Since my son died, I’ve stopped making eye contact with people on the street. When approaching another pedestrian on a crowded sidewalk, I am no longer the one to politely step aside.
I’ve stopped routinely waving to my neighbors. When traveling, I’ve stopped making small talk with cashiers and hotel clerks. I tend to eat in my room so that I can avoid seeing others – especially young people – having a good time.
Although I still check my social media channels most days, I rarely like or share anything. And, I get a little bit angry when I see photos of food, vacations or proud parent moments.
Since my son died, I get surprisingly mad when someone posts a tribute to a dead pet. The sad irony here is that my son loved animals. We’re hard pressed to find a picture of him without a dog by his side. In college, he once babysat for a pit bull while its owner spent 90 days in jail. He always comforted friends when they lost their cats or dogs, and he was our main source of strength when our family’s golden retriever died.
Since my son died, I’ve stopped worrying so much about coasters. I’ve stopped rinsing bottles before recycling. I’ve started leaving my laundry wherever it falls. Another sad irony. My son was a neat freak. Everything tidy, straight, clean and combed.
I speak my mind more openly now. I’m less tolerant of stupid opinions. I’m less concerned about what others think, about always trying to be the conciliatory one. Since my son died, I guess you could say my heart has hardened.
My heart has softened, too.
On the road, I’m less apt to honk my horn when you flash your headlights behind me. Perhaps you’ve just gotten a phone call like the one I received. “Come home now, it’s an emergency!”
Since my son died, I no longer take it personally when you are rude or abrupt. I understand your rancor. I literally feel your pain. When I see you sitting alone in a restaurant wearing dark glasses, I want to send you a drink or pay for your dessert. I understand your need to be alone, yet to be surrounded by the numbness of noise.
As a bereaved father, I know that I embody your worst nightmare. When you lose a spouse, you become a widow or widower. When you lose a parent, you become an orphan. But, there is no specific word to describe someone who loses a child.
Fathers are supposed to help provide for their families. Protect them. Keep them safe. Guide them through good times and bad. Make everything better.
Like you, I watched with pride as my son graduated from preschool, elementary school, high school and university. I saw how much his friends loved him, craved his company, and cherished his infectious laugh.
I applauded his job at a local juice bar. Nothing to do with his degree, but at least he was earning. I listened patiently as he explained to me the virtues of kale smoothies and tart cherry juice. I tolerated his recent disdain for processed meats. He started getting thinner. He said it was because he refused to put BHA, BHT and other harmful chemicals into his body. Everything, evidently, except for heroin. That’s the saddest irony of all.
Since my son died, I suddenly appreciate all the admonitions we’ve heard a thousand times. Hug your kids when you get home. Don’t pass up a recital for a late business meeting. Don’t skip a soccer game because you have a report due in the morning. Avoid work emails on weekends. Savor every day you’re able to spend with your loved ones.
Finally, at home and in the office, I am now confident that I will be to achieve the impossible, because I’ve survived the unfathomable.
Since Anthony died.
Pete Marsh is a Senior Marketing Executive at Newscycle Solutions.