A mother’s grief as seen through a father’s eyes

Linda and Bella

Linda Lou Philo and Bella

One year ago today our mother, Linda Philo, left her earthly home and family to join her family in her heavenly home, she was 66 when she died.

There were five generations of women in my home on mother’s day 2012. I remember that day very clearly because it was the last time these devoted moms would be gathered together as a complete family. My wife and her sister would each lose a son to drug overdoses in the next year. Their grandmother and mother would also die 6 months apart, all before mother’s day 2014. Two sisters each losing a nephew and a son, their granny and their mother in a 24 month period. The whole family was devastated but I think the 3 daughters, and the girls, young and old, lost more than most men might recognize. Mothers day is Sunday, as it approaches I am observing a mothers grief through the eyes of a grieving father- this is what I see.

Linda, Lorri holding Bella, granny and Jess

Linda, Lorri, Bella, granny and Jess

I see the pain of my wife, I sense her silent grief and longing for her sweet mother and grandmother. Her eyes tell me of her pain though her mouth rarely communicates it to me in words. I also watch the aguish she carries over Jacob, our son, having a third of her heart torn from her chest. I have said at different times that I believe there is a deeper grief that a mother feels in the loss of a child that I as a father cannot understand or feel. They conceived, they felt the first kick, they endured the pain of labor, they nursed and nurtured them immediately and never stopped doing it. There is deeper love that mothers have for their young, it’s not better than a father’s love it’s just different, it is in my view deeply intimate.

fam

Our family before grief

For Stacey to suddenly lose her mother and grandmother was to lose the ones who had nurtured her most in life. Even as an adult she has admitted that her deepest sense of loss is that her mom and grandma are not here to nurture her anymore. Mom lived only a mile away as a crow flies and granny was often there or at her sisters house just next door. What Stacey wanted most in life was just to be a mother and to be mothered by these wonderful women. Mothers never cease to give their love and daughters are happy to receive their nurturing as it is dispensed. The girls in our family learned from the best, Marjorie and Linda were devoted loving and nurturing mothers and their girls are following their great legacy.

Jordan our daughter the stat girl

Jordan our daughter

To lose a child is to be robbed of the most natural instinct that a mom possesses. They are hardwired to be loving nurturers, wise counselors, and sympathetic comforters. Stacey still has two surviving children to be a mother to but death can never kill a mothers deepest desire to nurture, even when the one you love is gone. Perhaps that natural desire intensifies and deepens their grief, I can only speculate on this but I think it might be true. I have watched a mothers grief through the eyes of a father and come to believe they are pained not only from the loss of life, but also because she has lost her basin where her nurturing was once poured. I am just a man, I could be wrong but this is what my fatherly eyes behold.

girls 3

Stacey and Bella

I am not sure if the men in the lives of grieving women really understand this part of grief and loss. I doubt it is deliberate because men by nature are not nurturers, they are providers, they are fixers, they are many times purposefully emotionally disconnected from their pain. I am often accused by my wife that I am a woman, not that I am  unmanly but I try to understand how women are wired so that I might be a better husband to her. In my opinion the main circuit in the panel box of grief for a woman is the circuit of nurturing love. When the breaker has been tripped it leaves our ladies without the ability to receive nurturing or to give it out, their outlet for love has been short circuited. If a man would look through the eyes of a women for one moment they will better understand their grief and their unending pain. Men can help them by providing an environment where they can be loving nurturers once again.

As the father of a son who has died I feel the disconnect as well. I am hardwired to give encouragement to my son, to pour in wisdom, calling him to be courageous and to be a man in every situation of life. Death is the great thief, It has robbed me of this fatherly joy and the opportunity for me to have my boy come to me and say, “Dad, I need your advice.” The thief has also robbed my wife of receiving nurturing love from her mom and the ability of her to give it to her beloved boy.

the worm

The Worm

What is the greatest mother’s day gift for a mom who has lost a mother, a grandmother or a child? Time with the family is the most precious gift that can be given to these hurting moms. Men, buy her flowers on a day she least expects it and give her what she desires the most on the day we honor them most. Gather your family to her and let her be a mother, let her nurture and be nurtured, let her love and be loved. This is who they are, this is what they do best, this is what they desire the most- let’s give them what they want!

