Richard Dweck has a simple message for parents who are grieving the loss of their children – “your child wants you to make the most of your life and be as happy as you can possibly be”.
“People get down on themselves, and think that the minute they stop crying, they’re forgetting the person,” he said.
“But it’s OK to feel good. It really is, it’s OK to feel good. Your child wants you to feel good. They don’t want you to ruin the rest of your life because they died.”
Richard’s daughter Samantha died in a kayaking accident when she was just 24-years-old. That was five years ago, and Richard says his path to accepting and embracing his “new normal” was made a little easier through reaching out for help.
He began by joining group and individual counseling sessions with Kara, and attending a Meadowlark Father’s Retreat – a 3-day retreat offered by the Tim Griffith Foundation, for grieving parents to connect with each other.
“I had started attending a group at Kara six weeks before, and although it was a great group and I got a lot from it, it was almost all women,” he said.
“Going to Meadowlark was special. It was special to be with other fathers because we’re in the same situation. I almost didn’t go. At the last minute I tried to back out because it was Samantha’s birthday the next day, and I just thought ‘it’s going to be so much worse for me than everybody else, it’s going to be too much’.”
“There were seven men at my weekend. Three of them, including me, had daughters born with that same birthday. The volunteers had bought three cakes and we had a birthday celebration for the daughters. And it was amazing!”
“You think that you’re all alone in this and that your experience is so much different from everyone else, but you go to Meadowlark, and you realize that you are all going through the same thing. Even if someone’s child died in a completely different way, in the end, we all are in the same place - we all lost a child.”
Richard’s transition from grief counseling recipient, to becoming a counselor himself for Kara, and becoming a co-facilitator of the Meadowlark Father’s Retreat, came as a realization during a session.
“In the middle of the counseling I realized that my daughter would have wanted me to be a counselor,” he said.
“I finished my [Kara] group. In the meantime, I attended Meadowlark Retreats as a client and that was so helpful…I felt like that weekend was almost like a turn-around for me.”
His advice to others who are grieving the loss of children, or other loved ones, is to seek help sooner, rather than later.
“Even though you’re going to survive and eventually hopefully thrive, it’s good to seek help. It’s good to go to a place like Kara, or the Tim Griffith Foundation, or maybe your local hospital has a grief support group.”
“It’s good to deal with grief more-or-less head on, as early as reasonably possible. Because it’s going to stay there, it’s not going to go away on its own. It’s good to really work on this in settings where you can really talk openly and freely and really express what you’re going through, and also be in groups with people who understand. You don’t really have to deal with this alone. “
He sees grief as another name for love that can no longer be directly expressed to the person it is meant for.
“You love somebody every day of their life, you love them, you love them… and one day they die. And then you don’t call it love any more, you call it grief. It’s grief because it’s love that you can’t express.”
Richard, who founded his own company and worked as a technology consultant, is now a photographer who likes to travel for his art.
“I spent two weeks in bed crying after my daughter died, I’d lost a ton of weight, and I went to visit my brother about two months later,” he said.
His brother took him to a wedding in India, and while they were there, they witnessed the daily cremation of the dead, and celebrations of life each evening.
“We ended up in Varinasi where they cremate 500 people every day and they have this colorful ceremony for them every night, and there are hundreds of boats on the water, watching the ceremony on the shore. It was a wild thing to see the celebration of life and the commemoration of death in that way.”
“I travel now. My whole photography comes from my daughter’s energy. She was very creative… and I want to express who she was through my art. My photography is all about going around the world to see people, and see things, and bring back the emotions that I see and feel wherever I go. I always feel like I am travelling with her. When I travel I feel that Samantha is really with me.”
You can hear more of Richard’s story on this episode of the Fei’s World podcast.
Your donations to the Tim Griffith Foundation help us run programs such as the Meadowlark Retreats for grieving mothers and fathers.
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