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.