The trauma and grief that a parent experiences when a child dies is unique unto itself. It has its own zip code, its own language that cannot be understood by those who cannot speak the dialect. I am the father of Jacob Michael Fekete who died March 26, 2014, around 10 am that day I received the call that Jake was dead. I was stunned numb, shocked and speeding home in a fog of disbelief. This isn’t real, this isn’t real I said out loud as I got nearer to home.
Nothing in life prepares you for this day, this hour, this moment that I raced to the basement to find my wife of 25 years slumped before our son wailing, why, why, why? I bowed over her back and embraced her and cried uncontrollably. I ran my fingers through Jacob’s hair in unbelief that my boy was dead before us, it wasn’t long and the emergency personnel came. The police followed soon after and would investigate an apparent overdose.
Soon after the emergency responders arrived the first responders of family and friends came. The trauma is surreal, it feels like a dream yet you know it is happening. You are in a fog with occasional moments when you are acutely aware that this actually is happening. Like floating in and out of consciencness, in deep shock from a terrible accident I felt as though I had been rushed into surgery. The surgery begins but there is no local anesthetic or anestesiologist on site and you feel an unimaginable pain. Family and friends are tearfuly whispering prayers in the waiting room while the great phisican stops the bleeding, sets the bones, repairs the internal injuries and binds up the wounds. This was first step toward healing being performed on my soul; I am moved to intensive care and rehab following that. Life is changed forever and I now expect to walk through it with a noticeable limp.
Major surgery is taking place yet at the same time there are many who are working with the great physician. They function as specialists and nurses to carry out the specific orders of the doctor. So many people came during those first hours with tender care for our hurting family in our traumatic time. I remember the fog giving way to some clarity in those first hours. My good friend Dave sat with me and cried. He, like everyone else, had no words but I remember saying these to him.”Dave, I always prayed to God that he would keep Jacob safe and draw him to himself.” At that moment I realized something about that prayer. I said to Dave, “God has answered that prayer, but not like I expected or wanted. Jacob is safe and he is with God, please don’t let me forget that Dave.” The pain comes in waves, I recall one episode that day sobbing uncontrollably as everybody silently watched my agony. It was similar to the wail that I heard come from my mother-in-law the day that her grandson and my nephew Justin died. I said to myself that I never wanted to hear such a cry in my life again, but I did, and it came from me. The trauma was intense yet the grief would begin to diminish slowly.
A couple of weeks after the funeral I learned something important about grief that I will never forget. I went to do a job and the manager Kevin gave me a glance but then quickly looked away. He was hurting, he was in pain for our family and his heart was grieved also. I was still deep in raw grief but he was hurting too; how could I help him? Gaylord our friend and wise funeral director has said to me more than once, “Grief shared is grief diminished.” Here are a couple examples of that great reality. It began by me stopping my friend and asking, “How are you doing Kevin?” He responded, “Man, how are you?” From there we discussed many things about Jake, panic attacks, depression, family, faith and our shared hope in Jesus Christ and the resurrection. Our conversation ended with a totally unexpected conclusion. Kevin said to me, “Thanks Mike, I feel so much better.” What I learned in that one statement I will never forget. From that point on I knew I had a responsibility to share my grief that others grief might be diminished just as Gaylord had said.
Grief took on a new understanding for me at that point. If Kevin were to pass me by and I hadn’t stopped him, his pain remains and so does mine; nobody receives comfort and we are left alone in our grief. I began to view grief in others as a wood splinter that gets buried deep in a hand. It takes time for the infection to build, the pain is bearable but noticeable everyday until the time comes that the splinter can be pushed out. Kevin felt better when I helped him get the out splinter that was causing him pain. As for me, I took a small step closer to healing because of that experience. Grief is hard work, it challenges us to open wounds again for others but in the process we are being healed by doing it.
A favorite teacher of Jake’s and I brushed paths a few months later. The eye contact came and so did his tears, he with broken words told me he had tried twice to write me a letter about how much he cared for him and to express sympathy for our loss. He was apologetic, he said that the words couldn’t be penned and the letter never was written though he had tried many times. He continued to cry openly in our local convince store isle, stumbling with words and tears dropping on the floor. He kept saying he was sorry but I stopped him and said to him. Scott, you don’t need to write a letter, I can read the letter in your tears.” We left each other that day better because grief shared is grief diminished.
I truly believe it is unhealthy for myself and others to withhold my story. This is why I tell my story and this is why you may need to tell your story. Dealing with grief head on is the most difficult challenge I have had to tackle in my life. Therapy after trauma is painful but needed to heal and become the new you. Push grief away and the symptoms will resurrect themselves in sometimes ugly and unhealthy ways. Share your grief and you will find that your grief will diminish.This is my story, I tell it because it diminishes my pain and in the process maybe others pain will be diminish also.