'Tell Your Story': Grieving Dads Project Founder Talks Mourning The Loss of a Child
By: Legacy Staff
9 months ago
The loss of a child is a trauma that’s unlike any other. The grief that comes with it is a harrowing experience that leaves a parent’s very identity forever altered. After the deaths of his two children Katie and Noah, Kelly Farley started the Grieving Dads Project, a blog aimed at supporting fathers in their grief and helping them feel like they're not alone. We spoke to Kelly Farley about his experience as a grieving dad, advice for new grievers, and more.
What was the best thing that someone did for you?
This is a great question and one I needed to think about prior to answering. On many levels, I felt like I was abandoned by many friends and family members that didn’t know what to say or do. I think when someone loses a child, it become a little more complicated because the parents are ultra-sensitive and well-intended comments are often dissected and misunderstood. As part of writing my book, I traveled around the United States and interviewed 100’s of grieving dads from all walks of life and reasons for losing a child. I wanted to know if there was consistencies in common issues. The feeling of abandonment by friends and family was one of those issues. I also spoke to many of the “friends and family members” that say they really don’t know what to say, so they say nothing out of fear of saying the wrong thing and causing more pain. However, grieving parents read this as abandonment which causes the bereavement parents to withdrawal deeper into their pain. This vicious circle generally progresses into more isolation and loneliness.
This brings me to my answer to the question, the best thing anyone did for me was to acknowledge my pain without trying to solve my problem. Sitting in silence and allowing a bereaved parent to talk about their pain and their child is one of the greatest gifts one can give. There are no answers to this pain and trying to solve the “problem” of a bereaved parent often does not go well. Unless you have walked this path, you truly have no idea on deep this pain goes.
Was there a particular gesture you found most meaningful?
Yes, for me it was when someone was not afraid to talk about my children. Tell stories them how their child touched your life. Say their name and listen to the bereaved parents' story. Allow them to cry without apologizing. This is a pain that must come out and the gesture of allowing them to confide in you is a powerful gift that you are providing. Call them to check in. Ask them how they are doing and mean it. Be willing to listen when the answer isn’t, “I’m ok”, because they are not.
What have you found to be the most helpful during your grief?
Allowing myself to be transparent and vulnerable with my pain. This sounds like an easy thing to do, but for men (and many women), this goes against everything we’ve been taught and what society expects. However, setting one’s pride aside in order to heal is a critical factor. Once I learned this lesson, I decided to attend support groups for bereaved parents* and started to go to counseling. I realized the more I told my story, the more I released the pain. It has been 13 years since the loss of my daughter and nearly 12 years since losing my son, but I still tell my story and probably will the rest of my life. It is my way of shedding the pain and keeping their names alive. The one thing I learned from the 1000’s of bereaved parents I have meet is that one must find a cause and purpose that allows you to honor your child. Something that gives you hope. I have learned the hard way that there is healing in helping others. It can be a simple gesture or something as big as starting a non-profit related to your child. Whatever you purpose is, find it and pursue it.
*Legacy.com has private grief support groups that can help, including one specifically for parents grieving the death of a child. Find them here.
Do you have any advice for those who want to offer sympathy and support?
The greatest gift you can give a bereaved parent is the gift of a compassionate listener. Some people will still try to avoid the conversation, I was one of them. As a guy, I didn’t realize I had the permission to feel my pain. I did what I was taught as a young boy, I toughened up, or at least I tried to. This approach worked for a while, but the façade I had built started to crumble about a year after the loss of my daughter. I was coming unwound, but I kept it to myself and kept trying to push through it. However, eighteen months after my first loss, I lost my son and I couldn’t hold it together anymore. The problem was I didn’t know how to ask for help or where to go for support. I finally shared my story with a stranger at the church I was attending at the time who actually listened while I wept uncontrollably and told him my story. He didn’t try to stop me, he just listened and when I was done, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “that’s a heavy load brother.” Those five words changed my direction and I can say probably saved my life. I learned at that moment, that I needed to find more opportunities to allow myself to be vulnerable and transparent. My advice to those that have bereaved parents in your life is to be that persons that listens and acknowledges the pain. Some will take you up on your gift, while others will still try avoiding going to the place of pain. However, keep trying, without pushing, because at some point the pain must be released.
What’s surprised you about your experience?
How deep the pain goes and for the duration of the pain. I was also surprised that I couldn’t control or rush through the pain. Early on, I was confused because all of the grief books tell you that grief takes about a year. I remember sitting in my counselor's office asking if I was going to be like this forever. It had been almost a year after my second loss and I was still living in this heavy fog with no hope. I actually thought that I was supposed to wake up after a year and be my old self. That didn’t happen, in fact, I was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This was a surprise to me, I thought I was dealing with grief only. However, I’ve learned that many bereaved parents suffer from PTSD due to impact or losing a child. This is often overlooked by medical professionals and dismissed as complex grief.
What’s one thing you’d like to share with a new griever?
The death of a child is the toughest thing you will ever have to face. Early on, it takes you to places you didn’t realize you were capable to going. It’s dark, it’s deep and it’s lonely. You will live in a fog that is all consuming. However, it is just part of this process. You will never go back to the old you, it is not possible and the sooner you accept this, the better. My approach to life is so much better now. Although I miss my children every day, I now have hope because I made a conscious effort to do all of the hard work that allows you to become free of the burdens that set in early on. My advice is to find a counselor, go to support groups, tell your story, surround yourself with others that are hurting. I believe “misery needs company” and the understanding from others that are also fighting to survive this pain. Some of my best and most trusted friends are the people I met in support groups. There is a bond that can only be formed by surviving such a profound event with someone who also knows the pain you are carrying.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience that may help others?
The best advice that was giving to me was “be kind to yourself.” Every day will be different and the same for quite a while. Let the day be what it is, don’t try to question it or change it. Allow yourself to feel and process this pain. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but in order to reach it, you must start by unloading the burden that has been place on you. Surrender to the process.
Kelly Farley was caught up in the rat race of life when he experienced the loss of two babies over an 18-month period. He lost his daughter, Katie, in 2004, and son, Noah, in 2006. Like many men, during these losses and the years that followed, he felt like he was the only dad that had ever experienced such a loss. Kelly spent several years trying to put his life back together. He realized during his journey that society, for the most part, doesn’t feel comfortable with an openly grieving male. That realization inspired him to start the Grieving Dads Project and to write his book Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back. Kelly has a passion for helping people “pick up the pieces” after a profound life event. Kelly commits his time to connecting with and advocating for bereaved parents. He is currently working on the Parental Bereavement Act of 2017, a federal bill designed to help provide bereaved parents with unpaid leave from work after the death of a child.
Are you grieving the loss of a child? Find support from others in our private grief support group.