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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

FINDING PURPOSE IN GRIEF: Fathers reflect on grief

Jimmy Carrauthers' tattoos honor his stepson Edwin, who died at age 10 in a brutal attack. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Jimmy Carrauthers
Edwin Anthony Pellecier, Jr.
Nov. 17, 1998 – Dec. 26, 2008

As Jimmy Carrauthers of Phoenix sits down to talk about his late 10-year-old stepson Edwin, he shares a treasure trove of images of a beautiful little boy on the tiny screen of his iPhone.

“To this day I walk around numb,” says Carrauthers. “It’s something I’m still trying to get used to.”

Carrauthers, who was in the Air Force at the time, was dating Edwin’s mother, Jessica, when he met the 2-year old and his older brother, Anthony, in 2001. The boys’ father was not a daily presence in their lives. “I grew up without a father,” Carrauthers says. “I didn’t want Edwin to endure that absence as a child. I made a point to be there for him.”

Though he and Jessica did not marry, and eventually ended their relationship, he stayed in contact with the boys. Edwin was like a son to him and to this day Carrauthers considers him his stepson. “It wasn’t the traditional father/son relationship; it was its own special thing,” he says. “He was a friend, a buddy.”

Edwin was an animated, pure-hearted child. In the eight years Carrauthers knew him he saw a child who wasn’t ready to grow up because he was having too much fun. The little boy often served as a subject for Carrauthers’ photography and the short films he produced while attending Collins College in Tempe, working on his bachelor’s degree in film and video production.

Edwin and his 8-year old cousin Jesse were playing in a local park on a clear December day in 2008 when they were randomly, brutally attacked by a schizophrenic man wielding a bat. As traumatized family and friends kept vigil at the boys’ bedsides for four agonizing days, it became clear that neither would recover.

“I lost a lot of faith that day, in that hospital,” says Carrauthers. Both boys died on the same day, Dec. 26. Jesse passed first; Edwin died just hours later.

“Edwin and Jesse were inseparable,” says Carrauthers. “They were my inspiration. My photos and videos are all I have left of them.”

A professional contact told him about the MISS Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting families who have lost children of any age, from any cause. He joined a planning committee for the 2010 MISS Conference, a bi-annual event, and volunteered to donate video and photography services.

“MISS opened doors for me. I met so many people I could relate to—people who understood, who appreciated my work. They knew the difference between sympathy and empathy,” says Carrauthers. Like him, “they were living it.”

Carrauthers’ goal after he left the Air Force was to get into filmmaking, but he is now on a different path, with a different purpose. Before leaving Arizona—and unimaginable, painful times—behind, he will make a journey to Tucson, where Edwin and Jesse are buried. As this issue goes to press, he is visiting family in Oklahoma before he follows his Korean heritage and heads to South Korea to teach English to young children.

“There are things I need to do,” says Carrauthers. “I’ve been lost. There’s more to this. I’m trying to find it.”

Jason Freiwald of Chandler and a portrait of his son, Braden. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Jason Freiwald
Braden Jason Freiwald
Oct. 4, 2004 – Mar. 23, 2008

A healthy 3-year-old boy, brimming with life, tends to take over a household. Parents see to his constant needs and marvel at his progress, rapid growth and the positive qualities he is beginning to exhibit as he socializes with siblings at home and peers and adults at preschool. When a routine, outpatient procedure becomes necessary, the parents become extra vigilant, anticipating anxious hours ahead but also the recovery at home in loving, caring familiarity. This is how it should have been for little Braden Freiwald. But this is not how it turned out.

“Braden was never sick,” says his dad, Jason Freiwald of Chandler. “But he had some issues with the swelling of his tonsils and adenoids, so it was decided to remove them.”

Braden was feeling a bit off the night before and the morning of his tonsillectomy, but he was cleared for surgery. When he came home that afternoon, his fever spiked and he became lethargic. Freiwald and his wife Billie were in constant contact with the hospital, which relayed instructions intended to reduce Braden’s fever and keep him comfortable.

Braden slept with his mom that night, with Freiwald in another room; everyone needed to try to get some rest. But Freiwald awoke early the next morning to his wife’s screams. Braden was blue and not breathing. His shocked parents called 911 and started CPR. He was resuscitated and airlifted to Banner Desert Samaritan Hospital in Mesa. Braden had no brain function.

It was inconceivable to be losing their young son this way. But Braden never recovered. On Easter Sunday of 2008, four days after he returned to the hospital, he was taken off of life support and died.

