Have a Little Faith?

I was reading some of my older posts the other day and I couldn’t stop thinking about the tagline I have below the title of my blog.  Off the Diving Board: A grieving dad’s leap of faith into a life without his son.  A leap of faith?  Faith in what?

In all of my posts, I’ve always written “when Charlie went to heaven” or “Charlie is in heaven.”  I have never written the following sentence.  Charlie is dead.  Maybe I thought that if I didn’t write that sentence it would not be true.  But it is true.  My sweet, engaging, beautiful, and loving son is dead.  He is gone forever.  I have a hard time believing that I will see him again.  The stories about heaven and being reunited with your loved ones, while comforting and idealistic to most, provide zero solace for me lately.  I know I once wrote, and honestly believed, that the best part about today is that I am one day closer to being with Charlie again.  I’m not believing that lately.  All I believe is what I know and all I know is Charlie is dead.

You be forced to make the decision to end life support for your son.  You hold your son when he’s taken off the ventilator and physically feel the life leave his body as it goes limp in your arms.  You go to the funeral home to check to see if your son looks “ok” in the open casket the day before his wake.  (He doesn’t look ok. He looks dead.)  You go to the cemetery to pick out a niche suitable for your son’s ashes.  You walk into his empty bedroom every morning and night.  Actually feel the grief of losing your child- not grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or friend- ripping apart your insides and then you can talk to me about heaven and all of it’s promises.  But even then, I’m still not listening.  (I’m not diminishing anyone’s grief over the loss of a loved one.  But if you’re a parent, you know without a shadow of doubt that if you had to choose between your kid or anyone else you would choose your kid to live everytime.)

I don’t want empty promises about being reunited in heaven.  I don’t want sympathetic overtures about having an angel look down upon me.  I don’t want quotes from the Bible, reassurances that God has a plan, plays to my ego that He only gives these burdens to those who can carry them, or that He only takes the good ones early.  You say God has a plan, huh?  You obviously like this plan b/c in this plan you still have your kid.  He only gives this burden to those whom can carry it?  You realize that means you’re not strong enough. It means you’re weak.  When people tell me, “I don’t know how you do it,” I get pretty annoyed.  What else can I do?  There’s really only one other option than not living and that’s ending my life.  I’m not going to do that but it doesn’t mean I’m more capable to carry this burden than you or anyone else.  He only takes the good ones early?  According to your illogical declaration that means your kid, and everyone else that is alive, is not good. (Hey, you said it. I didn’t.)  Nothing you can say to me, especially regarding God and heaven, will make Charlie’s death any easier for me to accept.

I’m not angry at God.  I’m not happy with God.  I guess it’s more of an indifference glazed with some disbelief.  I know Charlie is dead. . . I felt him die in my arms.  I don’t know if heaven is real. . . I’ve never been there.  I’ve read many books, including much of the Bible, that claim otherwise but I’m still not believing.  I remember someone telling me, “You will hold Charlie again.”  I cried. Not because I missed Charlie at that moment but b/c I didn’t believe him.  (This isn’t an invitation for anyone to try to convince me otherwise. It’s something I have to work through by myself.)  Immediately following Charlie’s death we went to church every week but the only reason I went was b/c Vanessa wanted to go. We eventually stopped going but I’m not sure why.  I just know Vanessa stopped asking if I wanted to go and I wasn’t about to force the issue b/c I didn’t feel it helped me.  I didn’t feel any closer to God or Charlie at church.  I just replayed Charlie’s funeral mass over and over in my head or I spent most of the time torturing myself by watching other children that were Charlie’s age interact with their parents.  The rest of the time I spent asking God, “Why?”  (I soon realized that I’ll never know why and have completely stopped asking myself that dangerous and unanswerable question.)

My tank is running low on faith but it’s not empty.  I have not found peace through prayer but that doesn’t mean I’ve completely eliminated it from my life.  God has always been a part of my life.  I went to a Catholic elementary and middle school.  I even went to a Jesuit university.  It’s been a while since we’ve gone to church but we’re going on the 23rd, Charlie’s Death Day.  The 12:10pm mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago has been dedicated to Charlie.  January 23rd.  Just another Monday to everyone else but not to us. I’ll go to church.  I’ll ask God for forgiveness for all of the bad things I’ve thought about Him, my sins, and my dwindling faith.  I’ll even ask him to take care of Charlie in heaven.  (I said my faith was running low, not completely extinguished.)

