Adam Crawford’s daughter passed away when she was nine months old. This is what he’s learned about moving forward, as a father and as a man, after an unspeakable tragedy.
When Layla passed away in February, I didn’t know how I would wake up the next day. I didn’t want to wake up the next day. I just wanted to close my eyes the night she passed and wake up in Heaven; just so I could hold her.
Nothing else mattered in those hours. Nothing other than holding my baby girl. But she was gone. I thought I hadn’t taken her for granted, but apparently I had. Why else would I feel such immense guilt for being deployed to Afghanistan for most of her life? Seven of her nine months on Earth, to be exact.
Instead of waking up in Heaven the next morning, I woke up to the realization that I had to continue to raise my son. But how? How could I do that with such a large piece of my heart broken off and floating around in my body?
How could I raise him to be a strong man and change the world when I couldn’t even save my daughter? It didn’t matter that her illness was the worst possible combination of influenza and RSV. There was no rationalizing this fear. I was helpless, hopeless. I couldn’t do it.
When we told our son that his sister wouldn’t be coming home, I felt another piece of my heart break off into the abyss. He was only 5. He didn’t understand. He thought Heaven was a place we could go visit. Permanent doesn’t exist to a 5-year-old. As I broke down into a ball of mush with him between my wife and I on the couch, I knew this would never get any easier.
I knew he would talk about Layla all the time—and he does. I knew that in and of itself would break me down—and it does. So, how would I be a Dad, the Dad he deserves, amidst this crisis?
I had no idea. But, as the days go on, certain things become clear. He loves me no matter what I do. He thinks I’m funny when I sing country songs at the top of my lungs from the kitchen. He thinks I’m strong when I lift him over my head and body-slam him on the bed. He thinks I’m cool when I dress up in my golf attire and take him to the driving range.
He gives me a hug when he sees me crying after he shows me a picture he drew at school of him and his baby sister. Being a Dad isn’t some big production. It can be, and should be strategic at some points, but most of all, it’s just being open and transparent with your children.
I’ve tried the façade of being the “man of the house” and there are times when that role must be played, but, in the face of a tragedy, that impacts a family such as the loss of a child—just being yourself is what’s desired and required.
I’m a parent who has experienced what no parent should ever experience—that isn’t my son’s fault. It isn’t my fault. And it’s definitely not an excuse to not do my duty.
I can’t tell you what it looks like once you have managed to overcome the grief of losing a child. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tell you that. But what I can tell you is that you can’t keep it pent up, and you definitely can’t run from the needs your other child has. Embrace the grief and share the burden amongst those you love. That’s what love does. That’s what family does.
Grow together, not apart. Lean on those around you, not away from them. That is the example you want to set for your children. The example of being willing to accept help from those around you, not shun it. Including your children.
Layla will forever be a part of our family. She even has a stocking hanging from our mantle this year. My son talks about her every day—and I cry each time he does. But that’s how we are healing. That’s how we are keeping her alive in our hearts and minds.
Credit: Image—Tim Green/Flickr
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