In the midst of their shock and grief, the family (Billie has two older children from a previous marriage) put together a loving tribute to Braden. More than 300 people came to the funeral, including the paramedics who tried so desperately to save his life. In the coming months, Freiwald says, they would search “high and low” for some kind of child-loss/grief resources. They tried several counselors and support groups before finding the MISS Foundation. Freiwald discovered that “it’s amazing what comes to the surface and what you can learn from others by sharing experiences.”

He was surprised to find that “family and friends can’t be there in the capacity you hope or expect; they go by the wayside very soon afterward. People expect you to get back to life as if nothing happened.” He also discovered that dads too often grieve in isolation, trying to be strong for the rest of the family. Freiwald felt open to therapy: “I trusted the process and accepted that we needed outside help. The MISS group became our family.”

He spent the first year after Braden’s death “in a raw state. Life is wrapped around the tragedy. Days and weeks drag on, and then you don’t know what’s coming one, two, five years ahead.” He speaks of “emotional tidal waves” that come with each benchmark, each holiday and birthday.

Then came the decision to have another child, with new fears thrown on top of grief. Braden’s sister Hope was born in July 2009, but not before Billie found out two months into the pregnancy that she had Stage III breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy.

Amid these experiences, Freiwald is working to include Braden’s memory in the mundane tasks of day-to-day life: “I try to carry him with me and bring him into the present. It helps fill the hole in my heart.” A memorial for Braden is in progress in the Healing Garden at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center.

Freiwald believes that too many dads don’t seek help—and should. “Give it a try,” he recommends when he encounters a grieving dad who resists therapy. “How will it be any worse than where you are now?”

Mark Eide of Casa Grande with photos of Katie and Zach. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Mark Eide
Kathryn Ellen Nicole Eide
Jan. 2, 1993 – Dec. 22, 2009
Mark Zackary Aspen Eide
Nov. 22, 1994 – Dec. 22, 2009

Many of us who live in the Valley have made the trip to Casa Grande or Tucson. We’ve driven along I-10, taking in the sparse, open desert on both sides of the highway. It is typically an uneventful, even boring, drive. But something tragic and indelible happened on this stretch of asphalt. Mark Eide of Casa Grande, father of two vibrant teenagers who lost their lives here on Dec. 22, 2009, recounts the story of their too-short lives. Katie was 16, days shy of her 17th birthday. Zack had turned 15 the month before.

Just two grades apart, the siblings were active in sports at Casa Grande Union High School. Katie played club volleyball. Zack was a runner—in both cross country and track—and also played club football, where his bright personality and blond hair earned him the nickname “Sunshine” from his coach.

“Zack never met a stranger,” says his dad. “He would tackle you, then help you up.”

The siblings were very close, although they could push each other’s buttons. Zack was interested in World War II guns. He also liked bows and arrows and often tried his hand at target practice. Katie was dedicated to helping animals and particularly interested in sea creatures. The family—Eide and his wife Sandie also have a 21-year-old son named Matthew—took many road trips together.

Each child was offered a trip of their choice upon high school graduation. Matt chose Greece and Rome, where they all went as a family. (Matt couldn’t stay at the University of Arizona in Tucson after the deaths of his siblings; he joined the Coast Guard and left for boot camp last month.) Katie spoke of Australia, so Eide, his wife and Matt went scuba-diving off the Great Barrier Reef on her birthday this past January. Eide thinks Zack would have chosen Alaska.

Eide and his wife were at work that Tuesday when they got word of the accident in which their children perished. Before noon that day, a sudden dust storm roared across I-10, causing a fiery crash involving 13 passenger vehicles and nine tractor-trailers. Katie was driving Zack to the Dairy Queen at Picacho Peak to rendezvous and spend a couple of days with a friend who had recently moved to Tucson. They would typically have gotten onto I-10 near their home, further down from where the accident happened. But on this day, Katie first took Zack to his girlfriend’s house so he could drop off her Christmas present, a ring.

Several months after the accident, the Eides found out about the MISS Foundation. Eide was leery of support groups: “I didn’t want someone to tell me from a textbook how I should be feeling.” Soon they met founder Joanne Cacciatore, Ph.D., who has worked with the Eides through her Center for Loss and Trauma.

“It never leaves your mind,” Eide says. “It consumes your entire being. You think of all your plans….” His voice trails off. He looks for comfort in meaningful signs in his day-to-day routine, but even in his dreams he knows that his children are gone.

Eide felt that it made people in town “nervous and uncomfortable when I talked about Katie and Zack, so for a while I stopped. Then I decided these were my babies. I’m going to talk about them anyway.”

