It was 14 years ago this October when I received the phone call that's every parent's worst nightmare. My ex-wife called to tell me our 29-year-old son Jesse had died.
My life came to a screeching halt, and for all intents and purposes, felt like it was over. I remember little about the next several days, except that when I woke up in the morning I felt okay for a few moments until the reality set in again. I wasn't in a relationship at the time, and the only phone call I made was to my best friend Tony, who showed up at my door in minutes without a toothbrush or a change of clothing. Tony knew whom to call, and he stayed with me for several days before I said I was all right to be alone. Other friends came by with groceries or dinner regularly. I can't imagine how much worse my life might have been without their constant love and support.
I spent the first year at home just trying to adjust to my staggering loss, and with the exception of friends' visits I was a recluse. I ate, slept, and cried, and barely functioned otherwise. My heart was shattered and I feared I would never be whole again. I'd loved Jesse as much as a father can possibly love his son.
I went through each of the five stages of grief, moving quickly past denial since I wasn't stuck there. But I found anger a challenge. I hated God and cursed him every day, albeit without satisfaction. I was furious for being singled out in the worst possible way. Why Jesse? Why not me instead? The shining beacon of light was my oldest son David, who selflessly, graciously spared me the pain of packing up Jesse's apartment.
Fortunately I was in therapy at the time, and in addition I had my tight-knit group of guys who supported and sustained me. I also found The Center For Attitudinal Healing in Sausalito, California that hosted a grieving group for parents who'd lost children.
Healing was snail-paced and incremental, because unlike all the other crises I'd worked through, this one cut too deep for a rapid recovery. I encountered a few amateur human beings while grieving, whose unsolicited advice was to just move on. I learned many years ago that someone who's incapable of feeling their own pain isn't capable of feeling anyone else's either. Telling someone who has suffered a devastating loss to just move on is akin to telling a drowning man to just flail harder. Since I didn't need any more glib advice I avoided people lacking in emotional depth.
As the start of the second year I felt it was time to begin living some semblance of a life again. But my life had strayed so far from normal I had no idea what that might look like. While I'd been a life-long entrepreneur, my appetite for business was gone. I had a sweet vision/visit from Jesse around this time, which I've since learned isn't uncommon. And while my grief didn't magically disappear, the nightmares did.
I've wanted to be a writer since my freshman year in college, and I began writing about men's issues, drawing from fifteen years in a men's group. But after a few months I decided I'd rather write about boomer sex, dating, and relationships instead because I had ample experience in each, and I was starting to date again.
The Huffington Post was starting up Huff/Post 50, and I was invited to be a contributor. The opportunity to talk to millions of fellow boomers about social issues appealed to me, and I've been a regular contributor ever since. Several of the writing gigs I've been hired for were from editors who found me on Huff/Post 50. In addition, I was fortunate to be able to incorporate thousands of readers' comments into my boomer, dating book. Thanks Arianna.
My passion for writing has played a major role in helping moving me along the healing path. I still think about Jesse every day. I miss him terribly and I always will. But I derive comfort from knowing he'd be proud of me.