One year ago, in December 2017, my husband had a moment I can only describe as life alternating. He lost his father, and I watched my husband and his brother start a journey so painful and loving that I was not sure how to help either of them other than to be present when needed. These two men have dealt with so much loss in the past ten years from the death of two of their oldest siblings and battling health issues like my husband’s cancer diagnosis in 2014; their resilience and steadfast nature to take care of their families were paramount. It never occurred to them to be anything but strong, just like their father.
When a man loses his father, it is such a unique experience and biologically changes the son, as documented in several pieces of research I found in my search to be well-read and ready for what my husband was going through; I was distraught to find out I could not wave a magic wand and ease my husband’s pain. I had to embrace the uncomfortable task of watching my husband mourn and evolve. Joshua A. Krisch states in his article on losing a parent, “losing a parent is the closest thing humanity has to a universal emotional experience. But universality doesn’t dampen the trauma of the event, which tends to inform and affect the rest of peoples’ lives. Even under the best circumstances, studies suggest that losing a parent changes an adult both psychologically and biologically.” In my reading, I did keep going back to Brian Burnham’s article, “Losing Dad: How a Man Responds to the Death of His Father.” The article helped me understand his drive and love for his mother and how through her loss and pain he stepped in to fill a void. It’s been an incredible and humbling journey to watch how my husband has dealt with loss and his new role in his family. I never saw him stop and wallow in any self-pity or anger, he walked this season of life with a deep level of respect and kindness for all around him. I realized that it was not without fear and worry, but it was with a trust and faith that he respected the loss as much as he valued the life lived. He inherited this trust and faith because his father built integrity, trust, accountability, and faith into the foundation he used to raise him.
As someone who was raised without a father, it is fascinating to me to see how a father can change your life experience and sense of identity. When a son loses a father, there is some realization of how finite life indeed is, as Mr. Burnham, discusses in his article
Death teaches us why legacy is essential, and a legacy built on helping others is crucial to fulfillment in life. Lux Narayan showed this need in his TEDTalk, “What I learned from 2,000 obituaries,” helping others in our society changes the fabric of life. I will always be grateful to my father-in-law for raising a man of integrity and accountability. He has helped so many by merely raising a man who is willing to help others with no expectations of something in return or praise of his efforts.
“His heritage to his children wasn’t words or possessions, but an unspoken treasure, the treasure of his example as a man and a father.” — Will Rogers Jr.