by GARY SILLETT
Father’s Day is a day of mixed emotions for me. A bittersweet day. Every year, I find myself engaged in a delicate balancing act.
There is the joy of the day and being a father to Callum, and the sense of loss over my other son Isaac not being with us and thinking of what our family could have been.
You see when people ask me how many children I have, I always tell them that I have two wonderful boys. But people will only ever see me with one son.
My second son passed away in December 2010 after two days with us in the NICU at Royal North Shore Hospital.
In the lead up to and on Father’s Day there is excitement in a normal household. This is a day of recognition for fathers for the work they do and the role they play and most importantly the joy they experience being a dad to their children.
Sadly, so many men, once excited at the prospect of being a dad (many for the first time), never get to experience a “normal” Fathers’ Day. Some also never get to experience a normal fatherhood at all.
These men are part of a club which swells by over 3,000 new members each year through stillbirth, neonatal or infant loss alone.
Coping with the loss of your child at any time is both emotionally heartbreaking and physically devastating. It is a pain that endures. You never know the moment when your next “down day” will come, no matter how long ago you lost your child.
Modern society has conditioned men to conceal their emotions as a sign of strength, but a grieving father feels the loss of a child just as keenly as the mother will. Although men don’t express themselves like women do, it does not mean that we grieve any less.
That’s why a special occasion like Father’s Day is a day of potentially tumultuous emotions for us dads as it can exacerbate the hurt of our loss and our wistful thinking about what could have been. These feelings may not always be able to be kept in check even though we try to be strong for our families.
To me and for the members of our club, Father’s Day is both a celebration and an acknowledgement that we too are each a father to a child we adore. A child who is sadly not with us today.
While some men may prefer to let Father’s Day pass without any acknowledgement, it is important to understand that a father who has lost a child of any age is still a dad, his child is still the child he loves like only a parent can. And his loss is an anguish unimaginable to the very lucky majority.
For me, commemorating Father’s Day is a way to remember our lost child with love and to honour my role as his father.This day (as well as Isaac’s birthday and Mother’s Day) is a very special time for me and my family. It’s a time where we shut ourselves away from the rest of the world. It is my family time to be spent only with my wife and my living son where we remember Isaac and we do something special together without any interruptions.
That is what works for me but of course every father will be different. Some men will want distance on this day, and some men will want to be around friends and family.
If you want to support a grieving dad during this time, the best gift I believe you can give him (and a mum at any time) is to acknowledge their child and recognise their loss, no matter when it occurred. It’s a loss that never goes away. Affirm his role as dad.
I miss Isaac every day and treasure my precious time with him. I’m proud to be his dad. I’m proud to call Isaac my son. Now and forever.
And I would like to acknowledge all dads on Father’s Day – and every other day of the year – with this poem by Judi Walker.
A DAD HURTS TOO
People don’t always see the tears a dad cries,
His heart is broken too when his child dies.
He tries to hold it together and be strong,
Even though his world’s gone wrong.
He holds his wife as her tears fall,
Comforts her through it all,
He goes through his day doing what he’s supposed to do,
But a piece of his heart has been ripped away too.
So when he’s alone he lets out his pain,
And his tears come like falling rain,
His world has crashed in around him,
And a world that was once bright has gone dim.
He feels he has to be strong for others,
But Dads hurt too, not just the Mothers,
He searches for answers but none are to be found,
He hides behind a mask when he is feeling down.
He smiles through his tears,
He struggles and holds in his fears,
But what you see on the outside is not always real,
Men don’t always show how they really feel.
So I’d like to ask a favour of you,
The next time you see a mother hurting over the loss of her child, please remember…..
A Dad hurts too.
In the lead up to Father’s Day and beyond, to help both those parents you may know who have suffered the loss of a child and those you don’t know – those who are fated to suffer this anguish – please consider making a gift or donation to one of the many wonderful organisations that do amazing work with bereaved families.
These include Heartfelt, Pillars of Strength, Mums Like Me, Sids and Kids, Bears of Hope, LAMB, Stillbirth Foundation, Pregnancy Loss Australia, SANDS and Yasminah’s Gift of Hope. Anything you can contribute to help them continue support bereaved families is truly appreciated and makes a real difference.
Gary is a bereaved dad who lost his son Isaac after two days in the NICU at RNS Hospital in December 2010. From this experience in 2011 Gary set up Pillars of Strength, a unique charity created to provide timeout and support for dads while their baby is sick and also help bereaved dads after the loss of their baby.
He is also the General Manager of ICARE an International Aid and Development organisation.
Gary is married to his wife Amy and has another son Callum, aged three years old, who loves the Wallabies and Lightning McQueen.
Many families like Michael and Pip have been helped by the incredible work of Heartfelt – a volunteer organisation of photographers who go into hospitals to photograph stillborn babies and terminally ill children so that their parents have a record of the moments they shared. You can support their work here.
These images are being shared with the kind permission of the families.
Photo by Gavin Blue, Heartfelt