"I scoured the internet looking for answers, and for something to help me make sense of what had happened.”
After losing his son in a fatal road accident, Leif Kelly didn’t know where to seek help for his grief.
“I found a number of wonderful forums online but they were mostly populated by mums.
“Where was the help for the dads?” Leif said.
“Surely I wasn’t the only man looking for answers?”
In 2005, Leif’s 13-year old son Zac was killed during a car journey from Brisbane to Dubbo NSW, when their car broke down in the middle of the night just 110 kilometres from home.
It was a very quiet stretch of the road. The family had waited quite a while until a passerby stopped and offered her jump cables to restart the car.
While Leif and Zac patiently stood waiting for the battery to recharge, a truck came bearing down the hill, completely unaware that they were in its path. Leif managed to get out of the way in time, but Zac did not.
"Where was the help for the dads?"
Shocked and broken by feelings of guilt and grief, the days that followed were a complete blur for Leif, as he tried to be strong.
“I was the one to call family and friends to tell them the news. I was the one to talk to the police and the support for the family.
“But there was no support for me,” he says.
In search of something to help himself make sense of what had happened, Leif eventually found Daddys With Angels — a Facebook-based peer to peer support network for Dads to open up about the loss of a child.
He had found a safe place to express himself, get practical answers and talk to other men who had also experienced the loss of a child.
“I was finally amongst people who had walked my path. The only people who could truly understand the pain and anguish of losing a child,” he said.
“I knew that I could talk about anything and everything going through my head and I wouldn’t be judged.”
The online community was set up by Paul Scully-Sloan, dad to 10-month-old Travers James, who died in his sleep from Rhinovirus, a viral infection which is the predominant cause of a common cold.
Reaching out for support, Paul says he also found it difficult to get the help he needed. In some cases, the circumstances of his bereavement didn’t match a given criteria, while other organisations he turned to were coping with high demand.
A safe place for men to grieve
“I couldn’t bear being placed on a waiting list, so I turned to social media,” he explained.
In December 2010, Paul started up Daddys With Angels to provide a safe place for men to open up after the loss of a child in the family.
After losing a child, he explains, many fathers experience a whole new set of unfamiliar emotions. Many can struggle to make sense of their loss within a society that assumes it is their role to be strong and supportive, which often means their needs and feelings are overlooked.
Starting out in the UK, Daddys With Angels has has evolved into an international network of regional, Facebook-based support groups. The peer-to-peer forum has naturally evolved to become an inclusive space for any family member who has lost a child to come together, talk and listen.
Thousands of people from all over the world now engage with and support one another through the Daddys With Angels Facebook pages every week.
Reaching out to families
It’s a space that is to anyone grieving a child who has died, whether during pregnancy or after reaching adulthood. Understanding there’s no time limit on grief, Daddys With Angels supports people no matter how recent, or long ago their loss, when they feel the time is right to talk.
“These Facebook groups have allowed bereaved families to regain friends. They’ve created a sense of community where parents are turning their grief and sadness into friendships,” says Paul.
Leif Kelly agrees: "Daddys With Angels gave me a place to cry without feeling weak or un-manly. It’s a place to give each other practical answers, not just hugs, kisses and 'I’m sorry'.”
Leif is now the Australian Administrator for Daddys With Angels, which offers support to anyone who is coping with the loss of a child.
“How we all handle the grief and loss of a child seems to be the same no matter your nationality. There are many fathers, including myself, who will openly testify about how much Daddys With Angels has helped them along this incredibly horrific journey,” he says.
In addition to volunteering for Daddys With Angels, Leif also runs his own online grief support community, which now has over tens of thousands of members.
“I choose to believe that Zac is somewhere smiling down at me, knowing that I am honouring his memory by helping others down this horrible journey” he says.
- If you’re looking for practical help and advice on finding bereavement support after the loss of a loved one on Funeral Guide.