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Guest post by Samantha Hayward

I do not know Samantha Hayward.  My friend Debby Stephenson from Courageous Kidz saw her article on Facebook.  Debby sent it to me in e-mail, and after reading it I thought it appropriate to share it with you.  I can relate to everything that Samantha shares in this article and I believe everyone could get some valuable insight from it.


The soul destroying agony of your child dying is only truly known and understood by those who have endured it. Four years on, I still glance down at my daughters grave in disbelief. Visiting my child’s grave is surreal. It’s almost like I’ve vacated my body and I’m watching someone I don’t know standing there putting flowers down.

Is this really my life ?

Only a parent understands the powerful bond you have with your child; that absolute undying love you have and that monumental desire that roars like an open fire inside you to protect that child at all costs. It is openly said that a parent will lay down their life for their child, but it is not until you have your own that you truly understand these fierce emotions. Parenting is wearing your heart on the outside of your body. Whatever you imagine it might be like to have your child die, multiply that by about a trillion and you’re probably not even close.

On the surface it appears society is accepting of this unbearable sadness and people are supportive and open to talking about it. However, in my situation I’ve been surprised by people’s genuine kindness and empathy as much as I’ve been repeatedly shocked & disappointed by their lack of it. It’s necessary for bereaved parents to be able to talk and, most of all, be able to talk openly. I’ve found it’s the only thing which dispels the trauma.

Sure, friends and family have been supportive, but it’s proven to be the case with me that there is a mandate as for how long their unwavering support, patience, understanding, concern and empathy lasts. The truth is, the situation is so unbearably sad that it becomes incredibly emotionally draining on the other person.

The realisation that they can’t fix your sadness sets in, the frustration builds because not even they can see an end in sight, then gradually it starts to impede on the happiness in their life. They haven’t lost their child so why should they spend all their time sad about yours?

I will, for the sake of all the other parents out there with empty arms, write ten things I wish people knew about the loss of a child. Maybe one of my ten points might make a difference to a bereaved parent’s life.

1. Four years on I get up every day with the exact same sadness I had the day Ella died. The only difference is I’m more skilled at hiding it and I’m much more used to the agony of my broken heart. The shock has somewhat lessened, but I do still find myself thinking I can’t believe this happened. I thought that only happened to other people. You asked how I was in the beginning yet you stopped, why? Where did you get the information on what week or month was good to stop asking?

2. Please don’t tell me that all you want is for me to be happy again. Nobody wants that more than I do, but it’s something that can only be achieved with time. On top of that, I have to find a new happiness. The happiness I once felt, that carefree feeling, will never return in its entirety. It also helps to have the patience and understanding from loved ones.

3. Please don’t say ‘I want the old Sam back!’ Or, I can see the old Sam coming back! Sam’s not coming back. This is who I am now. If you only knew the horror I witnessed and endured you would know it’s not humanly possible for me to ever be the same person again. Losing a child changes who you are. I’ve been told my eyes look haunted.

It’s a strange thing for someone to tell a grieving mother, but it’s true – I am haunted. My views on the world have changed, things that were once important are not now and vice versa. I feel as though you’re telling me two things here. Firstly you don’t like the person I am and, secondly if the old Sam’s not coming back I’m out of here. By the way there is nobody that misses the “old Sam” more than me!!! I’m mourning two deaths here; my daughter’s and my former self.

4. If you chose to acknowledge my daughter’s birthday or the anniversary of her death on the first year, it’s terribly gut wrenching when you didn’t bother to acknowledge the second or third or fourth. Do you think any subsequent birthday or anniversary is not as sad for me? It also says to me in very big neon lights that you’ve moved on and forgotten about my daughter.

5. Please stop with the continual comments about how lucky I am to have my other children particularly my daughter. Do I say this to you? Then why say it to me? I’ve buried my daughter do you seriously think I feel lucky?

6. It’s not healthy to cry in front of the kids? You’re wrong. It is perfectly healthy that they see I’m sad their sister has died. When someone dies it’s normal to cry. What would not be normal would be for my children to grow up and think “I never even saw my Mum sad over Ella’s death.” That would paint me in a light that would tell them it’s healthy to hide your emotions when obviously it’s not.

