Fear Is Just A Word


cloudJust over 6 years ago the unthinkable started to happen. It was the week of the Thanksgiving holiday and I was at the hospital emergency room. My wife by my side and my son in the room with the doctor, we stood outside knowing what was being discussed inside wasn’t good. He was 19 though, so the doctor had to talk to him first and get his permission to bring us in the room. Moments later we were told he had advanced stage Testicular Cancer.

The next 9 months were both the longest and the shortest of my life if that even makes sense at all. The longest because we never knew what the next day would bring, things would look great for a while, then not as great. He would go from being paralyzed from the waist down by a spinal tumor to making ACTUAL strides learning to walk again. It seemed like it was taking forever for him to recover and I know he felt that way. But it was also the shortest of times because when the journey started that day in November we never could have imagined that the clock started ticking on the remaining days we would have with him. He passed away almost nine months to the day he was diagnosed. August 20th, 2011 will always be the single worst day of my life.

The fog doesn’t set in right away, you have so many things to take care of when these things happen. Arrangements are made, phone calls are made, you almost feel like you aren’t even given the time to grieve because so much is going on around you. We probably wouldn’t have eaten without the goodwill from friends coming by with food. But as the hours turn into days, you can literally feel that fog rolling in and consuming you.

Grief is relentless. It’s cruel. You find yourself judging people as they offer words of condolence, they don’t know what it feels like do they? Grief can consume you and take over your life. I’m not saying it’s not a necessary stage in the process because, by all means, it IS necessary. But you can’t let it take you over because it will if you allow it to do so.

What I never expected though is how losing him would allow me to change myself in positive ways I could have never imagined. I would still trade anything to have him here with us but I also know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this tragedy.

Losing a child has a way of giving you extreme clarity, and drive, and strength you never knew you had before. Clarity comes in knowing that in an instant any of us could be gone, or be told our time is short. The drive comes to you with that clarity, knowing it could end at any time pushes you to find out what your dream is or what you have been afraid of prior to that day. The strength comes in many forms. Some days you need strength just to get out of bed, or to talk to someone about what happened. But sometimes strength comes from that clarity and drive you’ve gained and it allows you to look at any fear you may have had before and tell it to get out of your way.

What thing in this life could possibly stop me from doing what I want to do? I’ve taken the most brutal hit a parent could take, do you think I’m afraid of rejection? Of a “no” from a potential client? Are you kidding me?

I used to be deathly afraid of speaking in public, in front of anyone I really didn’t know. I wasn’t an introvert but I was shy. I kept to myself and had my circle of people I was comfortable with and that was all. I hated giving speeches in school, and by hate I mean I dreaded those days in class.

Guess what I do now. I speak for a living. I teach marketing and social media classes. I literally get up in front of groups of strangers daily and talk. I also get up in front of young men and tell the story of my son in hopes of them preventing or at least detecting early the disease that took our son. I hated talking in high school and now I go to high schools specifically to talk. I lead entire rooms full of men in group studies at my church and open up about my faith during this journey. I actually started my own consulting business knowing I would be speaking in front of crowds daily after Justin died. And guess what…I’m actually REALLY good at it. Wait, what did I just say? Yes, I’m really good at it. One of my biggest fears during my entire life is now what I do as a job.

A tragedy brought me to a place so far out of my comfort zone that I gave myself no choice but to make it my comfort zone. Maybe I would have made it to where I am if it didn’t happen, but I’m not sure of that fact. I think if my world hadn’t been turned upside down I would have just stayed comfortable and kept doing what I was doing day in and day out. I may never have found out what my true talent really was.

Now don’t mistake what I’m saying as being glad that it happened. I’m far from that. I miss him every single second of every single day. But watching the strength that HE had during the process, the courage he showed EVERY SINGLE DAY he fought the disease undoubtedly rubbed off on me. He endured more than I could ever take, and will always be my hero.

He’s my hero not just because of how he lived

He’s my hero because of how his death taught ME to live.

In the words of one of my favorite lyricists:

“The wound is where the light shines through” -Jon Foreman

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable

#getupeveryday #fighteveryday #fearisjustaword



Permission To Go

Those of us that have been there are the only ones who know the feeling. People can sympathize with you all that they want, but unless you have actually been there, you have no idea. You don’t help bring a life into this world with the intention of outliving that person.

brown wooden dock over body of water
Photo by Vincent Albos on Pexels.com

It is never even a thought in your mind until you are faced with that cold reality. You are here, and your child is not. For some it was sudden and happened in the blink of an eye, an accident, a tragedy you never saw coming. For me, it came through disease, we watched it happen. Worst of all, when the latter is the case you feel helpless as it happens.

I never expected to hear the word Cancer in regards to my 19 year old son. I would have put money on the fact that my children would hear that word in regards to me before I would hear it about them. But that night at the emergency room my world was flipped completely upside down. I had no idea what to do or what to say, but I had to stay strong for him, right?

I spent the next 10 months of my life at my son’s side. I often spent some of those days feeling bad about myself and feeling like I was inadequate as a father for quitting my job to take care of him and not providing for my family. In retrospect, I wouldn’t change one minute. I was able to spend the last 10 months of my son’s life with him, almost every waking hour. I watched him get better, I cheered on every victory no matter how small or big. But I also watched the cancer come back and break him down in a fraction of the time that it took for him to start building himself back up.

I am a Christian man, but I had to make two very hard decisions that tested me to the core of my beliefs. The first one was when we found out Justin was terminal, that we knew the end would come but we didn’t know when. I had to sit down with my wife and we made the conscious decision to not be angry with God for taking him. It sounds simple but to this day I know people that still struggle with that exact same thing. Some people leave their faith completely and they still carry the anger that their child was taken from them and it and want to blame it on God. Yes Justin was taken from this earth, but I prefer to believe he was chosen to go when he did. He made the impact he was meant to make, he lit a fire in me to keep his legacy alive through the work I try to do now in saving other parents from the pain. He was chosen to go before all of us. He is the lucky one, he isn’t in pain anymore. We are the ones left here with the pain of him being gone.

The second decision, whether it can be called that or not, was the decision to let him go. Actually it wasn’t to let him go, it was to give him permission to go. People that have not been there won’t understand, but it is one of the hardest things I have done, but it also brings a sense of peace. Justin died at our home, surrounded by family, but he went on his own terms and when he was ready. What do I mean by ready? I firmly believe that he waited until everyone he wanted to see had been there. He was far beyond normal communication, he had so much pain medicine in him that he was hardly coherent, but I know he heard every word. The night before he died all of his siblings came in and told him good night and how much they loved him. He couldn’t react much, but he heard. The day he died was the day the one Aunt that hadn’t made it here yet came to see him and spend time at his bedside with his other Aunt. But once the visits were done, I specifically told him that it was alright and he didn’t have to be strong for anyone anymore, he could go. I watched his mom tell him much the same thing and here is how I know he heard. Either his mom, stepmom (bonus mom as we say in our house), or I were in his room for much of the last 24 hours of his life. The one moment when neither his mom nor I were there, when my wife and his Aunt were in the room was when he began to draw his final breath. It was almost as if he waited for that moment for us to be out so he could spare us from seeing him go. We all made it in for the moment he passed, but I think he heard us and then left on his own terms.

I will never regret giving him permission to go because I know it gave him peace in hearing that he didn’t have to fight for anyone, he could just go.


Want to hear my whole story and how I can help you Be Better Today?
It not just grief. Being better can mean spiritually, personally, relational, 
or just daily interactions. 
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Struggling with loss of a love one and need to talk to someone?

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