Celebrating Father's Day After Loss

by Stephen Linkous, Heartstrings Dad

 Stephen and wife Michelle watch their son James in the NICU.

Stephen and wife Michelle watch their son James in the NICU.

Father’s Day: June 21, 2015.  A day that I am not eagerly anticipating.  For myself and many other ‘Angel Dads’ it is a day that we’d rather pretend did not exist.  I was doing my best to sweep the whole thing under the rug, when I was asked to write this article.  Though I was quick to accept this challenge because of the hope that I may be able to offer to others, I soon realized that I must reckon with Father’s Day for myself.  No more pretending Father’s Day doesn’t exist.

Here’s a little of my story:  My second son, James, was born on June 6, 2013 at 24 weeks.  Even though the odds were stacked against his survival, I never let the possibility that he may not make it go through my mind.  That was unacceptable.  However, on June 8th, after 51 hours of life, James passed from this life to the next.

Father’s Day that year came so soon after James’ death that my family and I actually did just pretend it didn’t happen.  It wasn’t a conscious decision but we were buried in the fog of grief.  Father’s Day 2014, I have to admit, is a blur.  My wife bought me dog tags bearing all my children’s names, which I wear proudly every day.  But looking back to that day, I was only present in body.  My mind was working too hard to block out the pain of loss to really show up.

I guess I thought this year would be similar, but not anymore.  I have realized that the prompt to write this article came at just the right time.  True, one of my children is not physically present to celebrate with me, but James will, on Father’s Day and every day, be in my heart.  I am his father. He is my son.  I love him.

Though the holiday is meant to celebrate me, I have decided to celebrate James - daddy’s little buddy.  First, I am writing this article in his memory, in hopes that it will help another father through his own personal fog.  Consider writing yourself - write a letter to your child, tell your story.  Share it with someone else or keep it to yourself, but consider writing this Father’s Day.

Second, my family and I planted some yellow roses and a hydrangea in memory of our angel.  Tending to them - watering, pruning, mulching, fertilizing - makes me feel that I am demonstrating my care and love for James.  

Lastly, on Father’s Day, I plan to get away for a little while, and do 51 repetitions each of push-ups, sit-ups, squats, jumping jacks, and run 2 miles.  That’s one repetition for every hour of James’ life and a mile marking each day.  I will set aside time to celebrate a life gone too soon.  I will dedicate this portion of my day to James, remembering every second that I am his father and he is my son.