When a child dies, there is no such thing as "taking it like a man."
Kelly Farley should know.
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The 43-year-old Aurora man lost children to genetic abnormalities before their births in 2004 and 2006. The experiences turned him into what some call the most important kind of grief expert: the kind who's been there.
In his book released last week, "Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back," Farley recounts his grief after the deaths of his daughter, Katie, and son, Noah. He weaves his story into the experiences of dozens of fathers he's talked to nationwide who have lost children to accidents, suicides, drug overdoses, even war.
Farley wrote the book, he said, because he couldn't find any grief resources directed at men when he was in the depths of his struggles adjusting to the deaths of Katie and Noah.
"In my experience," he writes in the preface to the book, "most of what I read for grieving parents was written for mothers. If I did come across something aimed at grieving dads, it was usually advice about how to comfort their wives."
Farley especially couldn't find anything written from a "brutally honest standpoint talking about the deep, dark stuff," he said.
Stuff like picking out clothes for a dead child to be buried in. Stuff like helping police remove a homemade noose from a son's neck. Stuff like suppressing the pain of losing one child -- just to lose another.
It's all in the book, which aims to give grieving dads what Farley calls "real help" dealing with the pain of losing a child. The book is available on Amazon.com and on Farley's blog, The Grieving Dads Project.
What helped Farley the most, he said, was ditching his "manly" mode of dealing with pain internally and beginning to talk about the deaths of his children -- to counselors, grief support group members, friends, co-workers -- anyone who would listen.
Opening up wasn't easy, but it brought the realization that grief is something best overcome when it's actually felt, not avoided.
"It's OK to surrender," Farley said. "It's OK to give yourself permission to feel it."
His book is a quick read, at only 83 pages. His audience, he says, should be not only grieving fathers but also others who support them.
Those who aren't grieving personally can learn from the book's implicit message that child loss can strike any time, said David DiCola, a writer who helped Farley weave his material into a flowing story.
"The time we have with our children here on Earth is really the most valuable thing we ever get," said DiCola, who is not himself a grieving dad but a father of four. "Whether you have lost a child or not, this book will really drive that point home."
Along with personal stories of child loss and grief gained from hundreds of fathers Farley interviewed, the book contains a critique of society's unrealistic expectations for men dealing with profound or traumatic experiences.
Grieving dads often feel they have to be the stronger of two parents, which pressures them to speed through the grieving process, the book says.
"The stories really reinforce the idea that society expects men to just pick up and move on with no time dedicated to truly understanding what they're going through," DiCola said.
Farley said the way men are socialized to believe they must be "protectors" of their families leads them to feel a sense of guilt, along with pain, anger and sadness, when a child dies.
"You feel like you let the family down," Farley said. "All of the sudden this role of you being the protector -- you didn't live up to that role. So the guilt sometimes is just as powerful and just as impactful as the grief itself."
All that emotion can be especially burdensome as Father's Day approaches.
"There are a lot of dads out there that have lost a child, and most people don't think about that on Father's Day -- about how hard it is for a dad to get through that day," he said. "It's a tough thing. Those dates are triggers, emotional triggers."
Finding a cause to carry on in the dead child's honor is one way the grieving dads Farley interviewed have dealt with trigger dates and the life-changing loss of a daughter or son.
In Farley's case, the book is an outgrowth of the mission he's taken on since losing his children -- a cause of sharing his story to help other grieving fathers learn they're not alone.
His cause also includes advocacy. He and another grieving dad, Barry Kluger of Arizona, have been lobbying the past year and a half for an amendment to the federal Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 that would help grieving parents qualify for an optional 12 weeks' unpaid time off after the death of a child to start the healing process.
Kluger recently was in Washington, D.C., following up with lawmakers the duo met with last fall. The legislators seemed receptive to changing the law, just not right now. Farley said their message -- "talk to us after the election" -- means 2013 could be a good year for the Farley-Kluger Initiative and for grieving parents across the country who need time away from work to collect their thoughts.
Time off can be helpful, even necessary for some, because after the death of a child, "it's impossible to go back to the person you were before," Farley said.
"You've still got to live your life, but you start to live it with some purpose," he said. "That's where the healing starts to occur. Because now you're doing something to help somebody else."
Pain: Farley pushing for change to Family Medical Leave Act