Freddie the Leaf
I remember in college I took a course “Death and Dying”. I know, sounds morbid. It was actually an enjoyable course. Learning about different cultures and the various ways we celebrate, grieve and move through death. And of course, the five stages of grief (Kübler-Ross). One thing in particular I remember is having our professor show us a video of his father’s funeral. A video he produced. He explained how he was intrigued at the ritual especially since his father was a military man buried in the military way.
As a young boy, age 14, I experienced my own fathers death. His dying came as a shock for all of us as he left us at the young age of 42. I use the word ‘shock’ with intent. That was my initial response – what? dead? gone? really? Seems like it lasted for years. Because of my family situation at the time, I didn’t have much support to lean on. I mean, I had friends and that was better than nothing, but I remember feeling I needed something more. Something deeper. It simply wasn’t available for me.
I remember my son’s first experience with death. October, 2013, we made a decision to euthanize out beloved Labrador, Max. The time came upon us slowly and that gave us some time to prepare. To be honest, I was terrified to talk with my son. I was so worried I would say the wrong thing and give him nightmares for months. I was worried that I’d get triggered, loose it and then have him wounded from me loosing it. After talking about my fears with some other adults, I removed the stories behind it all and saw it for what it was – fear. Simple and clean. And, a boatload of sadness.
I remember preparing what I was going to tell our son. I wanted to write it down to get an idea of what I was going to say, then go from there. I researched age-appropriate material and finally sat down to write…
Max is really sick. He’s in a lot of pain and is very old. His body isn’t strong enough to stay here anymore. Mommy and daddy decided to end his suffering in a good way.
Tomorrow we’re taking him to have an injection that will help him die. It’s very peaceful and doesn’t hurt him at all. We love Max very, very much. This is a very hard decision for us and we’re very sad. We think it’s important for you to say goodbye to Max. We won’t see him anymore.
As a parent, there are many times I want to put my son in a bubble. I want to protect him from the world’s pain. I want him to be safe, happy and free from any suffering. But that’s a complete disservice, isn’t it?
Pain is part of life. Suffering is part of the process. Grief, sadness, fear, anger, all of it. It’s part of the experience we have as humans interacting with other humans (hell, even the animals get a taste of it).
As a father, I sit in the space of support for my son whenever he needs it. I make room for him to cry, be angry, and be scared. I don’t need to ‘fix’ anything…just sit and be witness to his grief. It’s not easy and I guess that’s just part of my suffering, isn’t it.
Grief, pain, suffering – some say it makes us stronger? I don’t know, does it?
It makes me more human, that’s for sure.