7. I have four children I don’t have three.  If you want to ignore Ella as my third child because she’s dead go for it but don’t do it for me. Four not three!

8. There are still some days, yes four years on, that I still want to hide away from the world and take a break from pretending everything is oh so wonderful and I’m all better.

Please don’t just assume I’ve thrown in the towel, or worse, actually be so thoughtless as to wonder what’s wrong with me. I still know I’ve married the catch of the century and my children are gorgeously divine and I have a beautiful house, but I’m grieving.

It’s mentally exhausting, especially raising three young children and on top of that maintaining a strong and loving marriage. Unbeknownst to you, I’m dealing with not just my own grief, but my beautiful husbands and my two boys.

It would be nice if you congratulated me on the state of my family because keeping it together, stable and happy, has been hard work.

9. I did notice. To the friends and family that found the entire death and dealing with my sadness all too hard and held secret events behind our backs that were lied about, stopped inviting us to things we had always been included in and slowly ended our relationship thinking I didn’t notice.

I did notice. The only reason why I never said anything is because I’m not wasting my words on your shameful behaviour. I am thankful for something though – I didn’t waste any more time on people that were capable of such shallowness and cruelty. Please don’t fear. I would be the first one by your side if the same thing happened to you. That should give you some indication of how horrible it is.

10. Grieving for a child lasts until you see them again. It’s a lifetime. If you’re wondering how long your friend or family member might be grieving for, the answer is forever. Don’t rush them, don’t trivialize their sadness, don’t make them feel guilty for being sad and when they talk to you, open your ears and listen, really listen to what they’re telling you. It’s possible you’ll learn something. Don’t be so cruel as to give up on them remember it’s not about you it’s about them.

I’ve been left repeatedly heart broken as friends that I truly loved and never thought would walk away from me tossed me into the too hard basket or – more hurtfully – the crazy basket. Phone calls stopped, text messages stopped, comments on Facebook stopped and I get the same thing every time. “Sorry darling I’m just flat out”, “Let’s catch up soon” and “I miss you.” The list could keep going but I get it. I’m not the type of person either that is going to pursue a friendship I know the other person doesn’t want. Everyone has a conscience and thankfully I don’t have to live with theirs.

You would think there are a lot of articles that raise awareness of the awful process associated with grieving for a child, but even stories from other parents are a rarity. The sad reality is there just isn’t enough said or printed. You seldom hear through the media about grieving for a child and the impact their death has on all the various people involved.

It can destroy a marriage instantly, it can leave siblings hurt, confused and angry. Often siblings are too young to understand, they’re angry that their family is not the same and even angrier that they don’t recognize their parents. Losing their sibling is bad enough but so much more is lost for these siblings that is never recognized. I could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been asked how my boys were.

You might hear about the gory details surrounding a child’s death in the media but that’s about all. There should be so much more written about this topic, and additionally it should be talked about more openly than it is. I’m disappointed not just for me but for all the other grieving parents in society that this topic is met with so much fear and silence.

The bottom line is people are uncomfortable with the situation and I really don’t know why. My feelings tell me it is such an horrific thing that most people don’t want to know about it. Maybe they fear through knowing so much they might become obsessed with their own children dying. Parents worry enough about their children already. Do they really need the added worry about knowing how your child died?

Without question, my daughter Ella dying suddenly has been the worst thing that has happened in my 37 years here on Earth. I doubt that anything in my future is going to top it. Actually, just between us, I beg and plead with God on a daily basis that nothing ever does top that experience, but the truth is I just don’t know.

I’m not a mind reader nor do I have a magic pair of glasses where I can see how the rest of my life will unfold. I just have to hope that nothing ever does, but I have a very real fear it will because it has actually already happened to me. I know without having to hold a psychology degree that having those fears is normal.

“I don’t think I would be able to survive something like it again.”

What I’ve endured, losing my little princess, has been so unimaginably horrific that I don’t think I would survive something like it again.

What I have had to give emotionally to get through it has dwindled away all my mental strength – just like twenty cents pieces in a kid’s piggy bank.

I’m broke – not broken – I’m broke emotionally. I know all the energy I’ve needed over the last four years has not just been spent on my grief for Ella.