When I told Vanessa the other day that I don’t think I believe in heaven she seemed shocked.  After all, it was me in those early days after Charlie died that was reassuring her that he was safe in heaven.  It was me that told her that Jesus personally came to lead Charlie to heaven and that he was never scared or alone.  It was me that promised her that we’d see Charlie again.  And I believed every syllable I uttered to Vanessa.  Now here I am telling her I think it’s all bullshit.  That I don’t believe in heaven and I don’t think I’ll ever see Charlie again.  Vanessa was quick to say that if she doesn’t have faith in God then she’s left with nothing.  No hope of life after death.  No hope of being reunited with Charlie. No hope of achieving even the slightest amount of inner peace.  Vanessa is keeping the faith and helping me hang onto what little shreds I have left.  Honestly, I want to believe.  I want to have faith.  It’s just so hard.  I am not as strong as you think.  I am broken and a lot of my faith has seeped through the cracks.

“Off the Diving Board: A grieving dad’s leap of faith into a life without his son.”  I believed it when I first wrote it six months ago. I even thought it was clever. After all, Charlie loved that diving board and he jumped off without any hesitation b/c he had faith in me being there.  I stand on the edge of a different diving board.  My board is over a vast darkness that represents the void in my soul.  I walk out to the end of that board everyday I wake up. Some days I’m like Charlie. Unafraid and eager to take that leap. Most days I’m scared and paralyzed with the fear of the unknown.  The fear of facing another day without my son.  The fear of not knowing if I’ll ever be with Charlie again.  I need to find the strength to make that leap.  I need to believe I’ll hold Charlie again.  I need to have a little faith.


8 thoughts on “Have a Little Faith?

  1. Bryan,

    I am not going to tell you what to believe or not believe. I have the same struggles with faith and God, and have my entire life. God was beaten into me (literally) by an alcoholic “born again” father until I was old enough to fight back, so that shaped my early belief system (and still does to some extent). God was beaten into me again (figuratively) after Colin died. “It was God’s plan…God’s will…God’s plucking another flower for his garden. Fuck his plan, fuck his will, and fuck his garden! and as a Rabbi told me shortly after Colin died…it is ok to say “Fuck you!” to God because “if the god you believe in is not strong enough to take it, you should find another god.” Those were the best words of advice I have ever received. Hopefully they will help you in some way because is the god you believe in is not strong enough to take all of your anger, hate, confusion, and dwindling faith, fuck him too!

    Take care Bryan!

    Your friend,

  2. I understand. As I read each word I felt I typed it instead of you. The word “dead” is very powerful when used in the same sentence with “my child”. I now insist on using it, I must say. I can’t use flowery language like “gone to heaven”.

    How can I? I haven’t seen it. I’ve seen death, but not heaven.

    I don’t want anyone telling me about God needing more damn angels. I am not mocking (well maybe a little but I’m entitled) angels. If he needs more angels, then why didn’t he just make them! He is God!

    I don’t know if you have seen “Rabbit Hole” starring Nicole Kidman – but it talks about this “angel” issue. I’ve watched it twice and Nicole Kidman’s character’s response was perfect. To me, anyway.

    Like you said – until a parent has lost a child they don’t understand.

    BTW – the title of your blog is perfect, I’m sorry to say. You know what I mean.

    Keep writing. You will feel better if you do.

  3. you and I think so much alike. A few months after my Alexander died, I was with my mom and she said “how can he be dead?” like you, we were there with him when he died. My mom was there too – so we KNOW it is true, but it still seems so unreal even 9 months later.
    My faith too has been greatly shaken – how could it not, when you are told you 8 month old baby has cancer!? I cringed every time I heard “things happen for a reason”. Yeah, please tell me the reason 8 month old babies get cancer, fight for 13 months then die anyways!??! There is no REASON for any of this. I do believe we are given a set amount of time to live, and for some of us, it is a heck of a lot shorter – way to short.
    I do believe in Heaven – and I know I will see Alexander again when my time is up. I have to believe that just to keep going.


