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Episode 6: What About Dad?

Episode 6: What About Dad?
Featuring Dean Ives and Andy McCall
St. Jude Expert Michael McNeil, MD

Standard Introduction by Justin Baker, MD

Connecting Through Grief When a Child Dies is a program for bereaved parents created by St. Jude parents who have experienced the death of their child.  I’m Justin Baker, Chief of the Division of Quality of Life and Palliative Care here  at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. 

This podcast is hosted by one of our parents, Penelope’s Dad, Andy McCall.  Andy is a good friend of mine. He is a father, a husband, a 2nd grade teacher, an author. It is through Penelope that Andy’s relationship with St. Jude began.  Penelope was treated at St. Jude when she was just over a year old.  Penelope did not survive her cancer and peacefully passed away at home just before her second birthday.  When you listen to Andy, you will hear him introduce himself as Penelope’s dad – because he is and always will be. 

Andy’s Intro

Hey, I’m Penelope’s Dad, Andy.  Did you know that research conducted on bereaved parents has revealed little information about dads and grief?  One reason for that is that most participants in research on grieving parents have been mothers.  Grief is hard work for all parents who have lost a child.  I know that grief has been and still is hard on me.  As a dad not only to Penelope, but also to young twins, Scout and Maizie, understanding my own grief and dad grief is super important to me.   In this episode you will hear my conversation with another dad about our grief journeys.  Dr. Mike McNeil, physician and researcher, adds his own perspective on Dads and Grief.  Let’s listen.

Andy: There's so much power in dads talking about their grief. I'm here today with another bereaved dad, Sydney's dad, Dean. You just tell everybody about that beautiful girl, Sydney, and, you know, really about your relationship with Sydney. Because I know that with Penelope, being a girl dad is something special, and something that maybe we don't talk about as much, but it's something inside of us that it's really hard to explain sometimes.

Dean: I love that our identity somewhat has become you're Penelope's dad and I am Sydney's dad, and we introduce ourselves as that. And what a platform we have to be able to talk about our little girls.. Sydney was our first born. So she was born in August 5th, 1998, and she was, what? She was that special thing in our family, and, you know, to never dream that we would battle with that word cancer. So, not to get to too much detail, but Sydney was diagnosed in 2008, at the age of 9, with a brain tumor, and definitely rocked our world. And since then, we had had a son that was born. He was a couple years behind her, Carson. So, just had our perfect little family. Sydney was my outdoor, you know, little partner, loved to be with dad, so she was my little helper.

Andy: So, did you all, you know, I know with Penelope, I just love doing things, just me and her. Was there anything special that you all did that was just like, "Oh, that's mine and Sydney's time"?

Dean: Yeah. And actually, I mean, it's cool to look back at pictures even, because I noticed, you know, even recently looking back that, you know, washing my truck and being out in the garden, building my deck, that there is a little girl next to me in most of those pictures. So, it's pretty cool.

Andy: That is. And I think, you know, everybody can hear it when we talk about, you know, our children, our voices get a little bit higher. And smiles, and I know they can't see us, but, you know, dads... And just to acknowledge that, you know, we don't talk about our feelings and our emotions a lot, you know. I love Penelope with every ounce of my being, and, you know, I know how much you love Sydney, and, you know, when they died, and we had to deal with these new emotions, you know, a lot of times, we don't. And, you know, I don't know... I see that a lot is, as a dad trying to navigate this grief world, it's very hard, and maybe you can agree or disagree. You feel alone a lot because there's not a lot of dads that talk about this.

Dean: Right. I know we hear the word "stoic," and kind of the "suck it up" mentality, as all men do, you know, and that's just kind of the way we are. And I definitely fell into that suck it up mentality, and move on, you know, kind of, gotta take care of my family, you know. I had my other son and my wife, you know. I'm like, "I gotta get back to work," kinda push aside something that probably shouldn't have been pushed aside.

