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How Building a Family Helped This Dad Recover From Loss

Two dads and their adopted daughters

Sharp turns in life can rock you. Unspeakable pain and heartbreak can make us feel like we are being ripped apart from the inside out. Oftentimes those turns in life’s twisted road can appear out of nowhere with little to no warning. In a way, it is almost like hydroplaning in a vehicle. Losing complete control of where you are going which sometimes leaves you in a terrifying tail spin.

Back in 2003, when I lost my brother, Shane, at the beginning of the opioid epidemic, I was shattered. My whole family was. He was barely 17 years old and his entire life was stolen from him and from us. There are no words to articulate the immense pain we felt. All of a sudden our lives seemed bleak and broken.

If you have felt that magnitude of pain, you know exactly what I am talking about. The emptiness and confusion about where life was going at that point will never leave me.Those desperate emotions during the bleakest moments help me stay humble and focused. They remind me of how fragile life truly is and how none of us are promised tomorrow. Many won’t get that last phone call to hear, “I love you.” Some will say “good morning” to loved ones having no idea they will never have the chance to say “good night” again.

If I could just see Shane one more time, I would cherish every second. I would tell him all the things I had planned to say later in life. I would punch his shoulder and then hug him tighter than I ever had before. It’s easy to think back on those missed out opportunities after they are gone. What are we doing today to let them know while they are here? Are we too embarrassed to be that vulnerable and emotional? Will they see us as weak? Would they laugh? Well if they are anything like my brother, Shane, was he absolutely would giggle at me being such a mush. But then he would say, “Me too, Erik. Me too.”

It took years for me to realize this but, we will see the ones we miss so much again after their passing. Although, it may not be the way we would prefer. My dreams I have of my brother don’t come too often, but when they do, they are as real as I could have ever hoped. At first, I would cry my eyes out after I woke up wishing it wasn’t a dream. I finally found him. Time and time again it happened. As years passed, I was able to start to appreciate those moments. In a way, those are the times I prayed for. I wanted to see him the way I had expected, and I was losing sight at the very opportunity to tell him everything I wanted before he left us. Sure, there are angry moments about why he was so rebellious. Why did he have to take something so powerful to feel good?

A few years ago, I found out those answers. Dreams can also answer questions. They can unlock secrets to the past, but most importantly, they can give you peace. He was a kid and had no idea what he was doing. He didn’t have the wherewithal to know he’d be taken from us so soon, or at all for that matter. If he had known then he wouldn’t have ever tried it in the first place. That was all I needed to hear. He did love us that much. He just didn’t make the right choices. And although I want to hug him and punch him on the arm, he also feels the same way. That’s why we dream, my friends. Dreams are that powerful.

Creating my own family today helps feel the void about Shane leaving us. I got a tattoo of a Chinese symbol on my right arm that means “little brother.” Our little girls talk about him daily because of the tattoo. It opened a difficult dialogue to tell them how badly their uncle wishes he could play with them and make them laugh. Our oldest brings his name up at the dinner table, in the car, and even during the bath. My favorite time she brings him up is at bedtime. Simply because I feel it’s her invitation to see Shane in her own dreams. She’ll be able to finally laugh at his jokes. He’ll be able to tell her first hand about how much he loves seeing her and her sister grow. I know she will ask him all the questions she has thought about. Dreams are so special. They are so important. Dreams are the meeting places which give our hearts the peace our mind is seeking.

Many people don’t agree with with gay marriage, much less two dads raising children.I think I will always be perplexed about that. The truth is, my husband saved me from the darkest of days after my brother died. He was beside me in every moment. He believed in me. He knew our love for each other was unbreakable. Those helpless moments of depression were brutal. Imagine being covered in the thickest blanket of sadness and then out of nowhere, our eyes met melting away the thick quilt of desolation. Our eyes were locked on each other as so many thoughts raced through my head. It was my white knight to save me from my own personal nightmare

As years moved on, I figured out how to live again. I deserved to be happy, to laugh, to love again. He did that for me. And he does that everyday of my life, of our little girls’ lives. We bravely walk through life proudly and boldly while living our truest selves for everyone to see. We defy the odds which are stacked against us every single day. We are two daddies who love our two little girls unconditionally. Sure, we are looked at like unicorns in many places we go. Some people have never been exposed to seeing such a diverse family before. At first it would bother me, but I quickly learned most of the staring was from innocent onlookers curious to learn. I love that. I want them to walk away from us knowing we love our family like they love theirs. We would do anything in the world for our girls. We would give our lives for our babies. Parenthood taught me that.

Although my brother isn’t with us, my memories and my coveted dreams will always be. As our girls grow, I am sure they will continue to ask about their Uncle Shane and want to hear stories of his life and I am honored to tell them. His legacy deserves to live on. His name should bring smiles instead of tears. Shane needs to see that. He needs to know that our mourning has transformed into a celebration. We celebrate his life more now than we ever have.

While creating our family, I’ve always dreamed about a special moment. A moment which sends chills down my spine. A moment that brings tears to my eyes as I write. A moment when we can welcome our baby boy into this world, when I can look down at him and say, “Hi Shane. Your papa and daddy love you so much. And so does your uncle.” My husband and I are elated to start writing this new chapter in our lives. Our son, baby Shane’s story, can help turn around the sadness surrounding the end of my brother’s life and help write a beautiful, grateful and precious new beginning for our entire family. Tears will now turn to smiles and heartache will give way to laughter. My brother would have wanted that, I am certain.

On March 26th, we welcomed our baby Shane into this world — which just so happened to be my brother’s due date as well.

To help find your path to fatherhood through gay adoption, surrogacy or foster care check out the GWK Academy.

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