It’s been on trying to get my friends and family to understand what it’s like to walk in my shoes. I’m angry about that. When I should have been grieving, I was defending myself.

I’m probably very close to being as angry about that as I am about her death. I wish I wasn’t angry. Lord knows I don’t need another emotion but I don’t know how to not be angry, especially with some of the things that people have said and done to me. I talk and talk yet I’m often never actually heard.

I’m not sure if it’s a lack of literature around or perhaps that people simply don’t want to read it because it’s so awful and they don’t want to know someone they love and care about it experiencing so much agony. I  personally know though, if I found out a family member or friend had been diagnosed with an illness or disease, or worse, their child, I would be on Google immediately finding out more about it and how I could help them the best. So why is it that this doesn’t seem to apply with the death of a child?

Most people just think they know. I find this extremely frustrating. The death of your child is the worst thing that can happen to a person, yet most feel educated enough to advise, to criticise, to lend their words of wisdom when they don’t know the first thing about it. Get over it? Why don’t we see if you could get over it first!

Most people wouldn’t know that when I meet someone new I instantly become uncomfortable and filled with dread. I know at any moment when I engage in conversation the question is going to arise about my family and how many children do I have? I would love not to have to tell them. Life would be a lot easier if I could take that path. However, I do have another child. Her name is Ella. She would now be four but she died when she was 19 days old. She isn’t lost – I know exactly where she is, she’s dead.

Ella is my third child and she deserves to be acknowledged just as much as my other children. I’ve lied before saying I have only three children, but the guilt that follows me around for days on end is just simply not worth it. I can actually hear Ella saying to me “don’t I matter anymore Mummy?” “Why were you too ashamed to talk about me?”

So personally for me, as much as I don’t want to tell someone I don’t personally know very well that my daughter is dead, the guilt of not acknowledging her is worse. I don’t have three children, I have four and my daughter is not my only daughter – I have another as well. It’s pot luck what their reaction is going to be. There’s no telling what they’re going to say. You just have to close your eyes, cover your broken heart and hope they don’t plunge that knife further in.

If I could have my questions answered on why people give so much advice on a topic that they know so little about, it would really help me. What has surprised me so much since Ella’s death is how little empathy there is in the world. Empathy to me is a no brainier. You just imagine you’re in the other persons shoes, simple yes? Apparently no. Just think how you would like to be treated and if you wouldn’t like it don’t do it. You never know what your life holds – one day it could be you wearing my shoes!

I hope this article about my personal thoughts and opinions helps at least one person understand to some degree what life is like for the bereaved parent ❤

I dedicate this article to my soul mate, Darren. I’m the luckiest girl in the world having you, my darling. I love you more and more everyday you’re simply perfect and after fifteen years my heart still skips a beat with I see you. My friend Natalie Donnelly & her daughter Eryn. To put it simply: she is an angel and if the world was full of Natalies, it would be a better place. Also my bestie Liv thank you for letting me be and never smothering me with pointless words. Love you both xx

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Happy Fathers Day

I had a very nice Fathers day.  My family went out of their way to make me feel loved and appreciated.  I got to see the Man of Steel movie with my son Justin.  Katy and I went to church at Coastal Community Church in West Ashley.  Pastor Chris spoke about what it means to be a real man.  My father is long gone.  James C Moffitt Sr adopted my sister Tanya and I from an orphanage in Germany when he and my mother were stationed in Frankfurt.  I will be forever thankful that my sister and I have been able to experience America.  Life could have been so much worse for us.  My adoptive father passed away in 1990 from lung cancer.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent.  None of us get instruction manuals with regards to how to raise children.  My father lost his dad to pneumonia early on in life so he was raised by his mother.  My father came from a family of 6 children.  Here are a couple of things that my father taught me which have stuck with me to this day.

  • If something is worth doing, it should be done right the first time
  • wish in one hand and poop in the other and see which one gets fuller the fastest
  • the Dallas Cowboys ARE the BEST Football team and you should support them  (I have since 69)
  • never tell me you are bored, I will find you something to do
  • if I ask you a question, I had better get an answer
  • never, ever lie to me

Here is a picture of my adoptive parents, Hedy and James Moffitt.  The basinet in the picture is the one they purchased for my son Jeremy who is now 26.  He was still a baby in this picture.