Andy: Right. I love you said "move on," because, you know, you have that whole thing of my little girl, or our children, and it was hard for me to think about move on, whereas I wished I'd went back when I started and thought about moving forward. Because as men, you know, we want everything to be A to B. We want it to be, "Okay, I'm feeling bad right now. I gotta control this. I gotta fix this." We're fixers by nature. And the healing's not linear, you know. We go up, down, side to side, you know, all which way before breakfast sometimes, and we have to accept that. And I think that's hard because as men, you know, there's differences in how we talk about our grief with other people, versus the conversation you and I are having right now with another bereaved dad. I mean, how powerful is that for you to talk to another bereaved dad and not have to explain yourself? Like, it's just like, "Oh, he gets me." Or, "They get me," you know, "These people get me with this."

Dean: Yeah. Well, that's definitely something I noticed too that with men, in particular, is that even preparing for this, I had to shift gears, you know, coming in and just not normally known as multitaskers, you know. It's just kind of getting our mind focused on what we're gonna be talking about, and I think that's just a big dynamic with dads and moms, you know. The moms are used to just navigating all kinds of emotions and different tasks, and it was just a whole new thing for us.

Andy: It definitely is. I mean, I think that's the thing we have to highlight is, you know, the moms and the dads, or the spouses, you know, we all grieve differently. But I think the important thing is is we actually grieve, and we actively grieve. And, so, let's go back to that. You know, the funeral happens, you're sitting at home, you know. What was that like? Were you all still there? Did you have any, you know, big things happen? And, you know, what was it like for you at the beginning?

Dean: Well, I know, like I said earlier, I had the American dream. You know, a job I hated, and big house, big mortgage, two car payments, two kids, and I was living the American dream up in Northern Illinois, and what I thought was the perfect life. And then it got rocked. And, you know, like you said, at that funeral, it was definitely that shift of going back to that job I didn't enjoy, and I'd been in it, but it did provide for my family. But it was learning how to navigate into, I know we use the word "seasons" a lot in our grief, but it was definitely learning those seasons. And I don't know if you're this way, but I have to, like, dig up some memories sometimes, because I've really pushed them so far back that it's like, I forgot about that, you know. And I look at pictures of the funeral and stuff, and I'm like, it was like it was a different person sometimes. And I look at that and see me holding my son, you know. He was just a young guy, you know, and just even having discussions now with him just, like, "Man, I just, you know, what a crazy thing to be going through." So...

Andy: So, did you all stay there? You know, did you just keep trying to make that American dream happen, or did you all just, you know, did...

Dean: Well, it was definitely different, because coming back in to work, you know, you were kind of that... It was that pink elephant in the room for a lot... I was in manufacturing engineering, so a lot of it, working with men. And it just, going in the restroom, and at the sink, they would just be like, "Sorry." You know, just really quick, because you'd just, they didn't know how. And I, you know, you just give that grace. And I've learned that, you know, they just, they hurt for me, but they didn't know how to express it, especially as man. And I mean, I'm not quite sure how women express that…

Andy: Yeah, I think that's the big thing is acknowledging that. Like, for us, it is awkward, because number one, we don't talk about our emotions and feelings. And now, sitting there with another man, or coming in contact with these people now, you're sort of faced with, "Okay, we have to talk. What do we even say?" And with your wife, you know, I know that in...or, you know, your family, even family members. You know, that's super hard to learn how to talk about those things. And, you know, did you have, you know, any big loss that prepared you for any of this? You know, nothing prepares you for cancer and childhood cancer, and nothing prepares you to lose your child, but did you ever as a man have to deal with those things before, or...

Dean: Well, growing up, I hadn't really been to... I think my parents kinda guarded us as kids. So I hadn't really been to funerals or anything good or bad. I don't know. I feel like what... My son's been to way too many funerals, but I didn't really experience grief probably till later on. My grandmothers, you know, I was pretty close to them, and just, both of them in their late 90s, lived a full life. I mean, the clichés that we say, you know, "they're old," you know, but it was still hurtful. Those were probably the most I could probably relate, but it was just kind of that expected. Sydney was the first unexpected, just, hurt, that just stung like I can't explain.