Finally, as a Christian man I am called to lead in faith as the apostle Paul did. How did he do it? He led as mother and as a father. He said, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7) Paul continues, “You are witnesses and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 ESV)

Hearing the voice of love

There are innumerable voices in the world. Voices that come into our ears that effect our thinking to direct our lives into the paths we find ourselves on. We are molded by the voices we receive and reject, these voices shape our thinking into our own distinct voice. It begins at our birth with the voices of those who love us most. Soon afterward we leave the safety of the love nest and other voices come to us, voices that may care nothing about us. Voices of educators, authors, actors, entertainers, acquaintances, strangers, media, the religious, atheists, politicians…. are all pouring the wind of words into our ears. What we believe will fill our sails and send us in the direction we have accepted as our core values, our truth to live by.

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Jacob Michael Fekete

When my kids were young we had control of these voices but that quickly changes as they grow older. Before my son Jacob died at the age of 22 from a prescription drug overdose I was observing this phenomenon taking place in his later teen years.We naturally are protective of our kids and care about the crowd they run with; why do we do this? Loving parents want to protect their kids from the influence of outside voices that can lead to bad behavior. Of course, we cannot always control this and there comes a day when it seems totally lost all together.

Jacob was a musician, he liked a lot of genres and had good taste in music. He sang this song by Casting Crowns when he was about 15, I believe his choice in this music at that time reveals his inner struggle with all the voices. Like many musicians they perform what grips their heart the most and I now believe that Jacob was struggling with his inner voice of doubt and the voice of truth.

The voice of truth

Oh what I would do to have
The kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I’m in
Onto the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is
And He’s holding out His hand
But the waves are calling out my name
And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. “Boy, you’ll never win!”
“You’ll never win!”
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth
notes
I watched how music shaped his personality for good early in his life, and some things I really didn’t like or find healthy for him came later. Music is a voice of influence that can replace personal thoughts with the thoughts of others. Sometimes there is a subtle adoption of the ideologies in the music, occasionally it is for the good of the person and other times not so much.The melody, harmony and the beat combined with the message serves as a messenger shaping our minds and will to some degree affect our thinking, attitudes, emotions and behavior. This is the point of music in commercial advertising; isn’t it? They hook you with a catchy ditty in the hopes you will remember it and buy their product.

College became the next voice of influence. Jake left home at 18 and for 2 years, it seemed to me that the goal of the university was to deprogram any values we had taught him. More voices started coming into his ears, more voices that didn’t give two cents about my son.They were steering his mind into new places, new ideologies and new ethics that weren’t all bad but certainly weren’t all good either.

My son came home from college influenced by many things, not the least of which was a drug dealer who wears a long white coat with a respectable MD embroidered after his name. Jacob realized he had a problem with prescription opiates his sophomore year. We didn’t know the depth of his problem until summer came and he told us of his addiction. He was in counseling and he had stopped using, we knew that drugs were a part of his life but had no idea of the depth of it. He really struggled with depression and panic attacks also and had learned to cope with it by self medicating. Of course recreational use of drugs and alcohol was also encouraged by many other voices surrounding him, including his own voice. However, there were also a few voices of friends who cared for Jake very much and encouraged him to stop.

Our son was clean after his sophomore year, he sat with his mother and I as he unloaded all the things that happened while away at college. He carried immense shame and guilt over what he had become and told us that he was clean and he needed our help to stay that way. I remember him saying how much peace he had by telling us the truth. He decided not to return back to GVSU but enrolled in an engineering program close to our home. He would again have a voice of loving influence close by, the new school also provided some good voices that helped him in his new path and for that we were thankful. While trying to help Jake and to keep him accountable I talked frequently with him over the summer break. I advised, “Jake, delete the bad contacts from your phone and avoid all contact with people who don’t give a crap about you.” (namely people involved in drugs) I also repeated this phrase all summer long, “Listen to the people who love you, we love you!” Jake did just that and things started moving in a good direction, the ship was still on rough seas but on target for port again.

academy 2

Then Justin died. Justin is my nephew and Jacob’s cousin who were a year apart in age. Justin died of a heroin overdose in the spring of 2013, it was especially hard for our family and Jacob who grew up with him right next door. The funeral was very large and Jacob went to the podium and spoke of his beloved cousin. He ended his talk with the very thing I had been ringing in his ear since he returned home from college, he said, “Listen to the people who love you.” It finally sank in for him!

Nine months later much is weighing on Jacob with school and his personal life. He still grieves for his friend Craig who he lost in high school, also for Justin and now his granny who died three months earlier. He came home one evening after visiting his very ill grandmother as I lay asleep on the sofa. Jacob burst into the house clutching his chest and screamed,”Dad, I’ m scared, I’m scared!” He was having a painful panic attack. I helped him by sitting him down, giving him some aspirin and talked with him until his heart settled down. He refused going to the hospital and would later go to bed when he felt better. About two weeks would pass and my wife would wake up to find our son dead in the basement from an overdose. We believe he had another attack and tried to cope with it in an unhealthy way.

