Local Support Group Called “Mornings with the Dads” Formed for Dads Grieving the Loss of a Child
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Following the loss of a child, the most common response parents hear is, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” That’s a fair sentiment because there truly is nothing more brutal than enduring the death of a son or daughter. In the wake of such paralyzing pain, it’s difficult to know what to do, where to go or how to function. David Cook knows this all too well. His daughter, Leslie Christine Cook-Dickerson, was murdered in April 2003 at the age of 25.
Chuck Findley has also walked this excruciating path as his two young sons, Jake (12) and Travis (9), were killed in a SUV/train collision in February 2007. Both men have been part of a support group called “Mornings with Dads,” which originated in 2004 on the northside and 2011 on the southside.
“When you’re in the depths of intense and unthinkable grief after losing a child or children, with no will to live, no idea of where to turn or how to get through each brutal day, massive uncertainties and lost hope for a great future, this group completely understands the emotions and pain you’re going through and gives invaluable support, comfort, love and advice that turns into a brotherhood for a lifetime,” Findley says , who joined the group three months after his sons’ deaths. “Doing so was one of the best things I did to help with my grief. I knew immediately as I walked into the first meeting that I was in the right place.”
At Mornings with the Dads, fathers gather weekly with other fathers at a local restaurant to share their stories, sorrow and support. It’s a safe place to express emotions because everyone in the group understands what everyone else is going through.
“I remember the first meeting I attended. I drove to the restaurant and sat in the parking lot, scared to death of what I was going into,” Cook says. When he did finally work up the nerve to step inside, he was met with incredible warmth. That’s not surprising because this group formed so that grieving men had someone to talk to.
“Men tend to try and cover all their emotions up and act like they’re strong and okay, but deep inside they’re hurting and need to get a lot of emotions out,” Findley says. “This is the perfect place for all of that.”
Cook’s biggest piece of advice for newly grieving parents is to not hide from the pain.
“Get it out in the open. Start dealing with it. It’s a brave thing to do,” he says. “Everyone experiences grief in their own way and that’s okay, but allow yourself the process of grieving.”
The meetings are informal and low-key. If a new dad shows up, they go around the table and introduce themselves, briefly sharing their stories and how they are coping with grief. Then they give the new dad the opportunity to speak if they want.
“Sometimes there’s crying. Sometimes there’s laughter. Sometimes we talk sports,” Cook says. “We try to keep it as warm as possible.”
The southside group meets every Thursday morning from 7-8:30 a.m. at Denny’s off Main Street in Greenwood by I-65 (the northside group meets on Tuesday mornings). This group of men, which currently consists of between nine and 13 guys, gather outside of the weekly meeting as well—sometimes meeting for lunch, dinner or to see the Pacers play.
In 2009, the group published “Tuesday Mornings with the Dads” in which 14 of the dads penned stories. In 2016, they followed that up with “More Mornings with the Dads” that shares 18 additional stories. Tony Dungy, the former Colts coach who lost his 18-year-old son in 2005, wrote the foreword for both books.
As dads have moved away, some of them have started other Mornings with the Dads in other locations. For instance, Findley has helped start similar groups in Arizona, California and Missouri. Other dads have launched groups in Texas and Washington.
“This is the group that no one ever wants to belong to,” Cook says. “But when something like this happens in your life, you’re lucky to find a group of guys like this who can support you.”