Andy: So, I know for me, and as a man, I tried to stay busy. I did everything that I could, whether it was go back to work, or put myself into projects, or, you know, try to get away from those awkward situations where I didn't have to talk about it. And some of those weren't very good for me at all, and some of those were... You know, what are some things, you know, I know when you talk about stories that we've done, but what are some ways you dealt with that at the beginning? Good, bad or otherwise?

Dean: It's crazy how busy I kept myself. I was working full weeks, but just, not even realizing how much I was meeting emotional needs by working on... I had a motorcycle that I just pretty much tore down. I mean, I just, wiring, everything. I just was tearing it apart, eating a ton. I was an emotional eater. But my big claim to fame was I was spray-painting our slogan. My last name's Ives. So we had the slogan "Ivestrong. We were Ives Strong through the battle." And so, I just got little stencils and I just spray-painted Ivestrong on everything. I mean, my lawn mower, my snow blower, the walls, you know, my tools. I still pull tools out that say Ivestrong, but it's just, I'm like, "What was I thinking? What mindset?" And I remember, like, Tasha, all the time, she'd come out. She's like, "Why don't you come in? Let's, you know, sit with us, and we're watching videos." I'm like, "No. Absolutely, I'm not ready." You know, I remember I was pretty adamant about I'm not ready to dig up that. So I'm just gonna keep whittling away at my stuff here and spray-painting.

Andy: Right. And I did. You know, I ate. You know, at some points, and I'm not... You know, it was part of my journey. I drank here and there, and thought, you know, we think that by doing that, by having some control, like, "Oh, I can rebuild this motorcycle," or, "I can go do this and have some control," I didn't realize I was doing that at the time. But for me, I saw a picture of myself. And you talk about emotional eating. I just saw a picture of myself and I was like, "Who is this guy?" Like, "That is not me, that's..." And then I took it even a step further of like, "That's not Penelope's dad right there in that picture."

St. Jude Expert Mike McNeil:

My name is Mike McNeil, and I'm a combined pediatric hematology-oncology fellow and hospice and palliative medicine fellow here at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. And my particular area of focus is palliative care, and in particular grief and bereavement in underserved settings in communities, both within the United States as well as around the world.

Fathers is an underserved community within palliative care research, right? You know, over 75% of parents who are involved in palliative care research are mothers.

A lot of times when we're interacting in the hospital, right, the fathers are the first ones to return back to work or they continue to work throughout their child's illness. And so kind of having a captive audience can be tough. And, again, just that cultural view of, "I don't necessarily want to be involved with that," can be really tough, just when the face of the parent who's involved in the care is often the mother. And, you know, I think the combination of those two things are some of the biggest challenges that we face in getting fathers involved.

And so we really don't have that perspective on the experience of grief and bereavement for fathers, and to hear two dads talk about their experience was incredibly powerful. But also with that limited research, there were a lot of similarities, I think, in particular, multiple times, they brought up the idea of being stoic or not showing emotions. And that's a common theme in the research that, you know, the cultural expectations of men to not cry, to not show emotion, to have that stiff upper lip is consistent with what, you know, both what Dean and Andy were saying, as well as what we're seeing in the literature.

You know, a quote that I heard from a bereaved father in another setting was just the fact that, you know, when people don't say my child's name, they die over again, right? And that by sharing these stories about our children is what keeps them alive and keeps their memory alive for us. And so, I do think that it is critical for fathers to discuss it. And it may be uncomfortable because the rest of society is uncomfortable, right? We still don't understand how to help grieving individuals and parents, in particular. And so, you know, it may be uncomfortable in that setting, and so talking with those that may not have a similar experience. But when you listened to Dean and Andy, who were both bereaved fathers kind of talk to each other, that camaraderie, that shared experience was able to open doors and share.  And so I do think that having things for bereaved parents to work together, talk together, experience these things together, can be very helpful when they may not feel as comfortable talking about this with someone else who has no foundation or understanding of what it may be like to have had a child die.

