smile and laugh creating new memories, we will always incorporate the fact that we all miss Nate, and that he should be here. We’ve began a new tradition for Christmas in which we take a present to Nate’s grave for Ian to open there. For Fathers Day we sent balloons up to the sky with messages of love a longing for Nate.
We cry together, and we remember together. The most important and beneficial thing I have come to discover that helps Ian (and myself), is reminding him that it is ok to be sad. It is ok to cry. It is ok to be angry…but that he never should feel as though he has to keep those things inside or to himself. Over the past few months, he has come to me more often than ever, telling me that he’s sad about daddy. And it breaks my heart, but in the same breath I am so relieved that he feels comfortable enough to share those moments with me…My only hope is that as he gets older, he continues to do so.
Even though he only got three and a half years, Nate was an incredible father. He was so excited to continue watching Ian grow and be apart of every detail of his life…They were both cheated, and I will forever feel sadness that they didn’t get more time together. However, I do know that those three and a half years Nate got with Ian made a lasting impression on him, and his legacy continues to be a huge part of the young man Ian is growing into each and everyday. The fact is, Ian will know his father, and he will always know that he is loved by him. I may not ever be able to answer “why” for our beautiful boy…But for the rest of my life, I will try my best to ensure that Ian forever feels the depth of love his father holds for him. That I can promise.