Macmillan guest post #2: How I deal with grief around my children
Losing someone you love dearly can be crippling. Seeing them slowly fade before you, before the juggernaut of loss finally hits, is something that I will always fail to adequately describe. I was 29 years old when I witnessed the death of my mother after cancer had finally won its battle in her body. In that moment, shaking uncontrollably, it felt like the world had ended just like the life before me. She was 57 years old, but I never knew life without her. Literally.
From my experience, the saying that 'time heals' is true. But, like all significant wounds, the healing can leave deep scars that will never fully fade and that is how I've felt. I don’t think about my mother's death every minute, every day, like I used to, nor do I hypothesize about how things might have been different if certain circumstances had varied. However, the underlying grip of grief is still there, it's buried a little deeper than before but it will always be unearthed now and again and the same raw emotion can arise.
Two years after her death, our first child was born and he's grown up to be a thoughtful and caring four year old boy. He knows about 'Little Nanny' and sometimes asks questions about noodles she used to cook for daddy, why she got poorly, and when she can come back down from the sky. I love talking about her to him as I feel like it's a way of keeping her memory alive, but every time I speak about her my heart breaks a little reminiscing about times which cannot be revisited.
I am not an expert on how we should deal with grief in front of children, but these are some things I've done which I feel have helped to bring us closer as a family and tackle the tricky subject of death and loss with children.
1. I answer their questions about death
These questions can be difficult to navigate, but I feel it's important to chat them through. I spare them the gory details and soften the message, but I don’t shy away from the fact that Little Nanny has gone forever. They'll learn the harder details later in life and I don’t feel any need to accelerate that process. I'm also mindful that I don’t want to frighten them or create an obsession with death in their minds, but I want to be honest with them, subject to a little sugar-coating.
2. I tell them stories that emphasise her character and the great things she did as a mother
Keeping her memory alive is important to me and telling them interesting stories about her life is a meaningful way of teaching them about her, whilst allowing me to reminisce. I talk to them about things like how hard she worked to look after the family, how she was the best cook in the world, how she would have loved to have met them, and the things she taught their daddy.
3. We pray together
Praying is a deeply personal matter and I understand that this would not appeal to everyone. For us, it's a great way of reflecting and having empathy for others and not focusing on ourselves. They pray for Little Nanny and, unfortunately, some of those prayers won't be answered in the way they or I would like, but it's nice to know they care and that they have an inkling of how dear she was to me.
4. I don’t cry in front of my children but not because it's wrong
I'm sure psychologists will have a view on what effect crying in front of your children has. From my uneducated perspective, I don’t feel there is anything wrong with showing my children raw emotion when it comes to grief. Emotions are complex and I doubt they would fully appreciate the intricacies of my feelings, but I would encourage them to be open with theirs, so I wouldn’t have a problem crying in front of them. As it happens, I don’t cry because, when I talk about her, I feel that it should not be tainted with sadness. I do tell them that I feel deeply sad that she is not here anymore and I think they understand that.
5. We look at photos together
My children never had the chance to meet their Little Nanny, so photos are the closest way to introduce her in 'real life'. They now recognize her from photos and I feel this makes talking about her a bit more relatable. It's also a nice reminder of what she looks like, which I know sounds strange but sometimes I struggle to summon her precise image in my mind. So, these visual aids help bring her to life again in a way my memory can't always achieve.
6. I cuddle them a bit longer and harder
Life doesn’t always go to plan and I realise I am incredibly fortunate despite the hiccups on the journey. So, sometimes, I just remind myself of that and give the children a big hug and hold them for a bit longer than usual. We can't always cherish every moment, but we can try when we get an opportunity.
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