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Surviving the storms of life

Fathers Refuge has been a vision of mine since 2001 when my daughter Jessica lost her battle with cancer.

As a family we walked through our Jessica spending 14 months of treatments at MUSC Children’s Hospital in Charleston South Carolina. Nothing prepares you for that type of journey and you find yourself clinging to any type of hope and support system that comes along.

Support came in the form of local churches in Bluffton SC and Goose Creek SC. Support also came in the form of Camp Happy Days, Courageous Kidz and the Make a Wish Foundation.   Through the many things that these organizations provided for us, and our faith in God, we survived the passing of our daughter.

I remember how I described living through this chapter in our lives. I likened it to standing on a beach and watching an approaching storm.

I remember the night when we took Jessica to the emergency room at the hospital on Hilton Head Island after she started to show signs of head trauma. Jessica kept telling us she was dizzy and could not keep food down. When the doctors put Jessica through a battery of tests the CT scan identified a brain tumor the size of a baseball and it was wrapped around her brain stem.

The doctors performed an emergency surgery and removed 95% of the tumor. I will never forget the surgeon telling Katy and I that if Jessica lived for 12 months it would be a miracle. That is when the storm landed on the beach and the wind, rain and lightening descended upon our entire family.

Living on the East Coast we are always on the lookout for Hurricanes and between the months of June and November we are warned to have a hurricane survival kit. We are encouraged to have an evacuation plan in place for our families. Planning and preparation is key to surviving this type of devastating storm. Our family found out that there was no amount of planning or preparation that could have prepared our family for the storm we were experiencing with our Jessica.

Our master plan was to pray to God and ask him to heal our little girl. We pleaded for him to remove the two types of cancers that were wrapped around Jessica’s brain stem and that she would return to perfect health. Despite our prayers and pleading Gods’ master plan was to bring out Jessica out of this world and into his loving arms.  

That particular chapter in our lives turned out to be a storm that lasted 14 months from beginning to end. Like most major storms in life it left behind some wreckage. Our family was changed forever and would never be the same. The storm threatened the very foundation of our faith in God. While our faith in God never faltered I am sure that it cracked in several places.   

As we walked through the aftermath of this particular storm I noticed that as a father that most support systems were designed to reach out to the mother. I will never forget the funeral director telling me that within a year the chances were good that Katy and I would wind up in divorce court. Apparently this type of storm is conducive to wrecking families. As a father and a husband I vowed that we would not be another statistic.  

As a father I remember how I felt not really having much of a support system. It turns out that men and women process grief differently. I know now that women are more demonstrative of their feelings and men tend to turn their feelings inward and internalize the grief.

I remember speaking to a chaplain from MUSC about Fathers Refuge and how I wanted to help bring healing to other fathers walking through that type of storm. The chaplain told me that one of the biggest hurdles to reaching out to men is to get them to a place where they would be willing to talk about the grief, and begin the healing process.

I realize now, in that moment, in that stage of our storm, I was not ready or equipped to help others in their grief process. Katy and I still had a lot of processing to do. We had a lot of emotions to work through and lots of questions about why this happened to our family.

As I look back 31 years ago I realize that loosing Jessica is not the only storm I have been through. In my early 20’s I wound up in jail and spent some time living on the streets of Houston Texas. I also found myself living through the aftermath of a divorce.   Each individual event or storm has taught me some very valuable lessons. Each storm has its own unique story. Today I realized that while losing our daughter to cancer was a horrible storm, I also have several other stories to tell.

I am hoping that Fathers Refuge will be a mechanism that I can use to tell my stories. Hopefully I can tell the stories of each storm in such a way that men and fathers will be able to identify with their own unique struggles. I know that I am not alone and that there are other men who have struggled or are struggling with the many things that life throws at us.

As I look back at each storm of my life I realize that if it were not for the power of Jesus Christ in my life and the different godly men and women who influenced me, that I would have wound up in prison, a drug addict or dead. Thirty-one years later, I can look back at the storms and ahead to the future and say, “to God be the glory”. He is the one who brought me through each storm. He is the one who carried me through each storm. He is the God that never turned his back on me, even when I walked away. Through each storm God revealed himself as my redeemer and provider when I needed it the most.

