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Living with Grief – Being a Grieving Father

Living with Grief – Being a Grieving Father

Being a grieving Father, coping with the loss of my son and moving into the unknown.

It was the afternoon of Thursday 16th March 2022 that I learned that my son had died. We were living in Spain during what were to be our final months there after 19 years. The village mayor was the one who told us, frank and to the point he just came out with it, right there in our living room “he’s dead”. What followed was a demonstration of Spain at it’s worst but that is in another post.

Warning: This post talks about suicide

Being a grieving Father is tough, impossible even. Grief affects everyone in different ways so it’s impossible to tell if what you are feeling normal or if it’s unique to you. Guys don’t tend to show their grief and I kind of fall into that as well, instead, I’m putting it down here where I can take my time, think through and take a measured approach towards what you guys read.

This is me, Mac and I am living with grief.

My eldest son Josh took his own life on the night of the 15th March 2022. It was when he didn’t turn up for work the next day that someone went around to his house and found him. He left a letter but there was no explanation.

being a grieving Father
There is no handbook for grief

Suicide is different, there is a stigma attached to suicide. Would a fatal car accident have been any easier to deal with? No, but suicide adds something, it’s like a dark cloud that overshadows your very being right at a time when your world has been ripped apart.

There is no proper way to feel grief, no handbook or even a direction. There are a multitude of emotions that make themselves present on a daily basis, anger is one emotion I still experience today, as well as deep sadness – often both at the same time which is impossible to deal with without creating some separation for myself. One thing at a time, if possible.

After Josh’s death I wanted to know how he had come about choosing the method he did, morbid perhaps but I needed to know how long it would have taken and what exactly happens. I needed to know if he had suffered or if it had been quick. For me this was part of getting things right in my head. I needed some kind of clarity so when it all came crashing down like it did every day in the beginning I had an understanding of just that part of it at least.

Going down the rabbit hole

For me, thoughts are dangerous. I often find myself just staring out of the window or at the computer screen, my mind in a mess, going down the rabbit hole and thinking about all of the ‘what if’s’ and the ‘why’s’. The rabbit hole is a dark place.

a grieving father
there are no rules with grief

Finding yourself in a thought process which may be unhealthy is not good however it may well be part of the healing process I just don’t know. I look at my son’s photograph on my phone every day without fail, for now almost a year on that is enough.

Pursuing thoughts of the situation he found himself in in Spain as well as our personal and somewhat strained relationship at the time does me no good. The thoughts are there ready to be examined in detail but just not yet, I can dip in and out of these kinds of thoughts, I just can’t stay amoungst them for too long.

Every day

I think about my son every day, happy memories are at the front of my mind, the bad memories are just too painful to even skim over. I can laugh although in the beginning it felt wrong. Having any kind of joyful emotion felt wrong, a guilt came over me like I wasn’t allowed to feel happy. A year on I no longer feel like that but Josh is ever present in my thoughts whenever I break a smile, for this I give myself permission, I am allowed to feel happiness. I can smile again.

suicide adds something, it’s like a dark cloud that overshadows your very being right at a time when your world has been ripped apart.

Every day the pain is there. Suicide changes you, it changes you in one short single moment and forever. There is no getting away from that fact. Some days are easier than others, there are days when I just can’t think of anything else, feeling a weight in my chest dragging me down. There are some days when something comes on the TV or I find a photograph and I can just about keep it together although not always.

Every day is tough.

Leaving Spain

For us leaving Spain was the best thing we ever [eventually] did. We left too late and should have gone ten years earlier. Sorting out the funeral and all that went with it [in Andalucia] was hands down the most challenging thing we have ever had to do. Making the decision to leave was easy even though we’d leave a life of nearly 20 years behind us.

The move was tough, there was one reason why we left and our plans hardly had a solid structure to them either as once we were back in the UK we were pretty much homeless. We had also left Josh’s life behind too, he was just a baby when we moved to Spain in 2004 and it had been his home.

Mente Fria granada
Josh [with camera], Gayle & Nico with Granada rock band ‘Mente Fria’, 2017

Almost every memory I have of our son is from Spain, for me it wasn’t just leaving the country it was leaving behind something else. At first this was very difficult, like I was leaving my son over there, abandoning him and his memory in a rural part of Andalucia. Some days it still feels like that but I have to keep telling myself that he is here with us back in the UK, back home.

