Before Ellie died, I took my son to his baseball hitting lesson. We really liked the instructor. I was just being friendly and asked him “How many kids do you have?” He informed me that he had two sons, but one had committed suicide several years before. I remember being shocked and at a complete loss as to what to do or say. I think I probably looked very uncomfortable, and I was. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I probably changed the subject, and I would bet that I didn’t offer up very much in the way of comfort.
Before Ellie died, I was afraid of death, pain, suffering. I didn’t want to experience any of those things for myself and it was scary to see in other people. I didn’t know what to say, how to feel, what to do, and the easiest thing was to avoid thinking about it. Sadly, I had never been to a funeral before Ellie’s.
Before Ellie died, I didn’t appreciate taking Ellie to the costume jewelry store or playing with her dolls. I enjoyed our bedtime routine of reading and snuggling, but I always wanted to leave before she wanted me to. I had things to do. What was so important?
Well, things change. After losing six-year-old Ellie, I have learned a few things.
I give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they care, even if it doesn’t seem like it. The fact is that unless you’ve experienced a deep loss, it is hard to empathize and understand. I try to help people with their reactions. I try to make it easy for them if I can. I know that I needed some help and guidance over all my prior years.
I saw the baseball instructor at a game a few months ago. I jumped up and walked up to him. I told him about the conversation we had many years ago and I apologized for my insensitivity and lack of understanding. Although the circumstances of our children’s deaths were different, we were both fathers without our babies. We shared a hug and a few tears and it was a memorable moment.
Now I always go to the funeral. I have been to many in the past five years, and volunteered to help out as needed. It is so important to support the grieving families by just being there for them.
One day I was leaving the grocery store walking past the girl scout cookies, little girls, and a dad. I was late and did not intend to purchase any cookies, but the father said “How about some cookies?” I said, “no thank you.” He said, “you must not have a little girl at home, you’re lucky!” The tears quickly flowed as I continued walking. It was a difficult moment, but I soon realized that could have been me with Ellie, a father who wasn’t exactly excited about selling girl scout cookies. We are all on a journey and life has a way of teaching us.
I take the time to be with my family and friends — to savor the moments. I am thankful for each day with my loved ones and try to bring a smile and some joy to the world. I’ve learned that kindness, compassion, and service to others brings deep meaning and purpose. Loving God and loving people through all of the circumstances of life is a good plan.
I was at golf lesson with my son the other day, and his instructor was talking to me. Then he asked the inevitable question in a friendly way, “How many kids do you have?” And so it goes…
Todd Nigro (Ellie’s Dad)