I am husband, father, brother, and son. I am the primary breadwinner of my household. I am a voice of reason for many people in my life. I have a solid home, working cars, great family and friends, a good job with good benefits. I have good clothes and shoes to wear, I have food on the table and gas in our cars, and I have four wonderful fur babies and a wife who is absolutely perfect for me.
Despite all of those things – and against the very grain of how I am built – I have anxiety for the first time in my life. Not in a ‘some things make me anxious’ kind of way, like wanting to get something done. And not when I’m stressed because I take on too many things (though I almost always get all of those things done). I mean this in a ‘I have to plug my ears and cover my eyes for five minutes’ kind of way. In a ‘I can’t talk to anyone right now because I’m about to freak out’ way, and in a ‘I can’t look at that screen because it’s moving too fast’ kind of way. I’ve spent my entire life moving 100 miles per hour, handling as many things as I can take on and feeling like I’m doing it well, and all of the sudden I can’t handle my dogs barking for any length of time. Out of absolutely nowhere I can’t handle the normal interruptions at my desk without having to calm myself down afterwards. My headaches are more frequent and the tension in my shoulders is strong no matter what I do. It’s been 29 months since we found out that we lost Luke and almost 16 since Jonah was born and I thought I had seen more of the sides of grieving your children than not. I had been through both peaks and valleys, understanding that one day I might finally make it through and hoping I’m walking in the right direction.
It hit me recently that out of all the writers I follow now, very few are men. If that few are writing about it, even less are talking about it and fewer still have found a connection to a real live person dealing with the same kind of fatherhood they are. Too few of us are out there talking about how hard this kind of fatherhood is, so let me say this loud and clear:
I’m a Dad to two glorious angels and live a good life. And I’m currently depressed.
There is no shame in having weak moments, needing time for yourself, or wanting to talk about what’s on your heart. There’s no right way to do this despite what the world tells you, so do whatever you need to let yourself feel everything there is to experience because it’s all we get. Work on something, take something apart, split some wood, or go for a run or bike ride, but do it for yourself and sit with what’s on your heart even if just for a moment. If you’re out there hunting for someone who feels like you do, you’ve found him. If you want to know if this is normal, it is – more than I or anyone else could even explain. The strongest thing you can do in grieving your children is recognize that talking about this weakness and hardship goes a long way towards healing. I’m not done yet but I believe that this life will still turn out alright in whatever form that takes, but it’s going to happen because I’m willing to have the hard conversations. I’m willing to fight the battles because if I let it take me too far downstream I’ll lose all of those wonderful things and the amazing woman who made me a dad in the first place. If I sit in it too long I lose the only connection I have to my children and it takes far too long to step back into the light.
I am a person of faith, and there is a parallel to the story of Jonah in our lives outside of choosing that name for our son. After losing him I read and re-read every chapter in that short book hunting for something – anything, really – that would bring him back to me when I need it. What I found was something that speaks to my heart so deeply that I go back to it both in hope and in darkness:
“The abyss surrounded me, the weeds of the sea entangled me. I was finished. And yet I remembered your grace and you saved me.” – Jonah 2:5-6
I think about being in the belly of that great fish, some place between elation that I’m still alive and brokenness at what remains for me now, and I remember where it all started. The hope of parenthood, the heartbeat of my children, and the dreams that I still strive to reach for. When I am in the darkest place I have ever known – snared by weeds and the coldest of water, feeling like I have no hope left in me – I remember the life they had instead of their death. And they save me.
Benjamin (BJ) McCartney is a proud father to his personal angels, Luke and Jonah Allan, and loving husband to Cassy. He is the author behind Diary of an Almost Father , an outreach blog focused on speaking to those looking for a thread of commonality and honesty in dealing with their grief. With a heart for helping families – and men navigating their way through loss in particular, the fight to share lessons he would have taught his children has become a powerful place to speak from. He can be found on Facebook here.