I watched as my daughter Alexis Agin was buried. Two weeks shy of her fifth birthday, an insidious killer known as cancer took her life without mercy. We spent 33 months in the journey that ultimately culminated with the worst loss possible. We had time, most of it good, to come to terms with what unfolded before our eyes. Over the past week, we have all been inundated with the tragedy of Newton, Connecticut. It has been seared upon our collective consciousness. The thoughts of the children who were brutally murdered has not left my mind. Ordinarily, I am focused on childhood cancer and the quest to find a cure for this dreaded disease. With that said, there are now twenty sets of parents who will undertake the excruciating task of saying good bye to their children.
From a father's perspective, the loss is different from that of a mother. We are strong. We are supposed to be strong. A lot of the focus is on the mother as we fathers are often left to deal with the emotional toll in a different manner. And thus, as the nation focuses upon the grieving parents, I thought I would share some thoughts. One grieving father to another.
We do not "get over" this loss. The fallacy that as a parent we somehow "get over" the loss of a child is, frankly, maddening. When you lose a child, so much hope escapes with this loss. The hope of your child growing up, going to college, playing sports, marrying and having children of their own, it is all lost. Why would I want to "get over" the loss of my child? I will never "get over" my child. She was a part of me. She was my first-born and the love of my life. I was wrapped around her little finger from the moment I met her. Thankfully, I have never heard these words. I am however aware of other parents who have. They cut you. They startle in their frankness and harshness. And, although the people who say them are well meaning, the words do not take into account the magnitude of the loss. No, we will not "get over" the loss of a child.
Nor will we "move on." Move on? I do not understand. Why would I "move on" from my child. I want to remain connected to the person who filled our house with such love and joy. I will never "move on" from my child. The thought of trying to move beyond my child or the loss is foreign. When someone says these words, I understand that they simply mean that you as a parent should try to put your life back together and live as best you can. The problem is that I picture these words. They conjure the physical thought of moving my earthly presence beyond that of my deceased child. And that simply does not sit well with me. I can live, and I can be as normal as my mind will allow me to be. Nevertheless, I do not ever want to "move on" from my child. I want to maintain whatever connection may hold us together, and that may be pain.
I have found that as the weeks and months pass, and the initial numbness subsided after about six or so months, pain was and continues to be such a strong connecting concept. It is often through moments of the worst pain that Alexis is the closest. And thus, I embrace that pain. I accept it as a surrogate for her physical presence. It is a difficult and horrible substitute for her being here with me, but the reality is that it is sometimes all I have. And so, as a father who lost a child, you need to understand that there are times I do not want to be taken away from the pain. There are moments when the pain, though raw and open like a jagged cut, connect me with Alexis' spirit and earthly presence. I do not enjoy the pain, I simply accept the pain and the reality upon which it is based.
Life as you know it ceased to exist. It simply was taken from you and you will never get it back. This is a very difficult concept for those who have not lost a child to understand. It does not mean that we are unrecognizable and will never be able to fit within what most believe to be "normal" society. Rather, it means that we will always bear that heavy burden of loss upon our shoulders.
The loss of a child is that much different from the loss of any other person in our lives. In 2002, my only sibling, Gina Agin, was killed in a car accident. It was a sudden, tragic loss that still affects me to this day. I had no time to say goodbye or spend with her prior to her death. Yet, the loss of my child has touched me in a far different manner. It has changed every fabric of my being and transformed me beyond any concept of who I was previously. For me, I have embraced this change and found that I have a different purpose for myself as a childhood cancer advocate. I fight not for myself, but rather for Alexis who battled so bravely. The fight I have chosen is Alexis' journey. It has provided a purpose and direction beyond any I had previously. And so too will those who lost children in Newton find this passion. It is not something that happens overnight. The process of grief is just beginning and it will take a lifetime to unfold. That is part of the sad tragedy. It is a tragedy that will impact upon every fiber of each individual differently. The parents are now all bonded in this horrible fraternity of loss that from that day forward will shape their souls beyond any other event.
We will not move on, and we will not get over our loss. We will however live life to the best of our ability, always putting one foot in front of the other in the endless march to create purpose. And so too will those who have recently suffered this loss. It is just beginning.