I arrived home after ten days away to find my eldest standing behind the front door with a welcome home banner and party poppers blasting off in my face. This period is the longest time I have been away from the boys and they missed me very much. After an hour or so, J asked me when I would be going back to visit Grandpa. This was one of the moments I had been dreading.
I was honest and told him that Grandpa had died. He burst into tears and cried his eyes out. I started crying as well, partly because I was in pain seeing J crying but also because I had endured a root canal treatment that afternoon on my way home from Cheshire that day (when it rains it pours). J wanted to know what had happened and where Grandpa was.
Dad had been ill for a while and whilst it was still a shock for us the day that he died it was not unexpected. D and I were prepared for what to say to J. We are more spiritual than religious and we told J that Grandpa had gone up to the stars to join Granny Rosie (my mum). More tears and then came the questions….. “what is it like up there, can he see us down here, can I spot him at night from the window, will I never see him again?” Through my tears, I told J that crying was okay and not to stop until he was ready. We kept things simple, Grandpa was up in the stars, we wouldn’t see him again and he would always be around us in our memories.
Earlier this year at nursery parents evening it was drawn to our attention that J had a very mature understanding of death. Other children his age (my 3 year old included) on the whole see death as a fact, “look that bird is dead, let’s go and climb the tree” or “do you think he is dead and in the ground? Can we put Peppa Pig on?” On several occasions at nursery J had cried and been inconsolable about dying and not seeing his family and friends again. Nursery had not seen a child this young with such a great understanding of what death really means.
What did I do?
I looked for some good children’s story books that explained about death in a gentle way. There were a lot of depressing ones out there (think of stories about black holes) but we found a lovely one called Badger’s Parting Gifts which acknowledges that people get sad when someone dies but the memories they leave will last with all those left behind.
I talked to Winston’s Wish a charity for bereaved children, they have a team of volunteers who can answer questions specific to your child. One thing that I particularly took away was to be honest with children but not to offer too much information unless they ask for it. Obviously this is all age specific.
How they have been since I told them.
C, turned three the day after I got home. He spent a lot of the day crying and then his ear drum burst (like I said, when it rains….). I somehow found the strength to get through his third birthday party with a big bouncy castle and ten children. I felt like I was in a bubble totally on my own, I couldn’t listen to what people were saying and forgot to bring enough drinks for everyone but on the whole it was a miracle that I made it through. When I cry, C doesn’t know what to do, so he starts dancing, singing and doing silly jokes that he and J share like “you’re a poo poo face mummy.” Sometimes this stops me crying and makes me laugh, other times it’s not enough and eventually he stops and comes to give me a cuddle. J is mixed between big cuddles for me and knowing to perhaps be a little quieter and then laughing when I cry, they have rarely seen me like this and just don’t know how to react.
C is currently play acting Olaf is dead and up in the stars with Grandpa. He also keeps forgetting and then does his loop the loop of questioning (as only 3 years olds can do) …”Is Grandpa poorly mummy?” “No, he’s died.” “Why, mummy, why is he dead? Is he poorly, can we go and see him?” Then, it begins again…….
When I cry J says “don’t worry mummy, we are made from Grandpa and so he will always be here” (this was D’s idea and a good one, J loves the fact that we are actually made from Grandpa.) I did point out the other day that this wasn’t the same and I just wanted to talk to him (I probably shouldn’t say this to J but I wanted to explain why I am crying so much.) “Call him mummy, he will answer on his invisible phone in the stars.”
How do I feel?
In the space of one month, I’ve been married, spent most of my time up north visiting dad in hospital, dealt with one child with a burst ear drum, one child teething and another doing his first nativity. I’ve had root canal. I sat and held my darling dad’s hand as he took his last breathes, been to his funeral and then arrived home to carry on as normal, the only problem is whilst everything else remains the same, nothing remains the same for me.
I feel physically exhausted, have bad skin, and look like I’m permanently hungover (although I am not… Most of the time). I have a permanent knot in my stomach and feel sick a lot of the time. I am trying to get in the Christmas spirit when I can be but when I am feeling down I am just accepting it.
I have been here before and know that I am here for the long haul, there is no quick fix and you certainly can’t switch it on or off. Grief comes when you are least expecting it, maybe in the supermarket when you spot their favourite sweets, perhaps after your childs nativity when you know that no-one else really cares about it but they would have done, when you spot something they would love and go to pick up the phone to call them, only to remember once again they have gone….. the list goes on and on. Dad is around me every single place I look.
I am glad that he is no longer ill but the hole that he leaves in my life is too huge for even me to acknowledge right now. I spoke to Dad nearly every single day since Mum died (10 years ago), sometimes he grunted about the newspapers, we often discussed the weather but we also had a laugh and he really appreciated those daily calls from all his children. I lost mum when she was too young and it was a massive shock for us all, I lost dad when he was older and it wasn’t a great surprise but still a shock. Dad held my hand through my grief when mum died, he likened it to walking along a cliff edge, you walk and you walk and then one day you fall off, only to pick yourself up again and continue walking, until the next time that you drop off. Eventually, with time it will get easier.
With no parents, my children are now the closest blood relations to me, it makes me feel more grateful than ever that I have three lovely boys and my two brothers and sister, who I am even closer to now than ever. A dear friend of mine lost both her parents, some years ago, when I ask her how she copes she says that everyday she tries to make them proud of her, this is exactly what I am now going to do.