My heart broke wide open this week after reading Brad Kearns’ heart-wrenching Facebook post. The 27-year-old dad from Australia posted a picture on his DadMum Facebook page of his firstborn son’s handprints tattooed on either side of his neck. What made the photo so heart-breaking was the fact that his son was stillborn.
He begins the post asking readers if they remember the first time they touched their child’s hand:
“You rubbed your thumb across the top of their fingers as they hold onto yours. You grab their entire hand and hold it in your fist. You give it a little squeeze to let them know that you’re there; and you sit in awe of their vulnerability. And at that moment you make your silent promise. A promise to protect them. To care for them. To give them your all. A promise to be the best parent you can be.”
“I begin thinking of these handprints around my neck. These tiny little hands that are positioned like an eternal cuddle. These are the hands of our first son. His name was ‘Buddy.’ It wasn’t always going to be his name, but it seemed right at the time. When we met him for the first time and he was peacefully sleeping. It just seemed so right. He was my little Buddy. The handprints serve as my daily reminder.”
By the time I reached the end of the post, I was furiously wiping away tears:
“From that day forward I was a dad. The fact that we couldn’t take him home with us didn’t change a thing. The fact I would never teach him to kick a ball didn’t matter. We held his hands and we called him our own. He was the first little boy I ever made that promise to.”
I understand the grief he must have felt the day his son passed.
In October 2011, my wife found out she was pregnant. That would have been addition #9 to the Berry family (we had already adopted eight kids prior to this). After the shock wore off, we became excited … really excited.
Yet that all came crashing down through a text message from my wife just a few weeks later.
It was just a text, but I swear I could hear her voice echoing in my mind as if she had just shouted across the Grand Canyon. The falling rain outside turned to falling tears. My breath was completely taken away. Those walking past me on the street slowed down, their voices becoming muffled, like in the movies when someone receives devastating news.
The previous week we had announced to the world: “We’re pregnant!”
Today, we had to share: “We lost the baby.”
So many thoughts were running through my head when I saw my wife’s text. How? Why? What did we do wrong? You’re hurting so bad, but I can’t do a thing to help you. I feel like running away and crying.
It really hurt. Hurt so bad I could barely breathe. I’d never felt loss like that. Ever. Never before had deep grief walked into my life and taken up residence like that.
That’s why Kearns’ Facebook post touched me so deeply. I get it. The day we miscarried, I remember thinking, My little girl isn’t coming home. But she was as real as the sun in the sky above. I would never get to dance to silly pop songs in our living room with her or be the honored guest at one of her tea parties, but she was mine. She was ours. We were mom and dad. I would never see her high school graduation or walk her down the aisle, but I could close my eyes and see her beautiful smile. I was ready to be her dad. I was ready to protect her, kiss her boo boos, hold her close during thunderstorms. I was ready. It was a promise I made to all of my children the first time I became a dad 15 years ago.
I understand the depth of Kearns’ grief because I’ve lived it to some degree. But beyond identifying with grief, my tears flowed more freely because of what happened to him the following year, when Father’s Day (celebrated during the first week of September in Australia) rolled around.
Kearns says, “I remember on the next Father’s Day I didn’t expect anything. I got a card. I received a few lovely text messages. I was still a dad. It meant the world to me.”
Yes, we are still fathers, still daddies to our precious babies, even though they don’t walk this earth with us. What a powerful reminder to us all.
In the end Kearns shares a challenge: “If you know a dad, a stepdad, a foster dad, or a family with two dads… Make an effort this Father’s Day. Let them know their promise was real. It will mean the world to them too.”
It means the world to this dad.