Grieving dads recall lost children on Thanksgiving

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 27, 2014)-- They refer to themselves as, "The group nobody wants to belong to."

Every Thursday morning, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's this year, too, "Mornings With The Dads" meets at a Denny's restaurant just off I-65 in Greenwood to drink coffee, tell jokes and shed a few tears over the lives that were lost too soon.

"Every father's child died in different ways," said Dave Cook as he recalled his daughter Leslie. "Ours was a very violent situation.  Our daughter was murdered."

Henry Pawlick's daughter died due to complications years after surgery.

"The loss of a child is not like any other loss and it's the toughest one to deal with," he said. "I've come out here and we've all been here when the snow was four, five feet on the ground and we're the only cars on the road. I think there was a time when Jim and I were the only two who showed up. I wouldn't miss this for anything."

Jim Nathan's son Kevin was a truck driver.

"That first morning I set my alarm for 5:30 and I said to myself, 'What the hell do I want to get up at 5:30 in the morning to go have breakfast with a bunch of guys?' That was eight years ago and I think I have missed five meetings since then.

"Now I look forward to it. I can't wait to get here to see my guys. To see my brothers."

A similar group meets Tuesday mornings on Indianapolis' northside where the fathers of slain police officers and sheriff's deputies have attended.

Often the men talk about their kids. Sometimes they talk about their families, or the Pacers. Most of the time they just listen.

"My son is Dion," said John Longworth, who still refers to his son in the present tense."His wife was Jennifer and they died at the same time."

That same time would have been the night of November 10, 2012, when a house explosion in the Richmond Hill neighborhood killed the young neighbors next door.

"It's been a bad month," said Longworth. "It's still two years but it's been very difficult to get through this month."

"I'm Don Buxton and my daughter is Jennifer Buxton Longworth," another dad announced from the other end of the table, "and we lost her two years ago this month.

"We lost her along with my son-in-law Dion."

The blast that took Jennifer and Dion's lives made national news and will continue to do so next summer when the first of three people accused in the fatal insurance scheme goes to trial in South Bend.

"There was nothing more disheartening when this first happened than to turn on the news and every station was a picture of my daughter and son-in-law on their happiest day," said Buxton, recalling the wedding photograph that was released to the media. "It was their happiest day and now it's a reminder of the saddest day of my life."

Kurt Kriese lived out his own personal tragedy on the front pages when 12-year-old Noah slipped over the edge of a Swiss waterfall in 2009.

"These guys get it. They know. They ask questions. They want to know about the child, he said. "This group has been a lifesaver in the ways that they're open to hearing.

"With these guys we sit there and the child is alive within us."

The group came together to write its first "Mornings With The Dads" book four years ago.

Volume 2 continues the tale as fathers write about their children and the hope and comraderie that encourages healing.

If the group can drum up enough donations, publication is expected in the spring.

Tony Dungy, whose own teenage son died while his dad was coaching the Indianapolis Colts, is expected to write the introduction.

"Even though it's my third year, this is first time I've been here for a Thanksgiving Day dinner," said Don Uhrine who held up family vacation photos of his son Jason. "I wonder if God has arranged a little table like this up in Heaven and all of our sons and daughters are sitting there having their own Thanksgiving breakfast reminiscing about us, missing us and knowing that we were loving fathers and that we still are."

You can learn more about Tuesday Mornings with the Dads here and on their Facebook page.