There is a lot of buzz in the health and wellness industry around men’s health. I have been a strong advocate for men’s health since the early 2000s. In particular, I am deeply connected to men’s mental health as a result of my own personal health and wellness journey.
I grew up in a time when individuals who identified as “men” did not speak about their emotions.
I feel called to acknowledge that we are becoming more conscious as human beings as a whole. Modalities and practitioners are recognizing that emotional experiences are a significant source of disharmony in mind, body, and Spirit. Moreover, collectively we are honouring this is a human struggle – one that does not recognize sex, gender, race, ethnicity, or social class.
Those individuals who identify as “men,” myself included, navigate complex emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges. They cry. They feel. They, too, need space to express and heal.
Recently, in a yoga class (an environment once unchartered by men in the Western world) I was exposed to an excerpt titled, “The Train:”
At birth we boarded the train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel by our side. As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant i.e. our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of your life. However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone.
At thirty-nine, on July 1, 2019, my Dad stepped down from The Train. Eight months later, I’m now riding along on the Train of Life learning to live what I call: Life After Dad.
I’ve had some very difficult days since his passing. Nothing prepares you for the moments leading up to and after significant loss. Nothing prepares you for the intense longing – the intensity of the emotional pain. The emptiness.
Of late, I’ve found deeply profound healing in writing about and sharing memories, stories, and my feelings about my Dad and his passing.
This is not a letter I thought I would have to write – at least not so soon.
I am grieving. Hard. I am doing everything I can to take care of myself, like you would have wanted me to.
It’s 2020 now Dad, and I am speaking openly about my feelings. I am talking about what the world is like without you.
I am setting boundaries and making sure I can be the best version of myself.
You see, my Dad and I, we came from different worlds. My Dad grew up in a time when “men just don’t talk about their feelings.”
Dad, I know sometimes you were uncomfortable when I talked about my feelings and my mental health.
I appreciate now more than ever that you always listened anyway. I don’t think I would be here if I had tried to go at it alone.
I’ve started writing about you and sharing it through social medial channels.
It’s helping me and I think I am helping other people too.
It has helped me not to keep things bottled up, like I used to do.
It’s 2020, and as “a man” I am learning to grieve. I am embracing my vulnerability. Vulnerability, for me, has replaced what it looks and feels like to be a “strong man.” It’s about time we disrupt and completely disband that stereotype.
Dad, I think you would be proud of the inner work I am doing to heal. I am still actively speaking with Dr. Kanodia from Ohio as my general family physician. I am still going to therapy. I still have nightmares (and daymares) about our short time in the hospital.
I am holding on to the good memories we had in there. The last two football games we watched. The last conversation that we had on June 27, 2019. I am holding on to those good memories, but I will never forget the last time I walked out of the room and said good-bye.
That time will be forever emblazoned on my soul. The time when Mom had to phone me to let me know that you were gone.
Grief smells of rain at the close of autumn when leaves have begun to fall. It tastes of bittersweet chocolate mixed with the subtle note of coffees no longer to be. It stalls in the smallest places – the throat and narrow chambers of the heart. Grief mists the eyes until you’ve forgotten that you can still see.
I see you in everything, Dad. Every sunrise and sunset. Every football game. Every street in Sherwood Park.
I wonder, will our baby be a reincarnation of you?
Sometimes, massage and acupuncture help with the longing and the loss. Some days I carry around the large burden of being the one who told you about your terminal diagnosis. I am still going to the gym, swimming and practicing yoga. Some days that just isn’t enough.
I hope you think I made the right choice, as difficult as it was for me to do. I still crave your support, Dad.
The impetus for writing this piece extends beyond sharing my story. I want to expose this aspect of Men’s Health that I find under-represented in the health and wellness area. I want men experiencing challenges such as grief, loss, depression, anxiety etc., to know that their experience is true and valid and real.
I thought you’d like to know that we are still seeing Dr. Kevin for chiro – it helps my body release the emotions that get stuck in certain places. He was really sad when I told him the news. He said he always appreciated your sense of humour, your candidness (I think he meant sarcasm), and your kindness.
You were kind and you taught me to be kind.
The most recent modality of healing I have embarked on in the wake of your passing is Shamanic healing. Heather and I see someone every month. It’s some of the only times I get to talk to you. I still want to feel close to you.
My healer told me you wanted me to know that you are safely on the other side and that you are okay.
There are so many more options available to help us heal these days — options that seem to be more mainstream and accepted than perhaps they were only a few years ago. I think increasingly people realize that we can’t hide it. We can’t do it all on our own. We need to reach out for help from others.
And over here – well, we are as okay as we can be. We all struggle from time to time. I don’t know if you really realized what a huge impact you had on people’s lives. There were close to 400 people at your celebration! And there were dozens that sent their condolences about not being able to make it.
Talk about a life well lived. I always admired that about you.
It must have been so hard to hear me tell you, “…it’s cancer…pancreatic cancer”. I know that you were in your own personal hell when you had your first stroke. I/we made the decision you would have wanted, and that was to go into surgery to get the clot removed. The entire team was so proud that they removed it.
Western Medicine most certainly has its place. It saved your life – more than once.
Who would have known that it was just your time?
You taught me how to live. How to mow the lawn. How to put up crooked pictures. How to sort-of fix things. How to do renovations fast and not perfect.
You and Mom taught me how to try to show up in this world. How to try to give back.
I would like to think that the work we are doing at Park Integrative Health would make you proud. You already know that Integrative Medicine saved my life. I think we are doing that for many other people too. I know that will be our legacy.
I want you to know that I will continue to speak out about my journey in the hopes that it can help other people. I promise that I will teach our future child about the values and lessons that you and Mom taught me.
I promise you that I will continue in your honour to live a life that you would be proud of.
I love you, I miss you, and I’ll be seeing you.
Grief is challenging for anyone. Whatever complex challenges you or someone you know might be facing, my hope is that you will read this article will reach out and connect with others — men included — they need to be seen too.
By Brandon Jacobs