A lot of people think my job must be great because I get to sit around and read books all day. Which isn’t what I do at all, but that myth still persists. One of the things I definitely do is work with a lot of incredible people. My colleagues are smart, caring and committed to giving the best health care. But often we don’t get to dig deeper and find out more about their stories. Reading, especially the long form novel or memoir, allows us to dig deeper and see the humanity behind a person’s story.
Dr. Damon Dagnone is an associate professor of emergency medicine here at Queen’s. Our paths don’t cross often, I’m the nursing librarian so I see his students sometimes, but other than that we don’t get much chance to interact. But I certainly knew of him. I knew he had lost his son Callum not too long before my own boys died. I remember taking my daughter to the emergency room one evening and he happened to be the doctor on call. She had mild frostbite in her fingers. He reassured me I did the right thing in having her checked out, even if it was a minor issue that could easily be treated at home. Perhaps he understood how a mother who had previously lost a child could so easily leap to worst-case scenarios.
Finding Our Way Home
After hearing he had published a memoir, Finding Our Way Home: A Family’s Story of Life, Love, and Loss, describing his own journey through the pain of Callum’s diagnosis and treatment, the unspeakable grief of his death and how his family has recovered, I wanted to review it for us at Still Standing. Reading a memoir that may bear similarities to our own journey can be hard, but also deeply cathartic. Knowing that an emergency room doctor himself struggled with his son’s medical appointments makes it easier to forgive our own sense of losing control. There are so few stories of male grief, and so few acknowledgments of the pain they go through. We need more models for men to follow in their grief journey.
There are no surprise endings in Damon’s story. We know beforehand that this will be a sad story, and I read it with Kleenex at hand. There were plenty of ugly cries in reading this. I grappled with the raw emotions of fresh grief and remembered what that felt like. I was glad to be reading it quietly at home, snuggled in bed, and not in a public place.
But it was also unputdownable!
We know that Callum will not survive his cancer. But we also know that Damon has managed to find a new life on the other side of grief. It has likely made him a more compassionate doctor, and a better father and husband as he navigates his way through life after Callum. He does not deny that it is a struggle. We certainly get a sense that it takes years to recover from such a profound loss. His honesty in reflecting these truths is critical for those who find themselves in the immediate aftermath of their child’s death. Reading Damon’s story gives us that sense of journey: that we can and will mourn our children for a long time, but still function and grow into our new role as bereaved parents.
Just as I’m stereotyped as someone who reads a lot, men are often stereotyped as being strong and silent. They don’t talk about their feelings, don’t talk about grief or sadness or death. For many people, writing is a better way to express themselves than talking. It provides them with a healthy way to work through their emotions. If you know and love one of those strong, silent types, maybe give them this book, together with a blank notebook for writing down their own thoughts. Whether it helps or not, who can say? But I promise reading this book as a bereaved parent will make you feel a little less alone.