Andy:  So, did you have, like, a spark, or was there something that made you realize, like, "I'm not handling this right," or, "I'm not even handling this at all."? I mean, you know, that was my thought. As a man, I was like, I thought I was okay because I was working, you know, people saw me, I had a fake smile on my face a lot, you know. I would answer with "I'm fine," but for me, it was that picture. What was that for you?

Dean: Well, definitely the connection. My faith was a big part of it, but the community of being blessed enough to know... I guess I can say that Tasha, my wife, was a big part of, you know, "Let's reach out. Let's be that blessing to others in this grief." And St. Jude has these opportunities to do that. And I'm like, "Oh, let's explore that." Wow. What a big opportunity for me, but to see how much that branches out, and just having that connection, even with you, Andy, I just, that instant brother, you know, that you have that, just, you can connect with, that I realized, and I can look back and you say, "Oh, I get that," you know. And then I'm so thankful that so many of these dads, we have... It's such a slippery slide. You can see it going down a road, like you said, into alcohol or, you know, definitely obesity and bad health, or even dissolved marriages and stuff, which I love to hear the statistics are changing on that, hearing more marriages thriving. But it's just, I love that I was able to, you know, connect. I needed that connection with other men. And it was, I think, at that point, I don't have a timeline on that that it happened, but man, just talking to other guys, and just being able to laugh, and get back to some normalcy, I guess.

Andy: Right. We talk about that new normal a lot in all the episodes, and, you know, it might be the same problem, and it might be different, but when I actually took the time to grieve, or actually took the time to say "what is wrong?" I noticed I almost felt lost. Would you agree with that? Like, I almost felt a little lost, and I really, I thought I had control, but I really didn't have control of what all was going on or why... You were spray-painting everything, you know. And that's hard, because during that whole end-of-life process, and after the funeral, I think, as a man, like, it was really hard for me because I didn't have control. I couldn't save my little girl.

I lost that purpose. I lost, you know, like, Sydney was your purpose. You can hear it in our voices. Sydney and Penelope, and all of our kids of the parents that are listening to this, they were our purpose. And you hinted at that just a second, that we have to find that purpose again. And how did you... You know, you said that Tasha really helped you. I think that's big is having that support there with it, but was that hard for you to say, "Okay, I'm going to take this step and talk about this."? Was that hard for you? Just, I mean, being a man. Not as much as Sydney's dad, but just being a man and saying, "I'm gonna open up and talk about my feelings," because for me, I never did that at all.

Dean: I don't remember it being tough. I think I wanted to be heard. When, like, if anybody comes up to you, Andy, I know, and they said, "Tell me a story about Penelope," you're never gonna be like, "Eh." You definitely... You know, that's one thing I've learned. I love talking to dads and just be like, "Hey, tell me about Katy. Tell me about Penelope." You know, and so, I never had a problem, you know, discussing anything about Sydney. I mean, I'm an open book, and as you can tell, I can just talk and talk and talk about what it's done to help me, and that purpose, you know. I just... But I don't remember anything being, like, pulled out of me. I did, and I highly recommend, counseling. I did get into some counseling, and had to go on some antidepressants for a little while in my life. And so, that was definitely, talking through some different things that was opened up by a professional, that I never really had a problem with. I thought it was very helpful in my journey, though.

Andy: You know, when I started talking about Penelope, I think you said it perfectly. We can talk about our children all the time, and I didn't focus as much on her death anymore, which I thought that's what grief was, "Oh, I'm just gonna focus right here about the bad parts." Whereas the more we talk about our children, and the more I talk with you, as another bereaved dad, and the more people we talk, yes, I cry, but I got over that "It's not manly to talk about your feelings," and, you know, rub some, like you said, rub some dirt on it at the first. I realized for me, it was healing, to, you know, somebody said, "Oh, you helped me so much," but I looked at that, I was like, I feel so much better after talking about Penelope. Because, you know, we don't get a lot of those chances, because we're trying to pay bills, we're trying to work, we're trying to fix the house, we're trying to do all these things, you know. Do you feel better after you talk about Sydney or after you get to do something in her memory or her name?