People don’t know what to say

My experience so far has been that most people don’t know how to conduct themselves at all. Death is not contagious but you’d think it was by the way some people go on. I think suicide throws them, it’s not a normal death it’s the stigma that rears its ugly head again.

Some people say nothing, ignoring the fact that my son has died. This can be particularly upsetting when you’re sure that your ‘good friend’ would have been different with you. Some people just can’t handle it and while I was shocked at the behaviour of some I was surprised by others, people who I hardly knew suddenly became a shoulder to lean on.

I get annoyed when people ignore my son’s death, you can see them, uncomfortable, thinking about what to say. The eyes tell it all. It also irritates me when people [including family] are too cheery around me like it’s been a good few months now and I’m supposed to be over it. Mindless platitudes mean nothing and reveal more about how uncomfortable the person saying them is than anything else. The best thing anyone can do is just be there, just in case.

The only people who do ‘really’ understand are the parents in the same position.

I don’t pretend to be “OK”

I don’t pretend to be ‘OK’, it’s impossible for me to be OK when I’m not. People ask “How are you?” but never want the real answer, they are terrified that you might open up and begin to talk about the dreaded suicide which, in the main, makes most people feel very uncomfortable which begs the question why did they ask in the first place.

My wife and I are rock solid, if I’m having a bad day I tell her, she covers for me with phonecalls and suchlike because when you’re having a bad day stuff like that you can do without. Just knowing that she knows is enough.

Feeling anger

As a grieving Father feeling anger is normal for me. I am angry my son has left me, I am more angry about what he has done to his Mum, his family and friends. I don’t fully know why he took his own life but I see it as a way out for him that could have been avoided, too drastic, extreme, final.

The anger I feel is at him yes, but also at myself for not being able to steer him in a different direction, to avoid the process of him ending his own life. I also understand that he did not do this ‘to me’ and that he was in a place where he felt that there was no other option.

Josh 2002 – 2023

Questions form a relentless circle rotating through my mind on a daily basis, there are too many questions none of which will ever be answered. It’s done, over. I feel sad that my son could not approach his parents and ask for help, nor his friends or anyone else who he knew. The not knowing is hard to deal with as is the thought of him factory re-setting his phone and stuffing the letter into his pocket.

Sometimes the pain is too hard to bear, like something is wrenching your guts from your body.

Being a grieving Father is tough, there is no doubt about it but I try and stay positive for my family and other son. Life is very different without Josh, more challenging in many ways but I continue to get out of bed every morning and carry on, remembering the great times we had, the laughs and all the bits in between.

New normal

I suppose there is a ‘new normal’ beginning to establish itself. After Spain became so toxic we moved with the aim of starting again from scratch in our home country. Putting distance between our old life and our new one has been difficult but also advantageous. I don’t look at my grief as something to be overcome, more something that I have to manage, this would have been impossible had we stayed where we were.

Nothing makes losing a son to suicide more bearable, the old ‘normal’ has gone for good and will never come back. I can however, by managing my grief and supporting my family, create a new normal and a new way of life that will make us, as a family unit stronger allowing us to move forward but never forget.

It was a privilege to have known my son and he will always be remembered.

Resources:

  • Samaritans – 116 123 [website]
  • SOS Silence of Suicide – 0808 115 1505 [website]
  • Papyrus Hopeline – 0800 068 41 41 [website]
  • SHOUT – [text service] 85258 [website]
  • CALM – 0800 58 58 58 [website]
  • Breathing space [Scotland] – 0800 83 85 87 [website]
  • Lifeline [N.Ireland] – 0808 808 8000 [website]

Support following suicide:

  • Survivors of bereavment after suicide [website]
  • Support after suicide [website]

If you have experienced the loss of a child by suicide and wish to add any thoughts please feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks.

1600 900 Mac

Mac

K90overland is Mac and Gayle, they lived in Andalucia for 19 years before moving back to the UK. Overlanding since 2019 the pair have built up a 'budget rig' and now enjoy a relaxed approach to discovering Scotland and the north of England.

Mac

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