  4. I have been following you for quite some time and this particular post hits very close to home. My daughter of 24 years died just a little shy of one month before Charlie did. I took the same route you did to ensure my wife’s sanity and that was to try to assure her that Allison was in heaven with her grandfather, who had died not too long before. I am not a particularly religious man…I haven’t been to church in years, don’t believe in them. I hold my views pretty close to the vest most of the time, but I truly convinced myself that God had a special plan for Allison. Looking back on it now, over a year later, I realize that I needed to convince myself in order to convince my wife.
    The funny thing is, is that she remains unconvinced to this day that there’s even a heaven/afterlife. If she can’t see it or taste it, or even understand it, it doesn’t exist. So this is, and will continue to be a source of great consternation with her. Make no mistake, neither one of us are under the illusion anymore that this isn’t real, although I certainly do feel that way at times.
    For me it comes down to the question of faith. If I have faith that the economy is going to get better, or if I have faith that my best buds and/or my family are going to stick by me and support me in my time of need, how far is the leap from that to believing there is a heaven? Faith is faith, whether it be in heaven or here on earth. Faith is the ability to hope and hope is what keeps us going in turbulent times. Faith and hope that our futures will be bright ones, especially those of our children.
    I envy you quite a bit because you have another son…we have no one else (but that’s another story). How you raise your son and future sons/daughters will shape their lives in very profound ways and you won’t be able to see it right away. You’ll see it in bits and pieces from time to time as they grow up, but your influence will not be fully realized until they grow up and have children of their own.
    You believe, and have faith and hope in the futures of your children. You have belief, faith and hope that you and your wife will make the right decisions in raising them to be good responsible adults like yourselves. For me, it’s not that far of a leap of faith to believe that Allison is in Heaven with her beloved Grandfather and her dog, Penny, who died 6 months after she did.
    Faith and hope is all I have left and it’s all I can do some days just to cling to that. I wish you and Vanessa nothng but the very best.

    John Wolfe
    Sanger, Texas

  5. Bryan: what you have to say about burdens given to those who can handle them and the illusory nature of the “choices” that accompany those burdens is, of course, true, yet I can’t help thinking that plenty of people buckle under those burdens every day. The thing that I suspect you learned from Charlie’s birth is that there are certain burdens worth carrying – burdens that define and re-define who you are as a human being. I will not try to offer wisdom that I don’t have – as much as anyone who knows and loves you wishes he could help you (myself included), your struggle is your own. However, the courage and will that exploded inside of you the first time you laid eyes on the boy and knew that there are feelings far deeper and more profound than any regard we feel for ourselves, is the same animating strength that has gotten you through this time – crushed, yet alive and capable as a father and husband. It will keep you going, too. I am not a religious man, but faith is not a wasted exercise.

    -Tom Carroll

  6. I don’t like hearing about heaven or about how I will see my babies again when I get there. I miss my babies now. I want to see them and hold them now. Not some day in a place far away.

  7. I certainly have no good answers for you Bryan. Faith offers us hope. I don’t know where I’d be without that. I’ll be thinking of and praying for you all on Monday.

    I was told this once and it helped me immensely—I’d rather believe and find out I’m wrong than not believe and find out I’m wrong.

  8. Bryan –

    I found you from the Grieving Dads site and have spent the last few days reading through your entire blog. Your wonderful memories of such a precious son have touched me in very powerful ways. My 25-year old son Keith died February 20, 2011 after a yearlong battle with cancer. I have struggled to remember him before chemo, hospital stays, a stem cell transplant, and complications that eventually led to his death. The fun antics and priceless videos which you have shared here have helped me remember many things that have been clouded by cancer and grief. Like Charlie, Keith was a very inquisitive, fun little boy who was very comfortable with adults. He grew into a brilliant man with a tender, loving heart for others. Interestingly, you wrote that you and Vanessa questioned if you could have handled losing Charlie if he had been older. My wife and I have had the exact conversation but have said we are not sure if we could have handled it when our son was young. I guess the truth is – either way, it sucks.

    It seems odd to say, but your honest transparency about the hell one walks on this journey is refreshing. Your words are reminders that others can understand – really understand – what I feel. This latest post about faith is but one more example. I have been a man of faith for most of my life, and I walked through eleven months of cancer treatments saying, “Faith is what we live – not simply what we say.” Several months after losing Keith, I began to question if I was merely full of shit. Never before in my life had I given myself permission to really express anger to God, but that changed. I have thought often of Job’s wife who told him to curse God and die. I learned that I could indeed curse Him, and He did not kill me. He loved me. I want to believe He will do the same for you, but as you have said, it is something that you need to figure out for yourself. I sincerely respect and honor that.

    The day Charlie went to heaven (I’m going to agree with Vanessa on that one) was the day before my son entered the hospital for the last time. I was determined to spend time with him, so I whisked him away from his wife and took him to the movies. He was a HUGE movie buff and wanted to see the remake of True Grit. Now, January 23rd has more meaning to me because I also relate it to Charlie. My wife, daughter and I are going to watch True Grit this Sunday for the first time since Keith died – something I think I will do every January from now on. As I watch, I am sure I will be thinking of another little boy as well.

    Charlie did not get “it” in a vacuum. He obviously had a great dad. Vanessa, Danny and your newest on the way are so blessed to have you. Thanks for how you have blessed me.

    Tim Hayes
    Lubbock, Texas

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