Dean: Absolutely. I mean, it's daily, and I think you and I both would say we are better people today because of their short lives and purpose here on Earth, you know. I know I'm doing so many more things, but absolutely. I mean, I can always dig up some memory in those 11 years she was on this Earth that just would bring an extra spark. And it's even remembering to do that with my wife. And now, it's been a little different with my, you know, 19, almost 20-year-old son, to say, "Share a memory about your sister," and just kind of trying to figure out where he's at in his grief. And sometimes he doesn't wanna share that.

So, you realize that not everybody is like me. You know, that's the thing. He's a very different personality than I am, I guess. I'm more extroverted. He'd be more introverted, but he's a brilliant young man, I guess stoic, you know. I don't know [inaudible 00:20:13] very... But again, he's handling his grief well. I mean, there's no right or wrong in it. It's just, he doesn't have to share about his sister. But I still once in a while, "Hey," you know, "Do you remember doing this with Sydney?" And man, sometimes he lights up on the couch there talking about a Nintendo game or, "Oh, this song reminds me of Sydney," or something. So it's pretty cool. I mean, I definitely, in our family dynamic, the word "Sydney" just, I think, has that light that will be there for as long as we are, you know. It's just, it's a beautiful word to our minds and our hearts.

Andy: Yeah. I think that's important is, well, we've said it throughout the episode, is everybody grieves differently, but it's just so important that you do it in your own way, you find that purpose. And, you know, like we talked about, as a man, right after the funeral, it's that awkward phase, and then we start burying it. And now, we're at that part of our lives where, "Okay, we need to do something about it. We've been overeating for way too long. We've been suppressing this with the wrong things. I'm starting to talk about it." And we've found that purpose is we're gonna keep their memory alive. And that's how I still get to be their dad. So, what do you do now that is your thing for Sydney? So, you know, I know what you do, and I have tried to model running after you, but, you know, you've changed your whole life. I mean, you know, your picture of who you were before to the man I'm speaking to now are two totally different physical features. So, tell me about that.

Dean: Yes. I say I shifted my purpose, you know, that purpose that was introduced to me, and seeing that purpose, life, in Sydney, and I'm like... And you said it earlier. Living out Penelope's legacy, just what a beautiful young girl, and she would be so proud of what you're doing even here today. Because I know you're a different man because of what, you know, her little life, but I definitely shifted crazy gears. I mean, like I said earlier, I was in a job I hated, but it was that American dream, it's what you did, you went to school, you know, manufacturing, you know, and just trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grow up. And still kinda am doing that at 51 years old.

So, I'm a big kid, and just realized that that's okay. I love it, because what I did was when Sydney was in treatment in Memphis, I started running. That was my healing. And I realized all those years as a, you know, a gym rat that I was in there lifting weights, and I was like, "Cardio? What's that? You're crazy. Well, nothing's chasing you. Why are you running?" kind of guy. And realized that, I know they talk about the runner's high or whatever it was, but I realized it was a connection moment. I'd found myself in a lot of prayer, running through the streets of Memphis, and it was a time that was...that I needed, and found that it really got me focused, got me focused for the day, gave me some clarity. And from that, we moved from Illinois to Nashville, and at first it was, "Let's get a little closer to St. Jude." We've got some family in Nashville. Quit my job after 20-plus year, 25-plus years in manufacturing, and just said, "I'm gonna try something different." And had lost, said, "I'm gonna get rid of some of this weight," got rid of the weight. Lost 100 pounds at one time, and just said, "I gotta do this. I gotta live with purpose." And I seeked this for a while, and ended up starting in management at a running store, Fleet Feet in Hendersonville, just a suburb of Nashville here. And now it's constantly, day after day, I mean, I am talking about Sydney. Certain brands have done stories on our relationship with St. Jude, and I definitely know where I will be at the first Saturday in December every year, except when they do them virtual. And so, it's just that, you know, it just shifted gears. And I, you know, and how the blessings come from that. And I get to talk about Sydney every day.