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Praise and conflict

I am the father of four children. I have two young adults living at home. One daughter that is 20 and one son that is 17. I am very familiar with the concept of praise and conflict. Sadly enough I am probably much more familiar with conflict than I am praise. How and where did we learn our parenting skills? We learn them from our parents mostly. We learn them from listening to other people who are supposed to be subject matter experts in that field.

When I became a parent I had to try to erase the memories from my childhood when it came to parenting. My parents are long since gone and there are many things I am grateful for. Nevertheless there are some areas that they were very lacking in. Praise was certainly one of those things that I rarely experienced. As a teenager I was always doing my part to be rebellious towards them no matter the consequences. My parents constantly communicated with me that I was never good enough to meet their standards.

As I try to be an example to my young adults I constantly find myself going back to my parental example to remind myself to not do what they did. The gap in this equation is that while I am trying not to be judgemental and harsh I am trying to figure out how to do the right thing in the current situation.

Raising young adults (teenagers) is like herding cats. They are always doing their thing no matter how much you try to guide them. Not too long ago I went to breakfast with my son Justin. Justin is my 17 year old son who has taken a liking to playing different types of guitars. Since he has been working he has spent most of his monies on outfitting his room with sound equipment. Justin has always been at odds with me with regards to his hair length. Having been raised in a strict military family I was always forced to have a very short hair cut up until I was 17 where I was allowed to let it grow out a little bit.

I remember having this talk with my son with regards to him getting a hair cut. His comment to me was this. “I have spent the last 17 years trying to get your approval by being a good son”. “I do not understand how the length of my hair is such a big deal to you.”. I had to take a few moments to contemplate that statement. His comment took me by surprise. I have gone out of my way over the years to demonstrate my love towards my children both verbally and physically. I believe that it is very important that they received praise, affection and affirmation from their father. I especially understand it because of how screwed up I had been by not receiving it in my childhood.

After some quick reflection I was honest with my son and told him that there were two reasons why I insisted that he get his hair cut. One reason was because I was afraid that if I compromised with him over his hair lenght that I might be compromising with him over other things. I also told him that I had been programmed by my father to believe that young me did not have hair that was as long as a girl. Young men do not wear nose studs, tongue studs or have tattoos either.

I went out of my way to praise Justin during this conversation and let him know why I thought he was a good person and a good son. I have always been transparent with my family and communicated with them my weaknesses and my understanding on how it affected them.

I am very proud that while my young people have given me their fair share of conflict, that I have not had any major incidents to deal with when it comes to drug or alcohol addiction. I have not been awakened in the middle of the night by a police dispatcher or a call from jail or the hospital. I realize that anything can happen, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing.

No matter what the conflict I will always try to find ways to affirm my young people and give them the best advice possible. When conflict arises I try to remember that I too was their age at one point in my life. I try to remember that they are feeling their way through life and that they are seeing the world through their eyes and dealing with peer pressure and raging hormones.

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Walking with grief – a fathers perspective

I come from the GREAT state of Texas. The long horn state where the highways and flatland never seem to end. One of the television commercials that I will have etched on my brain forever goes like this. How long has it been since you have had a bowl of wolf brand chili? Well, neighbor that is entirely too long. Wolf brand chili is one of those things that you can get in Texas that is hard to find anywhere else. My wife and I miss several things about Texas. The chili, authentic Mexican cooking and a soft drink called Big Red. We have been gone from Texas since August of 1997 and though I do not miss the big city living in Houston we certainly miss other things and people. We miss our family and friends that we left behind. Not only do we not miss the big city living but also we don’t miss some of the things that I remember about Houston. I don’t miss the traffic jams. I do not miss the heat and humidity. I don’t miss the sounds of sirens at all hours of the day and night. I do not miss the hustle and bustle of the big city. Houston Texas is a city that never sleeps.

