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Travis Mayfield: I laughed on TV this week. It was fake. But for a minute it felt real

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Fake it ‘til you make it.

It sounds so cliché to write it, but I have lived that advice for my entire broadcast career.

Now that advice just might save me.

My first experience in local TV was an internship on a brand new show launching on KHQ-TV in Spokane. The host of that show, Debra Wilde, gave me the advice to just fake it until it was real.

That was nearly 20 years ago, and I am blessed to still be friends with Debra. What she may not know is how directly I have lived her advice every day since.

It’s how I do live television. It’s how I did live radio. It’s how I got into digital and social media. It has defined everything I have ever done professionally.  It’s not about being fake.  It’s about faking the confidence to be myself until I actually find my real confidence.

It’s also how I parent.

My husband recently told me that since our kids were born he has looked to me on big parenting decisions, how to react to big milestones and what to do in a parenting crisis.

“You just always seem to know before I do,” he said.

I laughed and told him that I don’t really know anything more than he does. I have been making it up as we go along.  I just happened to be projecting confidence as I did it.  Apparently my fake confidence was so believable even my husband bought it.

Fake it ‘til you make it.

Now we face the worst parenting crisis, the worst crisis, the worst thing to ever happen in our lives. The death of our toddler son Tommy. His sudden death has destroyed us. It has leveled everything we thought we knew about everything and everyone.

We are stripped naked. We are burning alive in our grief. Still, we move forward one step at a time.

I have said we are moving slowly forward because we know we have to. I have said we are moving forward because we don’t want to forget how to do it.

But deep down I myself have been unsure how to truly do that. I have thought to myself that despite saying we are putting one foot in front of the other, I am not sure I can see us moving. I have literally looked down at my own feet and thought I honestly didn’t know how to take a step. When I have, I have stumbled. I have fallen. I have even retreated.

I have picked myself up again, and thought about it again, and said it out loud again.

One step at a time.

Each time (each step) seemingly has resulted in sobs, panic attacks and a genuine feeling of insanity.

Then someone told me something that reminded me of that old mantra, that old cliché.

Linda Dahlstrom Anderson, another parent down the road of bereavement about 10 years ahead of us, reached out and unselfishly began to share with us about her life. Her words. Her thoughts. The example of what life ahead could be has been world-changing for us. It was exactly what I needed. I need to see, to really truly see, what living with this kind of grief can still mean in life.

It was one particular story Linda shared in an email that sparked my memory of the way the old me used to live.

After Phoenix died, I asked a dear friend who was diagnosed as HIV positive in the ’80s – and lost his partner and his entire circle of friends to AIDS, ALL of them except several female friends — how he had survived it. He told me that he faked  it until it became real again. He did the things he remembered he used to like doing. He ordered the foods he used to like before grief stole his appetite. And then one day, he wasn’t just going through the motions. It was real again.

It was real again.

Real again.

It made sense. It felt familiar. It was a tiny little light that had actually always been shining in the darkness that was already illuminating my next step.

So I took that step. I went back on-air Monday. I didn’t talk about Tommy. I talked about what I used to talk about. I talked about Facebook. I talked about trending stories.

I didn’t stop being a grieving dad. I didn’t stop missing Tommy with every breath I take.

Instead, for a few minutes when the red light above the camera was on, it was something.

“I laughed on TV this week,” I wrote on Facebook yesterday.  “It was fake. But for a minute it felt real.”

It wasn’t real. It was fake. But for now, it was something.

Maybe someday, it’ll be real again.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real…It doesn’t happen all at once…You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

-The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams 1922

Editor’s Note: Travis Mayfield is the Director of Digital Strategy at Q13 News and serves as the on-air social media editor for Q13 News This Morning. Travis and his husband lost their 2.5 year old son, twin brother to their daughter Ellie, in early April. Travis occasionally writes about grief, loss and Tommy in the hope of sharing his son’s love and attempting to help others facing their own heartbreak no matter its scope.