Andy: So, running was your way to deal with that whole mess of, we'd say, cancer. And, you know, and now, do you see it as, when you're running, is that your time with Sydney sometimes? Like, do you ever run and like, she just pops in here and there, or when you're tired, she's what keeps you going, you know?

Dean: Yeah, absolutely. And I think you and I both, and I've seen you just improve so much with your running. But we both made that trip to Memphis in the last couple months, and I said, "I just gotta go be alone." And I took a lap around St. Jude, and I was in tears. I really was. And it's not bad. It was, I mean, I'm sure people driving by are like, "What's wrong with that guy?" You know, I grow the beard and all the look tough, but man, I just, I missed my girl. It just, my word is sucks. You know, it just sucks. I missed her. And I had so many memories inside those gates. And that running was just that outlet that day, and it was beautiful.

Andy: It is. Man, and I think that's so important that as a man, we find that time that we can just be with our children, and use that as our purpose, and as our mission, and drive. And I mean, look where, you know, you said you started running little by little and now, you know, the word marathons and half marathons. And your whole, like, you know, your whole mindset changes when you find that purpose, I believe. You know, for me personally, you know, like I said, I try to run, or I try to do these things, and I try to talk more. But every time I do it, it just becomes more a part of me, and more...I can see Penelope in it so much more. And I'm so glad, you know, you shared that about just running and crying, because a lot of people think we do it to suppress those thoughts, where we're really, that's where we're almost in tune with our thoughts is when we're finding those things that help us get through it.

Dean: Yeah, that's beautiful.

Andy: You know, looking back, as the man you are now, as the dad, as the husband that you are now, would there be anything you'd give advice to yourself of, like, "Man, I wish you would have done this sooner," or, "I wish you would have done that," or do you think it's all part of that grief journey process that we have to learn?

Dean: It's hard to put a timeline on it, for sure, but definitely managing a store and dealing with young high school guys, and ladies, and talking to them, I have a whole different outlook on purpose. And this life goes by quick. I mean, you realize the days are going by fast, and I'm like, find what is giving you that purpose, you know, wherever you're at in your life. So it's definitely, I think mine was a process. It was a long process. It took me a long time, and I'm a goofy guy, and, you know, I enjoy life to its fullest. But I am constantly giving that advice of, you know, don't just settle, you know. You've got a great life, you know. Find it, and be a blessing to people, you know. And that running now is definitely, I mean, we have people that have loss, and it's valid, you know. Had a young lady that worked at the store, lost her dad. I'm like, "Let's run for Jerry," you know.

And it's emotional, you know. It's just, she lost her dad, you know, and it was just, I mean, they're always saying, "Oh, it's not like losing your child." But I'm like, "Man, it don't matter. We're running for Jerry," you know. So that's kind of my... Make that shift wherever it's at, and we can... I'm kind of making a long answer to this, but it's just, it's a beautiful thing to just, you know... I think a lot of these kids that are working with me right now are figuring out so much earlier. And granted, you know, they haven't lost a child, and they haven't gone through a lot of things. But man, I can give them some nuggets of things that I went through that you don't have to battle, the anxieties, the discouragements, and stuff like that. Man, it's just, you don't have to have that weighing you down.

Andy: And I think it's, hearing that from a man, you know, I know when I talk at things, or when they hear that I'm a bereaved father who's talking about their grief and their journey, you know, people listen. And I think that's so important that you've taken that platform and said, "Here's what I learned in my journey. It might not be perfect for you," but if they take something, like you said, that finding your purpose, or finding what works for you from a person that usually doesn't talk about it, it's so powerful. Man, it's so powerful. And I know, I think we have to go through all the emotions and spray-painting things, and tearing motorcycles down. And sometimes, you know, I wish I hadn't overeaten to the point where I needed to lose so much and I lost so much of my own identity. But by talking to people as a bereaved father, by talking to other bereaved fathers, we can make their path a little bit lighter because of the journey that we've been through.

