A Dad’s Grief Journey…How I Did It

Today’s edition of The Microscope features a piece written by SUDC dad, Darryl Heino, about the loss of his son Justin. The piece was adapted from a piece he wrote for his local chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a self-help organization offering friendship, understanding and hope to bereaved families that have experienced the death of a child.

I was asked the other day, “Because you have been on this grief journey of a dad for so long, how have you done it?”

Our first child, our son Justin Ross, was healthy and full of life. Just a day after returning home from a vacation, he laid down for his afternoon nap and did not wake up. I did not know such things could happen to a 16-month-old, but it did. After a lengthy and in-depth investigation into his death turned up no cause, it was ruled Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Today it would be ruled Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood as today SIDS is used only for unexplained death in children up to 12 months old.

Needless to say, this changed our lives completely. My wife was pregnant when he died and she gave birth just months later to our daughter Nicole. We lost our 3rd child, also a daughter, just before she was born a year after this.

I don’t really know how we got through those early days. We lived in a fog – a place of uncertainly and confused reality. You can’t remember things from moment to moment, but then reality strikes and waves of grief overwhelm you. This roller coaster lasts what seems like forever but is probably worse the first year or two.

Then you try to make sense of what has happened but there is no logic to anything in the world. People do not understand what you are dealing with and have all sorts of helpful suggestions. Only a couple of months after his death, I was told I needed to suck it up as I was going to be a new father again and had to be strong. I tried, but this is something you cannot do. All it did was drive my emotions down, only to erupt into a fury of anger and depression later. This was the cycle I lived on for many years. We did not have a social network as today. We had no Facebook groups or person to person meetings of other grieving parents. We isolated ourselves and dealt with it in the unhealthiest way – of being alone.

Oh, by the way, I am writing this on the 37th anniversary of his death.

Today we have a better community to help deal with such tragedy. I found the Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Foundation. They are there to support parents from the first day of this journey. They support meeting and talking with others who have been on this road and have somehow gotten down it a ways. The Compassionate Friends has also been a wonderful addition to my life. To know that you are not the only one who is struggling is very beneficial.

I didn’t find a support group for the first 25 years, but after I did, I was able to get a better grip on my grief. To talk to others is the best healing I have found. I am able to share the love of my children with those who have nowhere to share the love and loss of their children. The world seems afraid of us and doesn’t want to discuss the mortality of ourselves or our children. We have been forced to face it and somehow live with this every day.

Advice?

Be kind to yourself. Nothing I have heard or read about in the past 37 years is more distressing or painful as living without our children. What seems to work one day to alleviate your pain may not work the next. Some days a minute is all you can deal with – then maybe an hour. Any healthy distraction will get you a little into the future and may be able to change your outlook. Remember that you will not stay in the same place you are now – it will change over time.

How do I move forward to another 37 years? Just one moment at a time. I was just informed of a young couple who lost their little girl and was asked to give them a call. I think my son would be happy if I give that struggling dad a call today to share some of his loss with me. Please don’t try to do this journey on your own, lots of us out there want to share this road with you.

Justin was only here with us in person for only 477 days. Do we forget our children or their love for us? The 13, 515 days since he died proves that my love for him has not diminished at all. It continues to grow and will sustain me for the rest of my days.

Are you grieving the sudden death of a child? The SUDC Foundation is here to help. Please contact us at support@sudc.org.