Grieving dads help each other cope with loss during holidays

GREENWOOD, Ind. (WISH) — Losing a loved one can be especially tough during the holidays, particularly if that loss is a child. So, a group of local dads bound by loss are working to cope with that grief together.

They call themselves the “breakfast with the dads” group. It’s a group none of them ever wanted to be a part of.

But, each Tuesday and Thursday they gather, without fail. 52 weeks a year — including holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas — they combine laughter and tears with eggs, bacon and coffee, helping each other find new ways to cope. One group meets on the north side on Tuesdays. One group meets in Greenwood on Thursdays.

Their faces may not be familiar, but many of their stories are.

John Longworth and Don Buxton joined the group last year. Their children Dion and Jennifer Longworth were killed in the 2012 south side explosion at Richmond Hill. Two years later, both say their grief is still overwhelming.

“When you lose somebody, at least for me, and most of these guys, there’s a hole. That’s how it feels when you’ve lost a child. You want to hug them, but you can’t, because they’re not there. So, you have to learn to hug them in another way,” said Longworth.

“We all look into that hole that used to be our child, and it’s no longer there. We look at the emptiness at the dining room table on birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases and Thanksgivings. We look at just missing the child,” nodded Buxton.

The group was founded 18 years ago by grief counselor Adolf Hansen, amid humble roots. He had lost a child, and met with two other local fathers who had experienced the same.

The group then slowly expanded, and now counts more than 80 local fathers who have passed through the doors. About 40 of the dads remain active with the group.

“This is the place where we can vent. This is our safe place. I wasn’t sure I’d ever find that. I just packed everything away. That’s what men do. They’re supposed to just deal with it and move on. And, coming here, I was able to truly grieve for the first time,” said Rick Rhodes, whose son Christopher died in 2008 at the age of 40 of a heart attack.

“My son Nic died in a house fire, off campus house fire, with two other boys in Bloomington in 2004,” said Marv Habicht. “We’ve done some scholarships, some fundraisers. It’s helped us cope to give back. But, it’s been 10 years for me, and I still need these guys. It’s still important just to talk and just to listen. Sometimes we laugh. We’ve even been told at the (Denny’s Restaurant where the group meets) that we’re being too loud. But, there are moments when it’s quiet, reflective and emotional. We’re there for whatever we need.”

That need can be much more pronounced this time of year. Holidays almost always bring additional emotional grief, the group agreed.

David Cook’s daughter Leslie was brutally murdered in 2003. Her body was dumped outside a Boston Market restaurant on Indianapolis’ east side.

He’s here with the rest of the group, every Thursday morning, without fail.

“It was terror (the first time I showed up),” Cook said. “I got there early, sat out in the parking lot. And, there’s no way I was going to go in until I saw (my friend) Jim Nathan pull into that parking lot.”

Since that day, Cook says the group’s support has become even more critical, particularly around the end of the year.

“We have a memory candle that we will light Christmas Eve, for Leslie. We also keep a stocking on the fireplace for her. It’s important to have those reminders,” he said.

Each dad also said places would be set at their holiday dinner tables for their children, before they left to meet with the group on Christmas morning.

“I think I’ve only missed three times in 10 years,” said Jim Nathan, Cook’s friend, whose son Kevin died in a motorcycle crash. “I have a terrible cold right now, and my wife said ‘why don’t you just stay home?’ I said, I can’t miss. I need to be here with my brothers.”

The group’s goal now is showing other dads who have experienced the loss of a child that there is hope in help, even it comes through strangers they never expected to meet.

“When you’re ready to come, show up, just listen or talk with us,” one father said.

Five years ago, the dads came together and wrote a book, entitled Tuesday Mornings With The Dads. Each dad got a chapter to tell their story, with a forward by former Colts Coach Tony Dungy, who lost his own son in 2005.

So many new dads have joined since then, that the group is working on their second book, tentatively titled Breakfast with the Dads and due out early next year.

For more information on the group, click here.

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