Dean: Absolutely. What a beautiful thing, and the ripple effect, and all the things that are going global, I think it's definitely, like you said, we are shrinking that timeline down, because the more dads that can hear, "Oh, you know, maybe it'll be that quick, 'Hey,' you know, 'I don't have to keep eating like this, and I don't have to do this.'" And so that's, I think, the goal. You know, get these guys connected in realizing there's so much more.

Andy: There is. There's so much more in that. And we like to end with, you know, what do you hope for? And I think we've touched on that through the whole thing is, for me, I always hope for that dad, like we're talking now, or that bereaved parent, to find that purpose. What do you hope for, Dean? For your future?

Dean: Yeah. That's definitely, I, you know, the American dream kind of got shattered for me, you know, but I look at it enlightened it, too, because I don't look at retirement. I'm living retirement, because I enjoy each day, you know. What is the word retirement? And it's that purpose that I just, I don't have to be in Florida playing golf. This is...I have so much more fulfillment in those moments, you know, when we're helping others. And that's my hope, and I'm seeing it happen daily, you know, in our meetings that we have with St. Jude, and the blessing it is to be part of that, and the Day of Remembrance, and just seeing the rapid growth of people being extended a hand that just says, "Let me help you. I don't have all the answers. This sucks," you know, "Tell me about your child. Let's get through this."  

I just definitely want to help, you know, extend that hand. And I know I just, it's a beautiful thing to see the amount of dads, and just the change in the culture of dad and daughter dates, and, you know, the guys at work that I work with, you know, seeing them. Like today, I got a dad that just shared with me. I tell them to share this with me and not to be, feel awkward. But he's like, "I'm having a date day with my 9-year-old." You know, and I'm like, that just makes me smile, you know. That is a beautiful thing. Treasure that, you know, because those little girls are awesome. They're very special. So...

Andy: And I think, as we've shared, dads have emotions, dads have feelings, and dads grieve. We don't always do it the same way or outwardly as people think, but the important thing is to know that dads aren't alone. Whoever's listening to this, you're not alone. And whatever your purpose is, you might find that in whatever your daily life is, but there is power in talking to someone else who understands, and someone that wants to, and what you just said, Dean, about "Here's my hand. Let me help you." Dads have to be able to take that first step, and when you do, we're not moving on from our children, but we get to move forward with them and move forward with their legacy, and be Sydney's dad and Penelope's dad, and keep that memory going that we thought we lost when they died.

St. Jude Expert Mike McNeil:

My name is Michael McNeil. I'm a clinical fellow at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Whether they are talking about it or hiding in their garage, fathers are grieving the death of their child. And we need to be able to find ways to support them through that and provide them the resources that they need, no matter what it is, whether it is to talk about what it is just have a group of people to support them, whether it is something more formal or informal, that we can have the resources and availability to support them through that.

Each father is unique and different, right, while we're making general comparisons and general statements about a father, you know, each father, each mother, each parent, each sibling, each grandparent, whatever it may be, has a unique grief journey that they are going to have to walk through, and that we should make sure that we respect that and honor that and be there for them in whatever capacity they need.

I think some of the biggest takeaways is being willing to interact with others who have shared this experience with you. And then also, you know, along with that, not just with other bereaved fathers, but also with, you know, their partners, right, their spouses, and learning about the unique features and differences between how your partner grieves and then having the grace to share that together and be flexible as far as those differences to strengthen one another and lift each other up.

Standard Closing by Justin Baker, MD:

Thank you for listening to Connecting Through Grief When a Child Dies.  Special thanks to Stanton Lanier, Copyright Music to Light the World, Inc., for allowing us to feature his music throughout this podcast series. Please share this series with friends, family members and anyone walking through their own grief.  To learn more about grief and resources for support, visit