Children’s grief: The long and winding road
As adults, it’s never easy dealing with the topic of death. As widowers, It’s occurred to us all. It may have been a sudden, expected, prolonged or accidental loss. Though we know it’s an inevitable part of all our lives, talking about death is something most of us aren’t really good at because the subject is so painful. We simply just aren’t prepared for the aftermath, especially if you’ve also become a single parent in the same making.
My daughter, Margot, was only 8 months old when my wife passed, which meant I had to carry her grief as well as my own. Since I’ve been a widower and single parent my mind has constantly been packed to the rafters about so many issues. I guess it would have been much harder for her to move through if she had been a lot older. If I’m deeply honest, because of her age she hasn’t really been affected emotionally at all yet. The world around her has simply adapted itself to support her needs.
Talking about a bereavement to our children is a damn painful and damn complex position to be in. Where do you begin? The thought of what to say and how to say overwhelmed me for a long time. Part of the experience is finding ways to express what happened so it would be better for her to make sense of what happened, and finally, for her to accept what happened. I’ve had to be proactive in my approach for a while as I wanted to prepare her to deal with situations the best she can.
In terms of carving out the rules from scratch, my main concern was to do what’s right for her needs and to avoid as much pain as possible down this delicate path.
Strangely over the last year or so I’ve found she’s at her happiest state when she sees me happy, it’s like some sort of sixth sense. With this in mind, I always let her know how I’m feeling and spread as much laughter and love around us as possible. This doesn’t mean I tell her any old nonsense. I just don’t hide any of my true emotions from her, if I did she is isn’t going to grow to become the person I want her to be. She doesn’t understand yet, but I’ve always been honest with her from the beginning and I will continue to be. How can I justify myself to be happy to my daughter when sometimes I’m not? It’s really important to show the emotions that I feel. so, she can show them back and understand it’s OK to do so.
My reason for this is that I really don’t want Margot to hide her feelings from me if she is emotional. Overtime when she grows I don’t want her to develop any low confidence, stress or anxiety about this situation. I intend to encourage her to talk and reflect with me about how she feels. Not only in the now, but also how she felt previously in the past, to leave no stone unturned at any point.
Being only 2 years old she won’t understand certain words like death, ever, and never? But she needs to learn them at some point which is why I have recently purchased the children’s book ’Badger’s Parting Gifts’. It’s really supportive in dealing with the end of life and it handles the subject brilliantly. The concept is that Badger is getting old and he begins to prepare for his own big journey to old age and the inevitable death. He gives each of his friends something (positives from his life) to remember him by before he leaves. The illustrations are enchanting, and the moment of Badger’s death is beautifully handled as he runs down the last tunnel, throwing his stick away. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anybody faced with explaining death to a child.
In terms of explaining things about her Mum, I want to tell her the truth – this is the most important factor! I can’t tell her one-story now and change it when she’s’ 5,6,7,8 years old, just to ease her mind. I really don’t see this as being fair or honest to her. I want her to understand it as she grows so she can deal with the world around her better on a daily basis. I made a conscious effort to tell all my friends and family to never ever use the term “she’s gone to a better place”. She’s not gone to a better place, has she. If Katherine could choose she wouldn’t be there. I never want Margot to think “why is it better than being with me here” and “how can I go there”. For the next few years, I’m happy to use terms like “she’s gone away and can’t come back” and “she’d never have left you and she didn’t want to go”.
I’ve managed to collate this path from my own experience and countless nights of deep thinking. I’ve also gathered a few bits from the free and professional support services available to widowers. I’ve not had to deal with a child who has encountered grief head-on. In a society that is often too afraid to talk to children about death, bereaved kids need to have somewhere safe and non-judgmental to turn. I’m sure the services I’ve used will make a world of difference to bereaved children. I’ve listed the ones I’ve used below:
Cruse Bereavement Care: https://www.cruse.org.uk/get-help/about-grief/childrens-grief
Winston’s Wish: https://www.winstonswish.org/
Child Bereavement UK: https://childbereavementuk.org/