Bereaved Parents, grieving dads, young child death

Seeing Clearly in the Smoke

by Tom Wyatt
originally published in June 1996

For the first time since March 5th of 1991 I am relaxed. Not bragging, just a fact. I’m sure there are those out there who attained this little slice of nirvana before I did and might even think me to be slow.

There are those out there also who can’t yet remember what it feels like not to be anything from completely tied up in knots to mildly tied up in knots. Lame wording but you get the picture.

The case finally carne to a close in December of last year. A little over two years since the end of the trial and over four years since Johnny’s death. We stuck to the big picture and we’re well pleased with what was accomplished. Hopefully, this kind of accident won’t ever happen again on one of this company’s lots and the tow company will never find itself in this position again either. I’ve been able to let the anger go and am heading forward in that area.

Getting back to being relaxed. In an earlier article, I mentioned the family vacation to Disney World in January of this year and that it had been a success. Well we just took another vacation to see the Great Smokie Mountains and to visit with family in Atlanta. The Disney vacation was ‘run and gun’ so to speak. Up every day at 6:30 a.m., breakfast, then off to MGM, Epcot or the Magic Kingdom. We stayed busy all day and had a great time but it definitely wasn’t really restful.

This trip was the mirror opposite of that one in that respect. My soul consumed the mountains and the streams and I shared these spectacular sights with my kids. I was surrounded by everything that makes me happy: nature, Ruth, Blake, Kelsey and especially Johnny. He was everywhere.

When I would gaze at one of the many trout streams that crisscrosses the Smokies, I didn’t only look upon them with an angler’s eye, no I looked at them with a father’s eye too. I could see Blake and me fishing these same streams in a few years and it made me feel good. I felt Johnny all around me almost like a hug. We were bums for four days and it felt so good. There was the usual having to be a dad on occasion and Kelsey didn’t escape our wrath totally. Traveling with a head strong four-year old can be interesting. But where that would have balled me up a while ago this time I’ve been able to relax and work it out. A novel idea to say the least.

I witnessed something this weekend that angered me, hurt me and frightened me deeply and I’m working it out. A person that I trusted with Blake and Kelsey’s well-being, placed them in a potentially dangerous position and I was not only mad at this individual, I was also mad at myself. I found myself right back in that ‘superdad’ complex of ‘I should have known’ because dads are all-knowing.

I could choose to let this affect the way my kids grow up by denying them the freedoms that normal kids have. I could choose to let this eat away at me like so much guilt that came before it had, or I can recognize that it only goes to remind me how fragile life is.

I’m already over being mad at myself but as far as this other person goes, I just won’t place my kids in that position with him again and I’ve lost all respect for him. I’ve forgiven him but I’ve learned from it and will move on.

Any of the many emotions and feelings that we have must be dealt with before we can let them go. If we don’t face the anger, it will never leave us and will eat away at us until our souls are empty. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be rid of all of the anger that I carried around with me for so long. I hope this is a permanent situation but who knows. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, so to speak.

Next week we break ground on our new home and I feel excited because I’m breaking new ground in my recovery. Johnny was in the mountain, streams and even the Black Bear that was outside of our condo, but even more importantly, he was in us and it made me smile.

Finally, my soul’s ‘slippers’ that I wrote about years before not fitting anymore fit again and that lightens my heart. I stood and looked out into the fog that gives the Smokie Mountains their name and for the first time in over five years I could see clearly.

Peace and Hope are my wishes for us all.

About the Author: Tom Wyatt earned a M.B.A. from Washington University and began his career as a stock broker then later as a small business owner. Following the death of his four-year old son, Johnny, on March 5, 1991, Tom became very active in Compassionate Friends. He currently writes and shares articles and poems for Bereaved Parents of the USA. After receiving his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 2000 from the University of Missouri, Tom has been counseling bereaved parents pro bono. He and his wife, Ruth, have three children; Blake (27), Johnny (4) and Kelsey (20) and two grandchildren.

Read Tom’s other articles and poems HERE.

Republished with permission from
National Newsletter of Bereaved Parents of the USA,