As a father that is walking through the grief process I have to say that there are things that I miss about our Jessica and there are things that I do not miss. All of these things are elements of the grief that I have to work through each day and sometimes each week.
One of the things that I do not miss is the daily or weekly visits to the MUSC radiology and oncology department. I do not miss the quarterly check ups where we would have to sit in a room for several hours while a team of people would come into the room one at a time with their legal pads or clip boards with an endless stream of repeated questions. I do not miss the feeling of being a gold fish in a glass jar where we were some sort of specimen to be observed. I do not miss the never-ending battle of finding a parking place for the car and having to show the teller at the booth our handicap license plate so we could get out at no charge. I do not miss the knowing looks of the parents that I would pass in the hallways of the hospital as we would pass them with Jessica in her wheelchair wearing her hat over a hairless head. I do not miss the feeling of helplessness as I watched our Jessica loosing the energy to live as she would lay around on the couch wishing she could be outside playing with the other children.

What I do miss is Jessica saying “ Oh Daddy!” when I would say something silly or unexpectedly burp in her presence. I miss Jessica’s smile because when she did, it was from ear to ear and it would light up the room. No matter how glum I felt when Jessica smiled, especially in the last several months, it really brightened up my day. I miss the hugs from Jessica as she struggled to show her love and affection for me. I miss seeing Jessica’s courage as she fought to keep on living from day to day despite all of the treatments and examinations that she endured. I miss going to the mailbox and getting all of the post cards from all over the world from the Chemo Angels. I miss going to the mailbox and getting letters from parents just like you who wrote to tell us we were not alone. I miss watching Jessica interacting with other members of our church as they would move here from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall in her wheel chair or help her get out of the car to go inside the church.

I look back on those events now just as if it were yesterday. The pain is no less real or present in my heart. I remember the joys and the struggles. I remember the loss and the joy equally. As one day melts into another I recognize that this is going to be a long journey in which we learn how to live without our Jessica. Healing will happen slowly but surely. Healing will mostly come from within and there will be days that God will have to supernaturally reach down from heaven and do the work for us because we will be too weak and weary to cry out to Him for help. The difference between the memories of Jessica and Texas is that we can always drive back to Texas and experience the things that we missed the most. On this earth and in this plane of living we will not experience Jessica’s laugh or affection again. We have the hope that she is with the Lord and that we will see her again once our lives are over here on this earth.

My hearts desire is to be the father that I need to be to my other children despite my loss.
I want to know how to live through this grief process in a way that will not rip apart my existing family unit. I want to know how to be the husband and confidant that my wife needs as she walks through her pain. I want to know how to share my heart and life experiences through this all so that others that come after me or before me will be better equipped to handle their grief process. As I pour out my heart and thoughts and feelings my hope is that other men just like me will find refuge. We will not find refuge in knowing that someone else is in pain. We will not find refuge in knowing that someone else just like me is awake at night or is having a hard time concentrating at work. We will find refuge as we learn how to take the horrible grief and pain and channel it back to our Father who is in Heaven. There are a lot of books and resources that are available for those of us in grief to read but the only true source of healing is going to have to come from God. I started Fathers Refuge so that I could communicate with men who are learning how to live with the grief. I want men to know that it is ok to talk about pain. Men are not exempt from the harsh realities of pain.

As a man I know that it is natural for us to want to just hold it all in and appear as if nothing is wrong on the inside. The problem with doing that is that eventually the pain will surface. How the pain surfaces is up to us. How we choose to walk through the grief process is going to affect our relationships with our wives and our children. If you are not married then it will affect your relationship with your co-workers and friends.
As I walk through this process of grief I want to learn how to help men to learn how to open up and express what is going on inside. If you are the wife, mother, relative of a man who is walking through grief be sure and know that he is not doing ok and life is not just back to normal. He may appear to be ok but trust me when I tell you that he is not. Gently reach out to him and let him know that you are there for him. You do not need to have all the right answers because there are none. All you need to know is to let him know that while you do not understand the pain you know that it is there and you care. Sometimes just listening to a person talk will make all the difference in the world.

If I can help someone find refuge for their own personal storm as they walk through grief then please direct them to the e-mail and postal address below. I not only want to learn how to be healed, but I want to pass the healing process on to other men just like me who need a brother and a friend that understands. That is what Fathers Refuge is all about. You can contact me at

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