By Joyce Lish – Secretary of the Board, The Still Remembered Project (www.stillremembered.org)
Almost immediately upon learning that we were going to be parents, my husband started talking about taking our first child fishing. This classic father/child image created an instant bridge between him, his future daughter and his own father. For him, it was a childhood memory that he longed to pass down. When we lost our child, this symbol remained with us. Fishing is so tightly associated with our daughter that we even buried her with a small fishing bobber.
Knowing that it was going to be difficult, we did choose to attend church on the Father’s Day after our loss. We sat in our regular pew and awaited the beginning of mass. As we sat there, I could see my husband actually bracing himself for the priest’s words on this day. He busied himself for the mass to begin; he was looking through the books in the holder in front of him. I noticed him pulling out an object, a Sunday School worksheet that evaded the diligent church cleaners for several months according to its date. It was pristine with the exception of a single word written in a child’s hand on the cover: Fish. The coincidences went on, the drawings on subsequent pages are full of angels, fishing, and text that reads simply “I am here”. I do not know how many coincidences had to take place for my husband to receive this incredible gift, but I know that it was meant for him. My husband does too.
It has been four years since that day. The worksheet is not dog-eared with regular review. Rather, it is in a safe place along with our other treasured items: baby feet impressions, a hospital memory box, and her knitted blanket. Since that time, we have since been blessed with two beautiful living daughters. My husband certainly cherishes the items our daughters make or choose for him; however, there is no Amazon site that can ever replace that first Father’s Day gift. The items we have from our first daughter must last a lifetime.
Although there are exceptions for every stereotype, fathers offer safety and stability in the home. They are the fixers of the household and cater to a honey-do list to make all things right with the world. They are stoic, strong and in control of any situation. Obviously when confronted with the death of a child these same traits can turn their world upside down. Despite their rugged exterior, there is no separate grief cycle for a father. Bereaved fathers hurt too, yet they receive less support, condolences and understanding than a mother. On that first Father’s Day, my husband’s whole composure changed upon receipt of his gift. To him it represented acknowledgement that he was, is, and will always indeed be a father. This Father’s Day send your love to your fathers, grandfathers, and any father figure who took the time to mold you into the person that you are now. If you know a bereaved father, please reach out to him and wish him a Happy Father’s Day too. You may just be the fish that he needed today.