September 27, 2016

Helping Boys Cope with Grief

Robert Lucas lost his dad. His father had a long illness before he died, but that only made a wrenching loss a little easier to take. Losing your father is always a big marker in a guy's life, but it can be especially difficult for an angry eighteen-year old young man.

We all know loss and grief are a common and normal part of everyone's life. But for a young male, with limited emotional vocabulary and just as limited cultural permission to show up sad and vulnerable, the big losses can create a pressure cooker of big and complicated feelings. A big loss like Robert's can easily send a kid over the edge into some form of darkness.

Robert was lucky. He had spent three years with the Boys to Men Mentoring Network of Virginia (BTMVA). That's three years to learn all his feelings were welcome in their circles. With time, he was able to unpack and unpack his considerable anger. He learned he was not alone with the hard parts of his life, that he was accepted no matter what, and that he had other young guys and a tribe of good men around him for support. All that came in handy when his dad died.

Here is a collage of photos from various BTMVA events that include Robert and some of the men and boys from the group. The joy of connection and belonging is obvious.

Robert wrote a rap song/poem to his father to offer as his eulogy at his dad's funeral. When he stood to speak at the funeral, he asked ten of the BTMVA men to stand behind him to literally have his back in the most difficult of moments. If you read the lyrics closely, you can hear a brave young man trying to cope with the complex collection of thoughts and feelings that came with facing the death of his father. Here, in his own words, is what Robert said:

It been a long time coming!
Pop as I write this letter to you Understand tears was shed Hearing those four words your father is dead Gone off this earth It's crazy thinkin you gone yeah it hurts But honestly I can't be selfish Looking in your eyes pops you was lifeless Couldn't stand up and barely walking Couldn't speak you were barely talking 5 long years seeing you suffer

Witnessing it made me strong it made me tougher So many memories you share with me I still remember long summer you me and the PS3 Face bright joyful heart Our bond can never be torn apart

Dad it's still very hard to comprehend Your gone and I'm the sky you ascend No stress no more worries nor no pain

Imma be alright and gonna maintain Still thankful you seen my graduate I had to finish couldn't hesitate Thanks for giving me all that knowledge Pops I promise you one thing I'm heading back to college I'm ready to carry on the lucas legacy

I still remember those things you said to me "Jr watch your friend they you closes enemy's" this worlds crazy so be prepare mentally Some people real those relationships meant to be Some wait till you turn your back stab you and say that Dude dead to me Tell People what he did and straight fled the scene He said jr let me break it down let me explain

I said yea pops I'm listening heart filled with pain He said I been alive a while Seeing walk across that stage made me proud you should have seen my smile If only you wore my shoes probably couldn't last mile He said times is getting rougher Situations tougher All this fighting I'm doing doc said I prob won't recover So you the man that means take care of your mother

After the funeral service, BTMVA hosted a meal at a local restaurant attended by Robert's family and many of the BTMVA boys and men. His community gathered around him in support. It was as beautiful as these difficult moments can be. But for so many other boys like Robert, who are angry, pressurized, and alone, it often turns out quite different.

Robert is a success story!

The good news is Robert is a success story! He has graduated high school and will soon be moving to Pennsylvania to live with his Mom. He intends to honor his promise to his dad to attend college. He has found his heart and voice, and instead of stuffing big feelings behind a mask of teen bravado, he shared his story with the world. He asked for support, and leaned on his friends in dealing with this huge challenge. These are important life lessons he's learned at a young age.

Stories like Robert's are not uncommon in the Boys to Men network, or in the many other places where men are showing up for our boys. Here's another story from a past blog post about a boy who had to put his horse to death, and how a circle of men and young guys helped him cope.

. . . I know the Roberts of the world are waiting.

In writing this now, I'm feeling the sadness of the losses in my life as a teen that I had to face alone. I always wonder who I'd be today if I had found the support and caring for the hard parts of my life that Robert was lucky enough to find. But then, that's why I'm involved and maybe why you're reading this! Give me a shout if you're interested in joining other men in this good work. I know you won't regret it, and I know the Roberts of the world are waiting.

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