He notes people’s misperception that grieving is “easier for the dad, since he didn’t carry them in the womb.” But he dismisses that theory, saying, “Everybody grieves differently.”
He tries to take time as it comes, with no expectation of what path his grief will take, without anticipating “a magic point where I’ll find peace.” He compares his grief to a scab that never heals. Relief comes at times, but then something about his lost children simply tears off the scab and the cycle repeats.

Support from Eide’s employer (he is an electrician for Arizona Public Service), the community and compassionate friends has been invaluable. More than 1,000 people attended the memorial service. A trust fund and scholarship have been established in his children’s names. Cacciatore has inspired Eide to work with the city to build a memorial park for Katie and Zack.

This would have been Katie’s graduation year. She would have gone to the prom. Zack would have continued to grow into the handsome, considerate young man he was becoming.

“They were at the next stage of their lives,” Eide says. “They were already showing the positive traits of the kind of people they were going to be.” This thought brings him comfort, but doesn’t fix anything. Grieving fathers cope in different ways, he says, “but the bottom line is everyone wants their babies back.”

Jacob Blain Christen of Chandler holds a picture of his infant son, Leo. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Jacob Blain Christen
Leonidas Lucien Blain Christen
Mar. 23, 2010 – April 8, 2010

As Jacob Blain Christen of Chandler, a software developer, sits down to talk about his late infant son, he cites a sad irony. He has just filed his 2010 taxes and, because of current tax laws, he is able to claim Leo as a dependent. He finds no redeeming value in this fact but has nonetheless followed the filing instructions.

The first sign of a problem came 21 weeks into his wife Jennifer’s first pregnancy. At 26 weeks, her baby was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (also known as HLHS), a rare congenital defect in which the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped. To compound the situation, Jennifer had pre-eclampsia—hypertension in pregnancy—so the welfare of both mother and baby were of great concern.

Despite these obstacles, she gave birth to a beautiful six-and-a-half-pound baby boy. He seemed to have none of the other developmental issues associated with HLHS, but his condition required being whisked away to the neo-natal intensive care unit at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Eight days later, Leo had his first surgery. (HLHS babies typically must endure a series of operations between birth and age 4 before a more long-term corrective procedure is performed.)

“After surgery he stabilized and looked like he was recovering. His vitals looked good,” says Blain Christen. His parents kept a constant vigil at his side.

Blain Christen was lying on the couch in Leo’s hospital room late that April night, with Jennifer nearby, when Leo’s heart stopped. A menacing alarm sounded. Nurses rushed in and tried for 45 interminable minutes to revive him, to no avail. A clot—always a risk with this kind of newborn heart surgery—was to blame. At 5 a.m., Christen and his wife drove home, in separate cars, without their son.

Through the fog of grief, the bereaved couple searched online for support. “We were sinking,” says Blain Christen. They found MISS Foundation support groups in Tempe and Peoria, which they considered well worth the distance.

Blain Christen finds that relationships with parents outside of the MISS group have changed. “No one [outside of MISS] mentions my son,” he says. MISS is “the only place where people recognize us as parents.”

The couple are expecting Leo’s little sister in August. Jennifer is on bed rest until then. Blain Christen admits to feeling “happy and terrified at the same time.” -Mary Ann Bashaw

Men and grief

• Society pressures fathers to be strong and stoic, holding up others. Emoting is seen as a weakness.

• Fathers typically feel overlooked, particularly when they are so often asked, “How’s your wife/partner?” instead of “How are you?”

• Women’s friendships are based on emotional connections that can help ease them through grief. It’s difficult for men to seek support outside the family.

• “Feminine” mourning is emotion- and loss-oriented. “Masculine” mourning is task- and restoration-oriented. There is nothing wrong with either approach, as long as there is integration and acceptance of both styles.

• Grieving fathers should be free to do things in their own way, in their own style, free of judgment or pressure. The best way to help them is to listen and just be there for them. When they are ready to reach out they need patience, tolerance and compassion from those around them, including employers, peers and friends.

Source: Joanne Cacciatore, Ph.D., founder of the MISS Foundation (

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Mary Ann Bashaw

Mary Ann Bashaw, of Phoenix, is the mother of two daughters, Claire and Hannah. This is her third article in the “Finding Purpose in Grief” series, which won second place in the Non Metro Writing – Social Issues Reporting category at the 2011 Arizona Press Club Awards. Our January issue featured an interview with MISS Foundation founder Joanne Cacciatore. Our March issue explored perinatal hospice and the last article in the series, “Expressions of Grief,” explored the power of ritual and creativity on the path to healing.

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