I sometimes look at his pictures and just wonder why he didn’t listen to the people who loved him most that evening. Perhaps his own voice told him that the drugs would ease his anxiety and pain and his voice drowned out our voices of love. I don’t know, what I do know is that you can never love enough and you can never love too hard. The deeper we love the deeper the pain of grief; love deep anyway. My wife Stacey said to me early in our grief journey, “It’s better to have loved deep than never to have loved.” Her voice of love helps me to remember to do just that. It is so important to listen to the voice of love.

Voices have influence in our lives, the voice of truth and love always seeks our best interests. Who wants the best for you? What we listen to shapes our lives in many ways and we have a choice in the voices that we listen to. I have found it best in life to listen to the voice of love and the voice of truth. Who loves me most? Who’s voice affects me the most and changes my life for the good? God loves me more than anyone else and his word is truth; I listen to him. Then there are those closest to me who speak in love and truth as well; I listen to them also.

Why do I listen to the voices of love and truth? King Solomon says it better than I can, listen to his voice. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ears to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:20-23 ESV)

 

Get a whiff of this

Its coming up on a year since Jacob died, he would have turned 23 on March 3rd. I had 22 years of opportunity to influence his life for good and now I live with only the memories of what I did right or wrong. Do I wish I could change some things? Certainly. Do I live with regret? Sometimes. Was I an ideal father? No. Is my conscience clear? Absolutely. I was not perfect, I made allot of mistakes but I was honest with him about my failures and he was always willing to forgive me of them. I could have done better but I did the best I could.

What matters most to me when I think of the influence I had in Jacob’s life? The answer to that question may shock some people, but before I answer that question let me digress for a moment and share something else with you.

Stacey and I love open air joy rides, we used to do it on a Harley but now we do it in a 1985 Jeep CJ7. Cruising with the top down in early summer is awesome! We enjoy the sun, the sights and the smells of spring. The warmth on our faces and the beauty of northern Michigan’s lakeshore, rolling hills and the sweet fragrances of lilacs along with the overwhelming aroma of the orchards with their apple and cherry blossoms. But occasionally we drive past a rotting deer carcass, a pig farm or a skunk who lost a standoff with an SUV. The fragrance of spring can be quickly replaced by the worst of smells. We naturally prefer the sweet smells but in reality we are confronted by both. My life was an influential fragrance to Jacob and my life is an influential fragrance to you as well if you have taken time to read any of my posts. What do I mean? Continue reading and let Paul explain.

Paul writes, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of his knowledge in every place.” The apostle is thankful and encouraged that God was using him to bring the smell of Jesus to the lives of everyone in every place he went. But incredibly this influencing aroma rose above and beyond the nostrils of men to the very presence of God in heaven bringing pleasure to him. Paul continues by saying, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” God is pleased when the knowledge of Christ is diffused by his children. But sadly, when the sweet aroma of eternal life in Christ is rejected it becomes the bitter smell of the death and judgment on those who reject it. He adds, ” To one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life unto life. ” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16) The gospel rejected reeks of death but the gospel received is the fragrance of eternal life. God is glorified in his grace and mercy as well as in his holiness, justice and wrath.

As a father did I diffuse the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus to my son Jacob? Yes, as best I knew how I did; my conscience is clear in this matter. This is all that matters to me in the sphere of influence that I had in his life, and in yours as well. Why? Because a soul is priceless and when death comes to take a soul into its eternal home what matters most is what you did with Jesus of Nazareth who is raised from the dead. As Christian’s we are to smell of Jesus, we diffuse his aroma by sharing with people the good news of eternal life that is found in him alone. When we spend time with Jesus we will have his aroma and people around us will get a whiff of his sweetness wherever we go. As we do this, the aroma of the Son of God rises to the heavens and reaches the nostrils of the Father, and in this God is well pleased. We smell of life to those who believe and of death to those who do not.

Be encouraged believer! Your in a victory parade and Jesus is leading the way. Be faithful in sharing Jesus, be encouraged when people enjoy the sweet smells and don’t be discouraged when they think you stink. Why? Because God is pleased with you every time you share the gospel of his Son in your circles of influence. This is the most influential thing we do, this is what matters most because it has eternal, not temporal significance and reward.