Me: You mentioned the other deaths you have experienced and so my next question is: how did the experience of your dad dying, when you were 11 (15 years before Flynn died) impact your grief and how you grieved our son?
Landy: I had experience with grief because it was not only my father who had died, there were also my two grandfathers before that who I had really close relationships with. My father was the first of the trifecta of parents dying in my life and I was young. It was a very traumatic experience on many levels both with how it happened and when it happened and where it happened coupled with my age, being only 11 years old. I was aware of what it meant to have a father and what it meant to have someone permanently gone from your life but I now know that I also didn’t fully grasp the impact of not having my father in my life any longer. I can say now that the grief felt similar if I put the two moments together of my dad dying and my son dying. In those early moments anyway, they felt very similar to me. It was uncharted territory, very raw and I did not know what I was going to do next. I knew everything was going to change I just did not know how. When my father died that was obviously the first major trauma that I can recall in my life, the second major trauma would be Flynn. Prior to my son dying there were my two grandfathers who died and their deaths were like (and this will sound callous) but grief refreshers. I loved both of my grandfathers; their deaths were not as much of a trauma as a disappointment – at the time I wished that I could have them around longer. When they died I understood the inevitability of life, death and that their lives were going to end. I think I felt that it should not have happened as quickly or as early in their lives as it did but they were not young, they were grandparents, I mean they were at an age where we begin to expect that people may die. Their deaths reminded me again that we lose people in our lives and we are capable of remembering them, what they added to our lives and what they contributed to other people’s lives. We carry them on in our own lives, reflecting on them and who we are. I guess as a result of experiencing those three deaths prior to Flynn, I felt less shocked by what life was going to hold for me and was only shocked by the fact that now I had lost my son, who I did not know and who I would not see grow up and become someone more. It was like a cushion in my grief.
Me: Flynn died 12 years ago, from then until now are there still differences in how you and I grieve? How have you seen me change in terms of my grief and how would you say you have changed?
Landy: I have never really reflected on how I have changed in my grief. I am comfortable with my grief because I don’t feel like I have been “infected” by grief. That is to say, I don’t feel like grief is trying to tear me apart or pull me down. It is something that I have and live with and sometimes it is a little thicker than other days but typically it is quite tolerable and it is just sort of always there but not part of my consciousness. As far as you are concerned, if I had to guess or lay my observation on it, it is much thicker in you, it is always part of who you are and your day to day actions. There probably aren’t too many days that go by where you don’t react or act in a way that isn’t in some way impacted by your grief from Flynn – like directly related to Flynn. The career path you have chosen was definitely the influence of our son’s death. Almost your every way of life has been affected by grief in some form or another, mostly positive ways but very much a part of your being.
Me: How does Flynn’s anniversary affect you?
Landy: It usually affects me because it affects you. I have occasionally experienced Flynn’s anniversary as an absence of “something.” The absence of what should have been. A lot of times I experience it as an embarrassment because I did not think about it until I realized it was upon us or it had passed. There are times that you are acting or reacting in a way that is very deeply affected, maybe depressed, very saddened by the day and I am going “oh that is right, that is what today is” or “oh ya, that is what tomorrow is” or even worse “oh right that was what yesterday was.” The impact of that experience is embarrassment or shame and I question why I don’t remember or why isn’t this more of a significant remembrance for me? When that happens I find myself falling back on my other grief experiences and I think “well I don’t really have ear-markers to my grief days they are just always there.” I think about my father, my grandfathers and my son frequently and infrequently – I mean, whenever but not at specific points in the year. I try to remind myself that it is okay to not worry about those milestones because I allow their memory and my grief to come into my life when I need it to.
Me: Do you have ways that you remember Flynn or things that remind you of him?
Landy: Our children, they are probably the main way that I remember Flynn. I see the potential of who he could have been in them. I frequently reflect on what he would have looked like while looking at our three boys. That is pretty much it. Sometimes, like I said before, I see a boy that would be Flynn’s age and I think about that.
Me: In your opinion how has the death of our son impacted our marriage? Good, bad, ugly.
Landy: I think we have experienced all three at different points in time. Good in the ways that it has made us emotionally reflect on each other. We have dredged up things that maybe we didn’t want to or maybe we wouldn’t have and have worked through them. We have had to fight through some really difficult times and stuck together. I think it has made us realize the depths of what it means to be partners through horrible, horrible things. That is also the bad, because we did have to navigate a bunch of crappy things and we were forced to face them in our marriage and in ourselves and that was not pleasant. I think as a result of our grief we did a lot of things to each other and against each other that maybe other couples would not experience in their marriages. Yet here we are on the other side of it. That is really the good, the bad and the ugly.
Me: How has the death of your son impacted who you have become?
Landy: I know you might laugh at this but it has made me a more compassionate individual coupled with who you have become as a counsellor and as an experienced griever and the friends and people we now surround ourselves with. It has made me more aware of compassion and how to enact it with others.
Me: Last question. We are expecting again and I am wondering, what (if any) is the impact of a subsequent pregnancy on a bereaved dad?
Landy: At this point, not much. I very rarely think about grief when I think about this next baby but we are also two pregnancies since Flynn’s death. I do recall when we were pregnant with our Middlest being very afraid and very protective of the thought that everything is going to be okay. I remember distinctly reminding myself that it had to be okay and I got to the point of denying any thought that something could go wrong. I remember you being worried just the way the whole thing spun out of control in the end (of the pregnancy). I was just trying to not allow that thought, that he could die, to even enter my consciousness. With our Littlest, a lot of stuff had happened in our lives – so there was less denial then there was in the other pregnancy. Still I was very conscious of not wanting to think negative thoughts. I guess I am still there, I don’t want to think about what could go wrong or that things could be bad or that we could experience that again. I just know that is not who I want to be. I do have moments where I feel stress or am acting odd and maybe it is how I am coping with this. I think you are always affected by the death of your child in subsequent pregnancies, it manifests in different ways.
Me: Is there anything that I did not ask you or that you think you would want someone to know about what it has meant for you to be a bereaved dad?
Landy: Not that I am one for advice as I am definitely not a role model but I would say just allow yourself to grieve any which way that you see fit. To be as open and honest with your partner as you can when it comes to your grief – from the perspective that it is difficult to understand how you are acting when you are grieving and it can be a way to reflect on it. It may help you to get ahead of emotions before they are impacting someone else. Ultimately we are all grieving; we are all reacting spontaneously to what is happening in our lives and as a partner to someone who is grieving just realize there may be a lot of “figurative” punches thrown and they do not necessarily represent the core of that individual. It may also indicate that there is a need for outside support (like counseling) and that is okay too. What I have come to realize is the hurt may be something trying to work its way out and in doing that it is beginning the healing.